Black Escapism in Arthur Jafa’s “Dreams are Colder than Death”

Dreams Are Colder Than Death

The escape artist flashed by on a metallic blue motorcycle, pursued by a blur of pulsing red and blue lights. Drawn together by a sentiment exceeding mutual compassion, the sidewalk spectators stood inert, breaths and bodies taut with anticipation. For a moment, parts of us took flight alongside the fugitive, our lives reaching beyond the limits of our bodies; the moment did not last long. Soon he was on foot, bobbing and weaving past the threat of capture, circling the block, boxed in but refusing to surrender. The choreography of escape was altered as his body crashed onto the concrete, sustaining the friction of tense blue cloth, the pressure of cold metal, the bitterness of heated blood and antagonized sweat. There might’ve been a collective exhale, as we all stood watching, witnesses to our own fall and capture.

That we had been standing on the corner of Adam Clayton Powell and 130th, and that everyone in sight, besides the police, was Black, stood out to me in that moment. Some of us had urged the fugitive to run–Run! Our hearts leapt toward the sidewalk with his fall; a reminder that we were fallible. That even here–Here! in informal communion, closest to the bosom of Black America–we were not safe. As a routine police chase, this mundane moment marked itself as an extraordinary one, in which I served witness to the assertion of a claim to freedom.

This notion of witnessing was re-articulated for me during the recent viewing of Arthur Jafa’s Dreams are Colder than Death and a follow-up discussion between Jafa and panelists Christina Sharpe, Reina Gossett, and Tavia Nyongo at the International Center of Photography. Though the film touches on a range of topics explored by Black theory in regard to futurity, survival, and resistance, the act of escape remained a primary point of exploration not only through the viewing of Black fugitivity through art, music, dance, but in mundane movements that indicated tension between studied, self-contained calm and external chaos and pressure.

Articulated per Fred Moten’s analysis of fugitivity, the line of escape mapped out by the Black fugitive is a mobilization of political consciousness. In fugitivity lies a futuristic impulse to claim the not-yet-forged possibilities of existence. It is a mobilization of Black vitality, in which biomechanic and metaphysical forces are deployed to activate effort; an effort that is integral to claiming survival. It is in enacting such effort that agency is articulated.

Arthur Jafa’s Dreams are Colder than Death, is made up of a collection scenes that replicate this first-hand interaction with escape and survival. Jafa’s digitized portrayals of Black movement contain a quality of nostalgia, marking the film as an archival space set up for the recollection and documentation of Blackness. This documentary impulse should not be misinterpreted as an intent to recollect the already-lost past, rather, it should be viewed as an intentional effort to archive the very-much alive present that predicates what we are becoming.  

From the opening scene, flesh and body are set up as points of interrogation. Hortense Spillers’ voice inquires about the possibilities for recuperating that which is in danger of being lost: Black culture. Visually, we encounter moving Black bodies arcing through the air, somersaulting in reverse through time and space. This retrograde action is tied into Spillers’ question, one that incites anxiety about the ephemerality of Blackness, the mark of its susceptibility.

Spillers’ insight into lost flesh and dismemberment, through an intimate recollection of personal loss, is analogous to a later question she poses around the “intramural problem of slavery”. Spillers locates the Transatlantic Slave Trade within a set of relations that posit the trafficking of Black bodies as a cannibalistic dilemma and identifies this trade in human flesh as the “original sin”. But first, we must examine the flesh itself, partly through Spillers’ own analysis in addition to the flesh exposed by Jafa’s lens.

In Spillers’ work, specifically in “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe”, flesh is a starting place for a theoretical examination of the making and un-making of the Black body within the drama of racialization. Spillers’ invocation of the Transatlantic Slave Trade is an important reminder of where the drama began. It is in the context of trade and exchange that Black flesh became marked and assigned differential subjecthood. The flesh, dismembered and reordered, preceded personhood, reduced to what Alexander Weheliye–in his own reading of Spillers–termed bare life.

Jafa’s focus on the moving body can be read as an attempt to re-engage in a dialogue of bare life. His focus upon flesh in its active and dormant states, demands attention to breath, activity, movement. He is opening up the grammar, per Spillers’ analysis, that enables Black legibility. Bare faces and flesh become the starting point for examining Blackness. Subjects are directly positioned in view of the lens, their bodies lingering on screen, not inviting examination, impervious to any set of logics that de-legitimizes their right to move, breathe, be still. In the grammar set up by Jafa, Black livelihood flourishes per a set of logics that prioritize subjectivity. Through their movements and gestures, the Black people that appear on Jafa’s screen “enunciate quotidian claims to survival, resilience, and possibility” (Campt 29). These claims demarcate a critical space in which subaltern voices can engage in self-making.

