In Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” there is a mirror that distorts the world into extremes of beauty and ugliness. The wholesome love between childhood friends Gerda and Kay is threatened when Kay receives a splinter of the mirror in his eye and becomes aggressively unable to see the beauty in anything but the symbolic perfection of snow. Enter the Snow Queen, who promptly bundles Kay up and off to her faraway land. It is up to Gerda to undergo a heroine’s journey to rescue Kay from enchantment and restore him to a state of appropriate responsiveness to the world.
It is the science fiction of “The Snow Queen” that most fascinates me, the technologies (the mirror, the idealization of white female beauty) with which Andersen authors its world. Here are two white women artists whose work builds on these technologies.
In Joan D. Vinge’s 1980 space opera The Snow Queen, the colonial queen Arienrhod has acquired immortality and endless beauty at the expense of the planet she rules. In this novel, Andersen’s mirror of white female supremacy is presented as technology that can either perpetuate or terminate systemic oppression: Moon, the book’s protagonist, is Arienrhod’s clone, conceived by Arienrhod to perpetuate the role of Snow Queen, and the rest of the tale hinges on Moon’s relationship to her privilege. Vinge does attempt to address the racialization of power within the tale, but does so by among other things delivering sentiments of “reverse racism” from her characters of color, a strategy that falls short in scope of understanding and provides rich material for discussion of narratives of power.
Viktoria Modesta is a bionic pop artist, singer-songwriter, model, and creative director. In 2012, she starred as the Snow Queen in the Paralympics closing ceremony, during which “her role as the enchanting Snow Queen wearing a Swarovski prosthetic leg & performing with the main skating cast from Dancing On Ice gave birth to her new understanding of enhancing cultural landscape.” Modesta’s Snow Queen—exalted, unapologetically powerful—invites celebration and not condemnation of her hierarchical status, subverting both Andersen’s “beautiful but evil” ice-queen trope and historical narratives which claim that powerful beauty and differently abled people are mutually exclusive. Experiencing Modesta’s performance is in itself fairy-tale-ish for how it prepares us, if elliptically, for paths of deeper inquiry: How does Modesta’s identity as a white woman contribute to a global, artistic conversation about access to empowerment? How does the imagery of heirarchy shape what we understand ability to be?
This special report brought to you by Yellow Issue contributor Lo Kwa Mei-En.