SAT NOTES: Speaking Truth to Power Through Art
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Du Boisian Scholar Network, 2019 Convening
Session Notes
Note Taker(s):Michael Kennedy
Email of Note taker(s)
Date:Sat, May 4
I. TopicsII. Summary CommentsIII. Action Item
IV. Date of First Contact/Follow Up
V. Contact Lead Name(s)VI. Contact Lead Email
Introductory Comments by Julian ChamblissBeginning with reflections on their conversation (with Lisa Biggs), Julian Chambliss begins. In English, trained as a historian, Julian maps real and imagined urban spaces, including with comics. Exploring Jack Kirby's Black Panther, Chambliss turned to Du Bois to explore ideologies of Blackness underlying the contests durrounding its intoduction, and the Boseman film. In this, Julian considers how this and associated cultural production affects double consciousness around race. It may be an Afrofuturist production, how Black people grabbed this film, but the comic was itself complicated. It's about how white people could talk of Africa without imperialism, but still, thinking about Black Panther as a historical object can be productive. Black Panther was a "transformative moment" in comics, moving beyond the comics extension of minstrelsy; Torchy Brown began changing that; with BP is transformative, leading toward a more general question: how can we think about transformation around art, notably with Afrofuturism in mind; Reference Flame Wars and the discourse of cyberculture; ed by Mark Dery; the essay, "Black to the Future" -- with Delaney, Tate, and Brown's own Tricia Rose. It began with this problematic question: "why don't more black people read science fiction?" and coins the term Afrofuturism there in 1994. That question is probelmatic because of course there IS a Black Speculative Tradition, and it gets rediscovered after this interview; invoking Alondra Nelson's discussion of Afrofutirsm, and how resiliency is part of the tradition, Julian also references Robin D G Kelly's book, which in turn references MLKing, "this generation needs the vision to see in their ordeals a move to transfigure both ourselves and American society". This idea of art to transform is key for Du Bois too. As exemplar of this transformative art, consider Black Kirby and Motherboxx; know Jack Kirby's career as an artist, and how he was dispossessed not only of royalties but of his art itself; John Jennings, of Black Kirby, said, "they treat him like a Black Person". Consider Afrofuturism and the Black Speculative Tradition as a landscape where artists go to inspire future acts; it not only emphasies the past, but projects futures; Julian teaches a class called AfroFantastic. pictures by Hiba Abudullah, R. Kakar, B Erwergjobi, Nadia Dearing. Rooted in African, feminine, way to articulate a different set of being in public that challenges people's expectations. This connects directly to Du Bois, changing the space, that drives art, that drives action, that drives art, that drives action.
Introductory Comments by Lisa BiggsDrawing on Du Bois's "Criteria of Negro Art", Lisa Biggs begins the session with his comments on beauty, and on art's relationship to propaganda. Lisa moves into a discussion of her own art and conception of AFTER/LIFE, her depiction of the 1967 rebellion in Detroit. Lisa explains the history of this rebellion, the contest over its naming (riot? unrest? rebellion?) and the importance of depicting this act of resistance. Lisa also marks not only the familiar parts of the tale, but also the underattended, notably the manhandling and gender-based violence by police against the women and girls in the intial assault, and that which follows and precedes.
There are not only academics and activists in the room, but also artists.
how do we document, archive? We ought be concerned for all that is being produced; consider vhs that has not been digitized; with demise of serial publications where poeple were getting published; how many libraries have comic book collections; what practices do we have for people to create their own archive; Warhol just kept a box by his desk, the history of what he did is ready to go
even in artistic communities, the vibrant zine culture, very tied to particular groups, artists, musics, but we don't have those zines; they appear in bits and collections; they often don't catalogue properly Zines, given the challenges of format for documenting this; we have a crisis, as we live in the digital age; there IS a twitter archive for Ferguson, and we should get institutional buyin for this kind of work; some use newsletters as method of archiving that are housed at an institution
how do we consume Black humor? Consider the social media awards for young black entrepreneurs on social media. But note this: on social media these humorists keep us laughing, prcessing, supporting folks in graduate school with just a tweet; consider, for example too, and a shout out to the black woman that, with her video going viral, has now moved many folks to insist on medical personal documenting their refusal to prescribe medication on their chart; thanks to this media, folks can read this on twitter to know rights;
Simply, how do you document and archive the labor going into the media? it's great too when it gets into practice; how do we document dances, can we have a media section of videos of black women hugging? -- that's what people are gtting their support from; there's a wish to document these 3 or 4 second memes;
that quick practice is a very different temporal thing, Lisa's '67 rebellion story could not have been done in a tweet; the center where the play was performed now has a cyber cafe; Comcast gave them laptops; the work of art and artists is not something that should be rushed
this is an expression of culture that is different from slow art, quick expressions that can be digitized -- what are people making, consuming; Maria Gaspar 96 acres project - demonstrated racial disparities with cars next to the jail, to physically show racial differences in prison practice.