Fred Moten makes a concluding interrogation of the possibilities of survival. Love, per Moten, is where healing takes place. And like fugitivity, it offers escape and the rerouting, or the re-mapping of the enclosed landscape Blackness must navigate. Unlike fugitivity however, love holds a limitless expanse of futuristic potential; it offers space to fall down and rise with redemption.

Gender Amplified hosts Dear Daughter Remix Contest

Gender Amplified, an org founded and run by Barnard and BCRW alum Ebonie Smith, is hosting a remix contest for the metal band Halestorm. Check it out and share!

HALESTORM TEAMS UP WITH GENDER AMPLIFIED FOR “DEAR DAUGHTER REMIX CONTEST”

September 12, 2016–Halestorm and Gender Amplified have partnered to present the “Dear Daughter Remix Contest,” where fans have a chance to remix the track “Dear Daughter,” off Halestorm’s latest album Into The Wild Life for a chance to win $1000 and meet frontwoman Lzzy Hale. All remix styles are welcome. For more information and to enter to win, see link below!

Halestorm

Gender Amplified is a nonprofit organization that aims to celebrate Women in music production, raise their visibility and develop a pipeline for girls and young women to get involved behind the scenes as music producers. The movement also connects passion for music with technical skills that can be used in a wide range of scientific and arts based fields, areas in which Women are traditionally underrepresented. By organizing public events that foster healthy dialogue about the role gender plays in the music making process, Gender Amplified endeavors to give voice to a subculture of women who are using music technology to create their own music and perpetuate their unique identities.

Fashioning New Methods of Survival: A Conversation with Alok Vaid-Menon of DarkMatter

Alok2
Alok Vaid-Menon is one-half of the New York City-based performance duo Darkmatter. The pair, who met while studying at Stanford, have been making waves internationally with their thought-provoking poetry, accessible activism, and spectacular fashion. I was able to talk to Alok about the Internet, deconstructing binaries, and apathy as a political act.

Why were you initially drawn to poetry? How has it informed your activism and politics?
I started writing poetry when I was 12 or 13 years old, which goes to say that I have been writing poetry for almost half of my life. It’s hard to imagine my life outside of poetry, because since I started poetry it has given me my life itself. I never really had an intention to “become a poet,” or to “start writing,” I just wrote because I had to. I wrote because I was sad and lonely and angry. I still write because I am sad and lonely and angry. Poetry has given me an opportunity to explore the emotional and intimate forms of violence, oppression and politics that we typically don’t get to work through in the “movement.” Poetry has taught me the importance of foregrounding trauma, emotionality, and creating movements that give spaces for people to feel validated in their pain.

How do you see fashion and other forms of personal aesthetic as resistance?
I don’t think there is anything inherently resistant in fashion or aesthetics, but I think certain types of fashion/aesthetics are subversive in given contexts. For example, I don’t think there should be anything political about me waking up and deciding to wear a dress. The fact that the world feels so downright uncomfortable about it makes this act resistant. So I think I struggle often with the conversation of fashion and politics. What does it mean when certain forms of existences – especially those of transfeminine people – are made to be political? Something about this feels nonconsensual. Why should transfemininity always have to be political? This language of transgression and gender non-conforming assumes that there is something inherently oppositional about us – that it becomes about us crossing a boundary, and not about the boundary that was placed on us to begin with anyways.

How do we best navigate and utilize institutions to make our narratives and our activism visible, yet not water ourselves down?
I think people all have their own strategies of survival, their own boundaries, their own compromises and goals that are informed by their own histories and circumstances. For me — close friendships have been the most helpful. Having people to talk honestly with about how great things are, about how hard things are, about how worried I am – gives me so much relief and guidance. I think struggling through institutions alone is so difficult – it just accentuates the loneliness. A sense of long term strategizing feels important. The language I’m using here feels so militarized (and maybe that’s because institutions are too) but I’m referring to the, “Lose the battle, win the war” type of strategy. Maybe there are certain compromises that grant us access to make more profound changes in the future? I also feel like for me it’s been helpful to enter with both concrete small goals and a larger emotional/political/spiritual framework that informs them.

