What’s in a Hickey? (@Little Berlin)

Hickey (ending June 30th, at Little Berlin) was an opportunity for me to revisit some of the themes that I’ve been turning over in my head for the last few months while I’ve been working on a project about representations of queerness.

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HICKEY irreverently presents tales of intimacy and identity through the works of six queer men. By using traditional mediums such as paint, paper, pencil and fiber, and then subverting their applications, the artists in the exhibition simultaneously make light of and shine light on the absurdities of finding one’s self and then sharing with another

The nifty little booklet’s overture lays out the question at the intersection of art and queerness: sharing. When does being become an act? Do you shout your homosexuality from the rooftops? Where is your fur suit hidden? The revelation of the self (and the degree to which all art is autobiographical) keeps me up at night. Is the artist the narrator of the text? (Can this be turned over without becoming another question?) Coming from the study of books and thinking in literary terms, raised on narrative Disney cinema, I’m always interested in where the story comes into things. A viewer has the option to become an interpreter and assign a meaning to a work. Some works in this exhibit call attention to the narrative element while others evade that temptation. The ambiguous space is, of course, only to be expected here: the artist had to find their sense of self; the viewer has to go searching as well.

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“That’s my issue with modern art, I think it’s hard.”

(a conversation overheard while I was typing this piece in a public space)

It’s been lovely to interact with a few of the artists at Hickey. As I keep looking at the modern art on the walls (and I was there when at least one of these pieces was being worked on–what’s more modern than last week?), I wonder about the aspect of hardness. The images that keep popping up in these pieces are reactions to other works and captions of lives and locations (real and imagined) of the artists. There are many soft surfaces and tactile subjects in this hard world of modern art. Little things pile up and works talk to one another. The animated characters of one drawing could easily be lounging in the inked living rooms on gold paper hanging on the wall across. The long tapestry made from wigs and costume jewelry cries out to be touched, just like the large blue suspension from the ceiling cries out for a dance with their passing cousin, the disco ball. The loving image in the beautiful curve of a pair of glasses could be in the same scene as the parchment dripping from “a squeeze of the hand.” The artists tried to find varying selves and have come together in these rooms. I have so much more to consider. Let’s talk to one another.

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“Tintin” at Indigenous Ambiguities

After six months of relative non-production, I’ve updated the long-silent Indigenous Ambiguities blog with a post about Tintin in America, addressing colonialism and comic books. It’s about a moment where the expected attitude of a vintage comic book falls through and an opening develops to have a conversation about colonialism in the USA.

You can read it here.

“Underside” at Parentheses Journal

A poem I wrote, “Underside,” has been published in the March 2018 issue of Parentheses Journal. It’s my first appearance there and my first published work of poetry in almost a decade.

I started working on poetry again when I was in my last semester of graduate school. Everything that I read became this mountain of conversation that I desperately wanted to engage with on its own terms, but could not. I was reading large swaths of Harlem Renaissance novels and poetry, and wanted to respond with novels and poems of my own. This was not to appropriate the subject material of these writers; to fail as Van Vechten had failed. Instead, I wanted to engage with the language, the turns of phrase, the magic spark that made these works so important to readers and fellow writers. I wrote poems for myself and, on a lark, decided that I should look for avenues of publication. Parenthesis Journal was kind enough to accept this poem.

Hybridity and Perpetual Invention (Repost)

This Post originally appeared on PostColonial Minds last February. I was thinking about it in light of this year’s first major scandal of vocabulary: whether the President did or did not refer to certain countries as “shithole” countries. I’m still having conversations with my partner about the placing of books and how even the location on a shelf can show what is valued–above and beyond the alphabet. 

I talked with my partner about books in their reference library. They told me that there were these large stacks filled with a series of guidebooks that divided up the earth into particular categories, each of which had several corresponding volumes: North and South America, then Europe, then Asia, Africa and the rest were clumped together. The volumes about the Americas were placed on the top and middle shelves, while the books about Africa (which, since the rest of the books followed alphabetically, should have been the first books on the shelf) came after them on the lower shelves, where their size made them difficult to see or pick up. I asked my partner why these books seemed short-shifted. My partner looked at me: “You know why.”

