Carmelita Tropicana rhapsodizes over the beauty of her native island: its mountains, beaches, and women with rear ends so pronounced they can place drinks on them and walk across a room without spilling a drop. “That, ladies and gentlemen, is a landscape,” she swoons in her grotesque exaggeration of a Cuban accent. “You give me a gun, I fight for that landscape!” In Tropicana’s Milk of Amnesia such metaphorical turf struggles abound. She fights to reclaim the lost territory of her youth, returning to her Cuban home for the first time since she left the island at age seven, and also to forge a meaningful identity as a New York lesbian performance artist. Wherever she goes, she’s in cultural exile, yet her malleable social and political identities afford her great artistic freedom. Lacking clear-cut allegiances, she can let loose–which she does with intelligence, insight, and humor. Tropicana delights in turning Cuban stereotypes upside down, taking a quasi-autobiographical journey into an endearing world of overblown machismo, chintz, and outrageous headgear (her “Easter bonnet” is festooned with tampons, pearls, stationery supplies, and toilet paper). Like New York lesbian performers Holly Hughes and Split Britches, Tropicana takes a rich, archetypal event–the return home–and refracts it through the revivifying lens of dyke camp. In an artistic world too often neutralized by knee-jerk-liberal grays, Tropicana’s colorful iconoclasm is refreshing. Randolph Street Gallery, 756 N. Milwaukee, 312-666-7737. October 25 and 26: Friday-Saturday, 8 PM. $10; $15 on Saturday for performance and postshow “rhumba reception.”

–Justin Hayford

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Paula Court.