DarkMatter has utilized social networking (like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) to broadcast its work and ideas to a wide variety of people. What does accessibility means to you in this new environment of the Internet?
It’s hard for me to think of the internet is “new,” because I grew up on the internet so it’s kind of my “old.” I’ve had a committed online presence since I was like 13. In fact, I started writing my poetry first online (hey, Myspace!) where people told me, “You’re really good at this keep on going!” So I did, and I’ve found my internet life in different capacity and now DarkMatter is a container that sort of holds all of it. The internet was so foundational for me to access a template of myself – like being able to realize that queerness, that transness was like a thing. The internet was my initial political education – I read about the work of Queers for Economic Justice, Audre Lorde Project, and more, which helped me make sense of my own life and where I fit in the world. I’m sure I could wax poetic about how the internet is doing so many cool things for our movements and making important ideas more accessible to large groups of people who wouldn’t come into contact with them IRL, but honestly (kind of like fashion) the internet was just something I have been doing for a long time so it feels natural. I don’t know if I always want my work to live in the internet, but I am so grateful that it gave birth to it for sure.

Do you see yourselves as deconstructing the imposed binary of the arts and activism? Do you think it is important to dismantle this binary?
Yes! This binary is so, so silly! Like how can art not engage what’s going on in the world? How can activism not be creative? It’s frustrating when artists say that they are “not very political,” because they neglect to acknowledge that in a world defined by violence. Apathy is a form of politics. Similarly – our activism has to be creative. We have to ask ourselves what the bigger questions are, what the meaning of the work we are engaging is, and what kind of world we are fighting for.

What is some advice that you would give young people interested in art and activism?
You are already an artist and you are already an activist. I think we set up so many guidelines and criteria for people to hop through in order to be taken seriously and a lot of these reinforce ageism. There is no one way that “art” or “activism” looks like. Surround yourself with people who nurture your creativity and your politics, and push hard to create what gives you and so many other people life.

What is next for you?
Putting my next performance outfit together (living my life one outfit at a time!)

“Taking Up Space and Making Art”: An Interview with Nia King

Nia King is a creative powerhouse whose work expands many different forms of media. King is a podcast producer, writer, zinester and self-publisher, and most importantly an artist and activist. In 2014, King published the collection of interviews Queer and Trans Artists of Color: Stories of Some of Our Lives and is currently in the process of compiling a second volume. I was able to talk to King about activism, artistic inspirations, and the ins and outs of self-publishing and grassroots marketing strategies.

Nia King

EM: You describe yourself as an “art activist.” What does that mean to you? How do you see art and activism as linked?

NK: I identify as an “art activist” because I make art that is political, that deals with race, gender, queer and trans issues, class, disability, fatphobia and other forms of social oppression.

EM: Who/what has inspired your work?

NK: People who really inspire me include Jaime Hernandez of Love and Rockets fame. He is probably my favorite artist in the world. I love his visual style and also his storytelling. Some of the first representations I sought out of people like me (queer people of color) were in comics, and Love in Rockets was definitely one of the first comics to portray queer women of color in a way that felt very real and very relatable. Maggie and Hopey were so cool, and I wanted to live in their world.

I am also really inspired by Poly Styrene. She was a mixed-race (Black/white) woman and the lead singer of an early punk band called X-Ray Spex. As a woman of color who grew up in punk scenes and became politicized largely through punk, it was really important for me to be able to look back at the history of punk and see people like me—women of color—who were taking up space, sort of demanding a right to be weird, and making amazing art.

EM: What does DIY mean to you?

NK: DIY means you do everything yourself. At this point, there are some pieces of work I delegate— like graphic design for the cover of my book, or transcription for the podcast—but for the most part I do everything myself. I book the podcast guests, I research their work, I interview them, I spend hours and hours editing the interviews, I record the intro, I add the music, I upload the files to my website and I share them on social media. Other podcasts have studios and engineers and interns. I just have me, and a couple friends I pay to do transcription or occasionally help with editing.

Similarly, the money for the first book was all crowd-funded. It all came from individual donors who believed in the work I was doing. I think the largest gift was $250, but most of the donations were $5-$20. I have never received a grant for any of my work.

EM: You take a grassroots approach in terms of fundraising, marketing and creating your work. Why is the grassroots approach important for you? What obstacles have you faced? What advice do you have for others who want to utilize this approach?

NK: I don’t really see an alternative to doing things the grassroots way. My work is not mainstream enough for institutions or organizations to want to resource my work in a meaningful way, or at least that hasn’t happened yet.

