My project is a study of embodied manifestations of Quiet and humor in contemporary minoritarian commons. I am most interested in a study that brings together a constellation of contemporary artists and political moments with an attention to the ways the Quiet and humor emerge, operate, and make an ephemeral commons in which minoritarians come together in their difference and activate an us that refuses. By refusal, I am thinking about refusing the dominant scripts of resistance and agency that risk rendering modes of resistance as mere spectacle. Are there ways in which Quiet and humor evade such scripts? In what ways do Quiet and humor operate against neoloberal colonizing patriarchal racists systems and in what ways are they subsumed or invsibilized by such systems? I am particularly interested in off stage and in between moments. While much of the scholarship on artists work focuses on analyzing the outcome of their artistic labors, be it a song, a performance, an exhibit, etc., I want to attend to the moments before and after, the invisible labor that brings a work into being. This includes but is not limited to the conceptualization, the stages of negotiating with institutions to present work on the artists’ terms, the pre or post community gatherings that happen “outside” of the what is considered to be the work, but is arguably the work itself.
The constellation of artists I work with necessarily engages with a constellation of scholars and theorists. These include but are not limited to Kevin Quashie's Sovereignty of Quiet, Joshua Chambers-Letson and Jose Esteban Munoz's minoritarian under commons (which builds on Moten and Harney's work on the Undercommons), Anne Anlin Cheng's Ornamentalism and Melancholy of Race, Katherine McKittrick's Demonic Grounds and more. Of particular interest too is the way in which Indigenous scholars such as Jessica Bissett Perea expand on notions of density versus difference in consideration of relationality (see Sounding Relations).
I plan to pursue my project through collaborating with the artists whose work I hope to write about. I aspire to find ways of witnessing processes and performances that feel mutually supportive. What form will this take? I imagine a primarily phenomenological approach that involves conversations with the artists, collaborators and institutions, over time, witnessing practice, rehearsals or community meetings, engaging in a processing or writing about these experiences. I am inspired by the interventions that Indigenous Sound Studies scholar Dylan Robinson makes, for example, in his work Hungry Listening in which he invites thinkers to discuss and trouble the notions that constitute his work.
Additionally, the artists I am working with situate their works in particular contexts such as historical sites and documents. For example, Wideman Davis dance company’s work Migratuse Ataraxia tours antebellum plantations in the South asking what is it for black bodies to move in these spaces and not be policed? A study of Migratuse thus necessarily entails delving into plantation studies, archives, a consideration of how antebellum homes perform whiteness and engaging the work of a multitude of contemporary theorists such as Saidiya Hartman and Christina Sharpe. The in between moments of this performance included community gatherings in which descendants of the plantation owners and descendants of the enslaved and the sharecroppers came together, and feasted together. Quiet operated in complex and nuanced ways in this feast, which would not have happened without the performance itself, but also was its own happening.
The feast will be a feature of another artist I hope to spend time with. Adil Mansoor is a theater artist about to premiere a work in which he and his mother attempt to find a common ground that both honors her religious beliefs and the fact that Adil is gay and has a life partner. Thus common ground thus far has taken the shape of an apology. I want to explore how western liberal ideals of “coming out” operate at a “loud” and inapplicable frequency here, and how Quiet connections are forged in the silences and effortful strains between Urdu, Arabic and English. The apology is multi-layered, one of a son to a mother and mother to son, but also a mutual apology for the gaps and ellipses between belief systems, as immigrants survibing a post 9/11 anti-Muslim America, and for the lack of precise vocabulary that prevents them from finding somewhere to “meet.” As the work will premiere during Ramadan, Adil has collaborated with the theater for an additional viewing mid-week in which audience members will be invited to gather after sunset and feast, with the performance taking place whenever the feast finishes. More than “accommodation”, I am interested in how Quiet operates against the conventions and assumptions of theaters and showtimes and consequently extends and invitation to audience members who would otherwise self exclude or remain invisible. In this sense the only method I can imagine is to attend this performance and to be present for the this manifestation of an ephemeral Minor commons that arrives to feast and witness. Beyond the show, however, initial conversations with Adil have indicated that the conception of the work Ammigone led him to invite his mother into conversation, but that the process, meaning, connection and conversations they continue to have live on outside of the content of the show.
Quiet takes on the form of inscrutability and rejection fo translation in another artist I will work with, Samita Sinha. I want to continue to consider the stakes of Samita’s embodied vocal work as a visceral vessel exploring the liberatory potential of the brown woman in the aftermath of such politicized moments as the rape of Jyoti Singh and the viral photo of Saffiya Khan defending a muslim woman cornered by alt right extremists in England. After interviewing and writing about Samita, we continued to stay connected, and she invited me to partake in small group lessons where she guides students through different entry points into sound. This intimate embodied participation offers phenomenological experience of Sinha’s practice and framing, as well as the insight into the “in between” moments outside of her stage performances.
I plan to delve into Quiet as a spatial ethics of care in Seneca artist Rosy Simas’s yödoishëndahgwa’geh (a place for rest), a multimedia installation the All My Relations gallery in the heart of the Native community in Minneapolis in August and September of 2021 in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd. By spatial ethics of care, I am referring to an improvisational approach that responds to experiences versus abstract (colonial) ideologies or conceptions of linear time and progress. Vine Deloria refers to this in God is Red when he states, “Spatial thinking requires that ethical systems be related directly to the physical world and real human situations, not abstract principles, are believed to be valid at all times, and under all circumstances.” The installation invites visitors to sit in zero gravity chairs while surrounded by sound and film scapes of the Mississippi river. Spending time with Rosy expanded my considerations of Quiet as it moves between erasure and withholding, how Deloria’s articulation of space-based conception underscores a kind of Quiet attunement and listening, and how Quiet explodes linear time, how Quiet reverberates in the recognition or moment before or after sound, the Quiet of withholding and secrecy in order to preserve.
While colonized systems of knowledge making would organize these artists by race or geography, I am interested in finding ways that hold them together. Through intimate witnessing, conversations, and engagement with theorists, my project asks: “What are the stakes of Quiet as modes of being, knowing, and doing?
What does it mean to perform the Quiet?
-What is the relationship between Quiet and publicness?
-What is the meaning of Quiet in minoritarian spaces? How does the Quiet manifest differently in different spaces, times and contexts and for different people?
-Where does it fall into the dense lineage of Black studies and Ethnic studies? How does this work contribute to the conversation and respond to what has come before?
-What is the relationship between Quiet and affect? Trauma? Abjection?
-How can (and do) minoritarians share spaces that are not defined by their abjection?
-Put another way, how can I think about minoritarian performance of Quiet outside of the container of “marginalized/colonized/injury”?
-What is the relationship between the Quiet and the senses?
-How does the Quiet challenge or defy dominant power structures and narratives? -What are its limitations?
-How will I consider Quiet for different minoritarian performances without conflating, equating, flattening, diminishing their subjectivity?
-I continue to mull over the following tropes of inquiry with respect to Quiet and Humor:
-Performance and performativity
-Textual (language/literature/ elision/ punctuation)
-Quiet and Sound
-Time and Timing
-Care and Relationality