after, within, beyond: art and the struggle for freedom in our time

Nicholas Gamso and Tavia Nyong’o

Thursday, 13 October, 6:30p // Graduate Center Skylight Room

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Join us as Nicholas Gamso and Tavia Nyong’o present work and occasion discussion of the potentiality and relationality of art, Blackness, institutionality, and freedom.

Art after Liberalism
Museums and other institutions are increasingly understood as symbols of a freedom denied to people expelled from public life. As recent protests in New York have shown, the museum shares this comparative basis, structurally and conceptually, with the liberal Nation State, which prioritizes the lives of its citizens always and necessarily at the expense of non-citizens. A similar structure of negation appears in gentrified city space, where scenes of creativity obtain only after another person, or community has been sacrificed. Anti-blackness refers in part to this foundational procedure, as has been established by Black studies scholars among others. What does this mean for our conception, widespread in leftist circles, of art’s transformative capacities? When we speak of art as an expression of freedom, what kind of freedom do we, could we, mean? The same question could be posed to politics, as such: is it possible to think of political action, or political community, beyond historical associations with a racialized polity free from the demands of self-preservation? These questions are especially pressing at moments of widespread social instability. What can art do beyond its representational or critical functions? Can it realize material interdependencies? And would this help to shift out of liberal political form and into something new and not yet named?

Nicholas Gamso is the author of Art after Liberalism (2022), a study of contemporary art and political geography, and of essays in Afterimage, ASAP/Journal, Social Text, Texte zur Kunst, Third Text, and X-TRA. Nick is co-editor of World Records, vol. 4: ‘In the Presence of Others,’ a contributing editor of the Millennium Film Journal, and associate editor of Places Journal. After completing his PhD at CUNY Graduate Center, Nick became a Creative Cities Fellow at Stanford University. He has also taught in the Visual Studies program the Pratt Institute and the Art Place & Public Studies at the San Francisco Art Institute.


Black Apocalypse: Afrofuturism and Its Discontents

The ongoing covid-19 pandemic’s convergence with the most recent unfolding of the long black freedom struggle has brought preexisting debates about optimism, pessimism, and futurism to a new and important conjuncture. Put another way, more than a century of speculative thought and expressive culture created by black intellectuals and artists in opposition to racist culture has been preparing us for the future that is now. If one familiar name for this particular strand of future shock has been Afrofuturism, that particular set of tropes, concerns, and even genres might now well be thought of as historical. In the past decade, Afropessimism and its cognates have articulated a variety of discontents with the postmillennial state of theory, the play of alliances, and even the value of utopianism in black thought. This essay seeks to address these critiques and revive the fortunes of a grounded black utopianism in our times. It seeks to do this by identifying a critical black negativity that underpins a range of otherwise contrastive intellectual standpoints and commitments, and seeks to explore that stance’s genealogy. Crucial here will be an effort to pluralize what the negative is and does for an era of cascading catastrophe. If Sun Ra was one of the earliest prophets to announce that it was ’after the end of the world,’ Black Apocalypse looks to more recent efforts to provide a road-map within and beyond this hazardous post-apocalyptic terrain.

Tavia Nyong’o is William Lampson Professor of American Studies, African American Studies, Theater and Performance Studies, and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Yale University. He is the author of two books, The Amalgamation Waltz (2009) and Afro-Fabulations: The Queer Drama of Black Life (2018). He is completing a book on Afrofuturism and its discontents, and embarking on two new studies: on Samuel R. Delany and his worlds, and on the racial reckoning in theater and performance.

This event is free and open to the public. Visitors must comply with COVID protocols as specified here:
Sponsored by the Graduate Certificate in American Studies and the PhD Program in English