It’s really hard for people of color to get published, especially queer and trans people of color, especially if their work is politically charged in a way that is challenging the status quo. I self-publish because my work is considered too “niche” or too “specific” by mainstream publishers, but also because I am too impatient and I feel like the work is too urgent to wait for institutions with access to resources to want to get behind it. Every time I start to work on a book proposal or a grant application to try and convince people that my work is important and worth funding, I feel like that’s time and energy I could be spending on the book or the podcast instead, so I tend not to get very far.

EM: Why did you decide to start doing interviews? What is your interview process?

NK: I wanted to pick the brains of artists I admired about how they got where they are. I wanted to get their advice and economic survival strategies and share them with others that might be hungry for the same information.

EM: What is the process of self-publishing like? What are the advantages and the biggest roadblocks?

NK: The advantage is complete creative control, including control over the publishing timeline. The other big advantage is that even though you pay more up front, you also get to keep more of the money because no publisher is taking a cut.

The downside is limited distribution and sometimes not enough energy to promote the book properly. If I had a publisher, they would get the book into stores for me. Instead, I have to personally ship or deliver books to every bookstore that carries my book, which is about 22 independent bookstores across the US and Canada.

Also, if I had a publisher it would be easier for me to get the book reviewed in publications, though I’ve actually had pretty decent luck with that on my own thanks to the support of women of color I know who work in media like Tina Vasquez, Cathy Camper, and Mey Rude.

If I had a press I would be able to give away more copies for free to people that want to review the book. Currently, if I don’t charge people for every individual copy of the book that’s printed then I lose money because I am paying for the copy out of pocket.

EM: What advice do you have for young people who want to write, build community and create their own art?

NK: Don’t give up. There are going to be a lot of times you feel like giving up and a lot of perfectly good reasons that it seems like you should, but the only way to gain success or any kind of recognition for art-making is to keep doing it. It’s ok to put it on the back-burner when you need to prioritize economic survival or things like taking care of partners, friends, and family, but try to come back to it if it’s really something you want to do.

EM: What do you have in store for book two?

NK: The first year of the podcast (which is what the first book is based on) was fairly heavily Black- and Latin@-focused. In the second year, I’ve tried to include more East Asian, South Asian, Arab and Indigenous artists. The second book is also more focused on women and femmes, particularly trans women.

The themes that are emerging from the interviews are also different. Themes I’m noticing in the second book include bisexuality, religion, and punk rock. For example, Juba Kalamka talks about biphobia in gay male communities and transphobia in queer hip-hop. Vivek Shraya talks about how Hinduism offered spaces where she was celebrated for her femme qualities, which she was punished for almost everywhere else. Martin Sorrondeguy talks about why he still sees punk as valuable, now that’s he’s been part of punk scenes and documenting punk culture across continents for several decades. He also talks about the importance of protest music for his family as young Uruguayan exiles in Chicago.

If the first book was QTPOC 101, this is QTPOC 102. The conversations go deeper and they’re really rich and layered. I hope people will enjoy the second book. I think it will definitely give readers something to chew on intellectually. I hope that it adds nuance to their understanding of the ways oppression works.

Considering Community in Black Art: Sustaining Harlem

Sustaining Harlem: Art, Community Activism and Black Women’s Leadership will be a panel presented by Pat Cruz, Thelma Golden, Virginia Johnson, and Sade Lythcott during the 41st annual Scholar & Feminist Conference this Saturday, February 27. This panel is presented by the Harlem Semester, a new public humanities initiative of the Barnard Center for Research on Women and the Department of Africana Studies at Barnard College in partnership with Harlem’s historic cultural institutions, including the Studio Museum, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Harlem Stage, and others. 

Girl Pointing, 1983/2009

Girl Pointing, 1983/2009

The Harlem Semester grapples with and explores questions of Black art, politics, and culture by viewing Harlem “not as an inert site or abstract object, but instead as an intensively ‘peopled place’ of complex interaction”. With this layered and complex understanding of Harlem, I have approached sites such as the Studio Museum for deep engagements with art and knowledge that are mobilized within communal contexts of resistance and futuristic claims to survival.

Such art is produced within the precarious context of national politics and cultural representation, where it must endeavor to account for and recover undermined narratives, offering itself as an insurgent force against practices of erasure and domination.

