Unruly Polyvocality

Networks of Black Performance Art

Authored by: Uri McMillan

The Routledge Companion to African American Art History

Print publication date:  December  2019
Online publication date:  November  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138486553
eBook ISBN: 9781351045193
Adobe ISBN:


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Black performance art, from the outset, is a vexed form; it is inextricably linked to histories of subjugation, imperialism, and personal sovereignty. After all, as Tavia Nyong’o (2013) asks, “If black people have historically been reduced to our bodies—bought, sold, displayed, purchased, and used as chattel—what does it mean for an art form to take that former commodity as its medium? Is it an act of reclaiming? Healing? Theft?” (26). Put differently, in the words of Coco Fusco ([1996] 2001), what are the stakes of contemporary black artists “recuperating the bodies that, once upon a time, black people inhabited but did not own” (6-7)? Indeed, as sociologist Paul Gilroy (1995) asserts, histories of captivity, enslavement, and fugitivity undoubtedly haunt and inform contemporary black live art. “The dramaturgy of power that haunts today’s racial politics and contemporary expressive cultural codes was first ‘formatted’ in those grim locations” (15). 1

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