Damali Ayo | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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On her satirical Web site Rent-a-Negro.com, conceptual artist Damali Ayo offers her social companionship for a fee. Want to touch her hair? That's $25. Need her to confront your racist uncle? That'll set you back $500. Potential renters--white liberals are the target market here--must fill out a form detailing their need for a black person, and it's anybody's guess how many of the requests listed on the site are incredibly, foolishly sincere and how many come from folks who get the gag. Her new book, How to Rent a Negro, a hilariously comprehensive guide for white "renters" and black "rentals" alike, extends the premise--too far at times. A "vocabulary list for renters" is just padding, and the staged photographs of white renters committing gaffes are simply silly. And while Ayo cleverly forces her reader to confront the social insults and frustrations that blacks experience on a regular basis, she seriously dilutes the rental/renter model of race relations by ascribing it to everything from criminal profiling to descriptions of a black person's physique as "like a gazelle." Still, her work is disarming, begging the question: can a congenial relationship between a black person and a white person ever be totally rent free? Tue 8/16, 7 PM, Quimby's, 1854 W. North, 773-342-0910; Wed 8/17, 7:30 PM, Women & Children First, 5233 N. Clark, 773-769-9299.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Basil Childers.

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