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  • Writer's pictureGEM LAB

Embodiment and Black Aesthetics


//Friday, January 29th @ 2:00 EST

//Digital Event

//Registration required through Eventbrite

//Suggested texts:

Sondra Perry:

Martine Syms:

Embodiment and Black Aesthetics is a presentation from Shelleen Maisha Greene (UCLA).

In this presentation, I discuss my ongoing project Embodiment and Black Aesthetics, a study of performative acts in black disasporic cultural production that challenge, subvert and expand our understanding of disembodiment. This project is engendered by the increased visibility of black subjects imperiled by state-sanctioned violence, a hypervisibility made possible by now ubiquitous mobile digital technologies and social media. Drawing upon the recent work of Uri McMillan, Zakiyyah Iman Jackson and Tavia N’yongo, the objective of my study is to examine the ways in which black diasporic cultural production contends with the problematic of visibility and embodiment for black subjects. For this presentation, I will focus on the experimental multi-media practice of artists Sondra Perry and Martine Syms. In works such as Resident Evil (2016), IT’S IN THE GAME ’18 (2018) and Graft and Ash for a Three Monitor Workstation (2016), Perry uses digital video, found internet footage, computer desktop screens, and Real Player Motion Tech (a video game technology used to create animation that mimics human body motion) to comment upon the various ways black subjectivity and corporeality are digital mediated, and how the use of digital technologies can enact counter-narratives and critiques of police violence, health precarity, and continued commoditization of black bodies. Similarly, the conceptual practice of Martine Syms, as seen in works such as Incense Sweaters & Ice (2017), Mythiccbeing (2019), and Boon (2019) uses interactive video, installation, augmented reality and facial recognition technologies to examine the digital mediation of racial and gendered identity formation, drawing upon histories of African American migration and black cultural production.

About the GEM Lab 2020-21 Seminar Series: The 2020-21 GEM Seminar is organized around the problem of Race Critical Theories. Among other inspirations, it borrows its conceptual orientation from Philomena Essed and David Theo Goldberg’s 2001 eponymous collection. The volume, which both gathered seminal scholarship on race and racism from the 1980s and 1990s, alongside newly commissioned responses to that work, sought to “look back reflectively as a way forward.” Our seminar returns to this historically grounded but present-focused intervention in order to look back, as a way forward, again. We are equally inspired by the project’s challenge to nation-centric (e.g. the United States) understandings of race and racial discourse. Instead, it draws on a transnational network of scholars and activists to explore a set of multi-sited and global dynamics, demonstrating that “there is no singular national space that does or should dominate the thinking about race and racism.” This formulation is critical to GEM’s mission and informs the organization of this years’ remote lectures and workshops. Race Critical Theories works both to examine the specificities of race and racism in Canada and the US – settler colonialism, anti-Blackness, racial capitalism, white supremacy, ethno-nationalism, among other crucial issues – but also to locate these paradigms and expand our frames to other sub- and trans-national structures. This includes what Denise Ferreira da Silva terms the global idea of race. Finally, we take as our starting point the global Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, as well as the deeply violent inequalities exposed by the present pandemic’s disproportionate assault on Black and Indigenous communities, People of Color, Migrants, Queer and Trans* people, among many others marginalized by cisheteropatriarchy and white supremacy.


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