emotions and artHarlen: emotion has come up a lot ... that's what brings . us to art, and making scholarship acessible; even if words or an archive is not acceptable, it is emotion, what is experiences; there are problems with archiving, there are oral history projects in my community; social media enables far more processing; whereas elders are often surviving by bottling it up; emotions may be first, but words and tangible things come later;
a visual artist -- how we experience art in museums and in commmunities; the space in which art lives informs how we feel it; I wanted art to give myself space and agency to engage the undocumented story; i've had to leave academic space and back into community to create deeply rich cultural artifacts that are not devoid of emotion;
some trained as a classical visual artist, how in the Du Boisian tradition not only to make art more accessible, but how to create liberation fugtures and experimentions; translation and speculative piece, if liberation is the goal what does that looki like?beauty as a tool of affect, but sometimes it can eclipse the substance of hte work, and that can hide the rigor of work; they worked in a youth prison, and creators sometimes cfreaed something beautiful, but how to recognize that without compomising it by the label of beauty; how do we process and experience through art. we watch so much alone through social media; so we dont' know how to act, in concert with others; can we consider abstraction as a decolonial practice, to exist outside of Western epistemologies;
art as a force within social movements: within Protestant Christian churches... the singer, song writer, and activated in that space, my people inspire me toward poetry; how does that enter that into my academic work, translate that into my writing; how to understand my creative self and whether that should be translated; not everything needs ot be translated into the academy; still, my academic work is working through ny own identity in my work; i want to move beyond the poetry in my own space, into a global transnational space that doesn't use that langauge, or talk that way;
being an academic and artisti used art as escapism from the academy; there was a duality ... ; how can they be merged? academy can be politically limiting, but artistry can be liberating; i fear in academia that i hesitate to deplay my truest self;
if art is an escape for marginalized people, but if these arts are institutionalized within structures of oppresioN, what to do? i do [art] with east asian queer people, but we are also working within these elite institutions; but we have to rely on these institutions, but to avoid a fragmentation of ourselves; can we become whole and take care of the history and present traumas through a liberation of the instiution;
the audience I want to prioritize the art and the academy... but in the university this is too colloquial; is there a way to not have this fragmentation of audience;
there ARE orgnizations who are deeply involved in art; we see more and more scholars translating their work into comics; looking at creating games to allow people to understand other people; even board games; around memory games, with archival photos; tehre are different ways who are academic who use new methodologies; not every too has to talk to every person;
as a non-academic, you ought meld the artist and academic; most black folks won't know the academic side, it's good to know the artist side, for black folks can identify; being in an institution that is around forever, we don't ahve to fix everything; but we do work that hurts us everyday, and just be ok; there is the guilt of selfishness for black and brown folks, white folks can preserve thsemlves because they are the most selfish people on this earth; we need to embrace selfish work and that will help somebody; when i was an activist full time, i was suffering; we need the balance. it's a synergy.
create art so we can see the aggressorsto force them to see themselves in a mirror; i am not here to comfort you, but to confront you;
4 years before the rebellion, that history and organizing around the police violence against sex workers that Detroit police never investigated;recalling also a 4 year old murdered by police fire; Deborah knew their family;
we should think about the police officers who pulled the triggers; we should attend to the perpetrators of violence, who are living as though it never happened; the white folks who never recognized that it was their grandfather who pulled triggers; how do you shift the power lens to tell not only victimation but also how is it that we dont' see complicity;
What about other disciplines? helps folks who are creative actorsImagiining America: helps folks who are creative actors, and has some work; It has produced academic and publishing guidlelines that have revised MLA expectqations.
AHA does this; driving by people who are doign digital public work; refernce Julie Ellison's Scholarship in Public white paper for this; there was also a journal called Public in Imagining America; how to make humanities more liberator --; there's more going with what you are articulating than you might know;
Lorna Simpson, visual artist, Also referenced is rather; Sweet Tea important peformance art is crtical; professionalize how you see, taste, etc. professionalizing can fragment; reinsert the senses back into the frame. it what ways is my body sensitizing this apace; that's where emotion is. Objectivity snuffs out the feeling; subjetivity is placing the body in the center. You have to relearn how to engage people who have never left your senses behind. Tressie Cottom and Thicke brings emotion into academia.
They may not be sociologists in the lead here, but they certainly extend the Du Boisian spirit in the #DBSN19 embrace of the arts. With Brown University's Lisa Biggs and Michigan State University's Julian Chambliss, we discuss speaking truth to power through art. Lisa discussed her play, AFTER/LIFE, a portrait of the 1967 rebellion in Detroit, based on original research among those who remember the events. Julian moved our discussion of Afrofuturism not only with reference to the transformative powers of Black Panther, in comic and in film, but also with the inspiration of those of his MSU students who expressed the AfroFantastic. The ensuing discussion was rich, exploring the relationships among various kinds of artistic expression, affect and emotion, archives and acknowledgement, and the relationship of the arts to academic work in sociology and beyond. So many creators in the room, we might explore in subsequent meetings how to make their works more explicitly available with websites for moderators, as here provided, but also for other useful venues, as for Imagining America Indeed, this very example raises the question about how DBSN might a) recognize its kin projects; and b) figure out how they adjoin and reinforce each other. Some issues are distinctive to the Du Boisian sociological project, while others -- like the place of the arts in more social scientific discussions -- could be placed in other traditions even while projects like Karida Brown's archival work is squarely within that Du Boisian vision, even if its place in a conventional sociology is less clear.