For me, the Studio Museum in Harlem is evoked when thinking of art, activism and Black women’s leadership. As a cultural epicenter for the display of art driven by the concepts of activism and community, the Studio Museum is a crucial site for the sustenance and vitality of Harlem.

Lorraine O’Grady’s installation, Art Is…, on display at the Studio Museum in Harlem, is a collection of images captured during her performance at the 1983 African-American Day Parade. As part of O’Grady’s performance, attendees were invited to pose in gilded photo frames to complete their portraits, resulting in a series of joyful photographs depicting community and celebration. These portraits are part of ongoing image-making, storytelling, and archiving traditions as they pertain to the legibility of Black livelihood.

They enact the impulse of capturing communal joy and beauty as mundane articulations of resistance and survival.

ogrady_girlfriends_times_two0_web_0

Girlfriends Times Two, 1983/2009

Art that is created or displayed within Harlem must contend with rich and complex histories of Black resistance, survival, and transformation. 

In considering the present role of Harlem in our academic imaginations and political investments, art is useful for contemplating material and cultural conditions, past and present, of Harlem as a community. Such considerations of community and survival, as they are undertaken in Lorraine O’Grady’s performance, will be crucial during Scholar & Feminist 41: Sustainabilities.

 © 2015 Lorraine O’Grady/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York  

 

PHOTOS of Caribbean Feminisms on the Page: Edwidge Danticat and Victoria Brown

On September 17, we were privileged to be joined by Caribbean writers Edwidge Danticat and Victoria Brown for the second event in our series, Caribbean Feminisms on the Page (video available here).

Here are some photos from the night:

Edwidge Danticat

Victoria Brown

Edwidge Danticat

Edwidge Danticat and Victoria Brown

Caribbean Feminisms on the Page places distinguished writers in conversation with emerging authors to discuss issues including feminism, diaspora, and method. Stay tuned for our next event in the series by signing up for our email list.

No Such Thing as Neutral

On November 8, 2014, members of the Flex and Lite Feet dance communities joined Ali Rosa-Salas ’13 for a lecture demonstration and discussion. NO SUCH THING AS NEUTRAL highlights movement-based artists who engage notions of subjectivity and materiality of the body in their work while utilizing the technical formalities of Abstraction. The project celebrates Flex and Lite Feet, looking at their evolution and the indelible impact they have had in the contemporary dance world. At the event, Rosa-Salas engaged Flex and Lite Feet dancers in a spirited discussion about their artistry, their techniques, and their personal experiences dancing a style considered “street” in a dance world that values formal training and classical technique.

NO SUCH THING AS NEUTRAL is the culmination of Rosa-Salas’s year-long work as a 2014 Barnard Alumni Fellow with BCRW. Much of Rosa-Salas’s research is interested in examining what she calls the false and problematic binary between “formal” dances and “street” or “vernacular” dances. The “formal” side of this binary houses ballet and modern techniques; “street” or “vernacular” styles like tap, jazz, hip-hop, voguing, Flex and Lite Feet make up the other half of the dance binary. While “formal” dance is privileged with forming the “bedrock of all contemporary dance,” with the highest levels of training necessary to perform these styles, “street” styles are thought to be “natural,” with very little formal training or technique necessary. Rosa-Salas also examines the ways in which “street” styles are appropriated by mainstream pop-culture and how race and class factor into the construction of hierarchies in dance. Her intersectional critique framed the lecture demonstration and discussion. “These false categories bare a hierarchy that trouble me,” Rosa-Salas said in her opening comments. “Because they relegate certain dance forms into this ‘otherizing’ realm.” NO SUCH THING AS NEUTRAL strives to make these categories visible and ultimately attempts to upend them.

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On DJing: A Workshop with DJ Reborn

This blog post is part of a series of student reflections on the Gender Amplified Music Festival from September 2013. 

Titled “Turtablism 101” the Gender Amplified program, this workshop at last month’s day-long music festival filled quickly. DJ Reborn, a versatile artist who has spun for the likes of Lauryn Hill, Common, and The Roots, used her equally impressive background as an educator to engage nearly every participant in the session. Introducing herself, she explained that as a child, music represented for her a means of escape, and she soon became drawn to its powerful capacity to change the energy among a crowd of people. “I’m like a sonic practitioner,” she stated in a tone serious enough to reveal the dedication with which she approaches her work. The fact of being a woman in the male-dominated field of DJing only motivated DJ Reborn to pursue her craft more strictly; when she moved to New York, she explained, she began to work at DJing with the same systematic rigor as a worker in a nine-to-five job.

