49.4, Black Performance II: Knowing and Being

Black Performance I: Subject and Method collects research that shows how performance can act as an optic and object of study. The authors’ diverse subjects reveal resonances of the past in performance in music and movement, poetry, media, art, museums, memory, and thought. The research in Black Performance II: Knowing and Being further demonstrates the ways performances in various genres contemplate and structure ways of knowing and ways of being as systems entangled in embodiments and critical interactivity. In this, women scholars identify performers’ diverse strategies for making meaning and remaking inherited knowledge. These scholars discover performance structures of Black feminist love in the work of various artists.

The performances reflect on new ways of being as much as the scholars who analyze them. Each performance also forges new ways of being that address how we understand, and perhaps feel, blackness, gender, transnational womanhood, community, sexuality, and history. The communities invoked develop common language and sensibility through aesthetics, speech, and writing. Several articles foreground the ways in which people work through ideas together in an enactment of community recognition. This occurs through relationships to form, through conversation, choreography, and writing. Melissa Blanco Borelli reveals Black transnational artists structure as radical presence through musical performance practices. Jasmine Elizabeth Johnson reveals dancers’ choreographic collaborative work founded on sharing spoken memories and stories as a process of “tenderness.” Shana L. Redmond experiments with collaborative and contrapuntal writing practices between Hansberry and Baldwin as negotiating a terrain of sound. Redmond explores the quotidian elements of sound as form—sound from the neighborhood as much as from music.

At times, the performers shape ideas with their audiences as interlocutor. In Aleksandra Szaniawska’s essay, Janelle Monae narrates queer possibilities via performances that find greater resonance before live and constructed audiences. In Rashida Braggs’s piece, our author as performer, addresses the nature of audiences’ hearing of history. Braggs brings performative ontology to the page to play with text as a conduit between thought, knowledge-making, performance, blackness, the body, music, and history. She recounts a performance she created as an investigation of Sidney Bechet’s performance of Gershwin’s “Summertime,” itself a layered enactment of historical consciousness. Braggs’s endeavor reflects the investigative and pedagogical directions of research as embodied practice.

Artist Delita Martin’s cover to this issue, “If Spirits Danced” poses a possibility echoed by our authors. With a quotidian boldness, the direct gaze of a Black girl in blue calmly engages and challenges. She ventures a hypothesis of lively possibility in her provocative titular “if” alongside an embedded invitation to do so, to dance in spirit and gesture.

Intro available for a limited time here.

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