DJReborn

Before asking participants to introduce themselves, DJ Reborn concluded, “I was a really shy person, and DJing is a way for me to communicate without saying anything.” As a black woman, she said, she feels her music selections are doubly significant. Making conscious choices about which songs to include in a set and which to leave out, she remains creative throughout this process. She offered an example: if the lyrics of a song are misogynistic but the track is otherwise appealing, DJ Reborn will use the instrumental version.

This aspect of the discussion seemed to resonate well with the participants in the room, many of whom were young women of color. Some individuals who hailed from Black Girls Rock had already learned the basics of DJing and others sought to connect with more female DJs. DJ Reborn facilitated that process in a hands-on manner by inviting everyone to take turns DJing behind the booth at the front of the room. After a group-wide pledge in which everyone raised their dominant hand and repeated in unison, “I do solemnly swear to be the best DJ that I can be…until 1 o’clock or however long this session is,” participants filed to the front. One after another, they stated their DJ name–if they had chosen one–and, after selecting a song, tentatively scratched the standard four beats per measure before releasing the vinyl record with the help of DJ Reborn.


Speaking to the larger theme of the music festival, Reborn addressed some of the gender dynamics at play in the music industry. She also shared her belief that unlike men, who tend to spin for their own enjoyment, women DJs can better intuitively read a crowd. Succinctly, she imparted sound advice to the workshop attendees: “Don’t just play the hits.”

Here is a recap of the Gender Amplified Music Festival:

Emilie Segura is a senior at Barnard majoring in sociology and is a BCRW Research Assistant.

Related:

Create, Record, Inspire!

The Gender Amplified Music Festival is a unique event to “celebrate, support and unite women in the world of music production. This festival aims at identifying and motivating next generation of women music producers.” This year, this magnificent event took place at Barnard College on September 28, 2013, uniting producers, scholars, artists, activists and music enthusiasts.
With an aim to “construct and support safe production studio environment where girls and women can learn music production with their peers and renowned industrial production,” this year’s festival gathered some renowned people in the field. One of them was Ms. Abhita Austin, Founder and Chief Creative Officer of  Hidden Chapel Studios, a boutique production facility in the Long Island which she opened in 2009.

Studio owner and entrepreneur Abhita Austin in front of her powerpoint, which displays the slide "Create, Record, Inspire"

At the Gender Amplified Festival, Abhita shared her experience and journey of starting her career as an intern during her sophomore year in college to opening up her own studio. She focused on her entrepreneurial journey and urged the young talented women in the workshop to take lesson from their setbacks. Talking about entrepreneurship, Abhita mentioned that though entrepreneurship is a life-fulfilling path, it is not for everybody. “It requires you to believe in the magic of the unseen,” she said.

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“Purely Aesthetic?” An Introduction to “No Such Thing as Neutral”

In November of last year, well respected post-modern choreographer Deborah Hay presented Blues for MoMA’s dance series, “Some sweet day.” For this piece, Hay divided the dancers into two casts: the blue whites and the blue blacks. The blue whites, comprised exclusively of white dancers, were instructed to stand still in quiet observation, while the blue blacks, comprised of dancers of color, were instructed to improvise in the center of MoMA’s cavernous white atrium. According to Hay, this casting decision was purely an “aesthetic” one, because she was intrigued by how the blue blacks’ dark skin contrasted with the MoMA’s white walls.

A circle of white dancers in black leotards, with several black dancers moving around them and the audience beyond that.

Performance of Deborah Hay’s Blues (2012) at The Museum of Modern Art, November 2012. Part of Some sweet day (October 15–November 04, 2012). © 2012 Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo by Paula Court

Though Hay hotly denied  any concerted racial segregation in her casting, her claim was soon troubled by pay discrepancies that her dancers discovered following the MoMA performances: while blue white dancers received $200, the blue black dancers received $700. A series of reaction articles and panels followed the performances, as audience members and participants processed their experiences and what Blues signified for the state of race relations in contemporary post-modern dance.

At a fundamental level, I wondered how Hay was able approach her work from a “purely aesthetic” place while making a work that was so squarely about race. Did Hay’s privileged status as a white choreographer allow her to circumvent explanation for her racialized casting choices, along with the discrepancy of the dancers’ paychecks? Once a work of art is defined as abstract – particularly an ephemeral form like dance – is it absolved of any socio-political interpretations?

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