There is a consistent devaluation of achievements made by the colonized from the colonizer. Tambudzai is someone her family can be proud of because she had earned her place at the Sacred Heart, and has proven herself by colonizer’s standards. This can be contrasted with Nyasha, whose drive to study becomes a mania leading to a mental and physical breakdown. Tambu keeps her place and remains subservient even when she rebels—she does not have the same sense of justification in rebellion as Nyasha; she “knows” she should follow the rule of her father and uncle. She is surrounded by women who have followed the paths chosen for them by men and have little satisfaction to show for it. Her mother, who dreads her wedding and has almost no interest in it, and Nyasha both detach themselves from the world around them—a world in which their contributions are extremely limited, anticipating a process Tambudzai will go through in relationship to her brother’s death. In the “Interview with the Author” included at the end of the novel, Dangarembgua states:

Also, though Tambu may not have been psychologically contorted when she was fourteen, she definitely is now. This is what I am grappling with in the work I am currently doing—it is taking me a long time to write the sequel to my satisfaction. (205)

The novel is, then, a portrait of a woman (or rather a woman’s consciousness of her position) coming into being. It is a story of first rumblings of a separate consciousness, one that is aware it will never again be able to refer to the place of birth entirely as “home” but cannot also refer to the realm of the mission or the Sacred Heart as home. Instead, Tambudzai represents this identity between worlds, a hybrid identity of either/or, but in a different way than Nyasha. (Nyasha requests a black psychologist when she is finally brought to the hospital, only to be told that there aren’t any there. This request could have, perhaps, put her in touch with someone who seems as aware of this particular otherized identity, though the fact that this person does not exist could speak on multiple levels. The hybrid nature of a person sounds so cold, almost as if they were describing plant life.) This novel is the development of a consciousness, spelled out as such on the last page:

Quietly, unobtrusively and extremely fitfully, something in my mind began to assert itself, to question things and refuse to be brainwashed, bringing me to this time when I can set down this story. It was a long and painful process for me, that process of expansion. It was a process whose events stretched over many years and would fill another volume, but the story I have told here is my own story, the story of four women whom I loved, and our men, this story is how it all began. (204)

This development stands to represent what Walcott was addressing in “The Caribbean: Culture or Mimicry?” The development of a self identity is not inherently separate from the development of a cultural identity. The concept of the Carnival is one of constant reshaping and remaking, avoidance of repetition; a powerful exploration of creative energy (261). It is here that the evidence of a colonized culture shows itself. Walcott’s gathering summery of his argument could have been written about Tambudzai, her situation at the end of the novel, as well as the premise for the continuation of her story. Walcott describes:

The stripped and naked man, however abused, however disabused of old beliefs, instinctually, even desperately begins again as a craftsman. In the indication of the slightest necessary gesture of ordering the world around him, of losing his old name and rechristening himself, in the arduous enunciation of a dimmed alphabet, in the shaping of tools, pen or spade, is the whole, profound, sigh of human optimism, of what we in the archipelago still believe in: work and hope. It is out of this that the New World, or the Third World, should begin. (264)

What of the stripped and naked woman, however abused? She must locate her own way, much as he has, and must reinvent her story or her experience in the way he must. She must move herself away from the indoctrination that requested her t be a servant to two masters: her colonizers and her brothers, who may or may not be related to one another. The cycle of stories about Tambudzai is still being written, still crafting itself. We wish for more.

Personal Update

Hello Everyone,

I am happy to announce that I completed my MA in English back in December after defending my thesis, Queer Readings in the Harlem RenaissanceUnfortunately, the process of finishing my degree completely drained me. I decided to take at least two weeks away from writing to focus on self-care. Following the holidays, those two weeks became four and a half. But I am writing again and plotting out new, large projects for 2018. I’ve decided to view my graduation as an opportunity to do many things that–for one reason or another–I was unable to do before. I just wanted to drop by the old shop as it were and let you all know that I’m doing alright and I’m working. New updates coming soon.

Jamie.

Coming Out Day Biography

For National Coming Out Day this week (not recognized by the White House, surprise surprise), I was invited to contribute to a series of biographies put together by Allies of Kutztown University. I’m reprinting my contribution about the life of Derek Jarman here.

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Derek Jarman
1942-1994
Derek Jarman became one of the most influential independent filmmakers of the 20th Century. Beginning his career as a painter, Jarman experimented with short films in the late 1960s. His work as a set designer on Ken Russell’s “The Devils” lead him to direct his first feature, “Sebastiane” in 1976. “Sebastiane,” a retelling of the life and martyrdom of St. Sebastian, was deeply controversial due to its interpretation of Sebastian as a “gay martyr.” Each film Jarman made afterwards contained certain recurring elements—a painter’s attention to detail, poetic dialogue, unapologetic and explicit representations of same-sex relationships—and met with controversial public reactions. Jarman’s use of Super-8 film remained fairly constant through his career, allowing him to film on a limited budget and maintain a more personal “home movie” style of filmmaking.

With the rise of Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party government, as well as the reintroduction of homophobic and discriminatory legislation in the late 1970s and 1980s, Jarman’s work became more overtly political. Faced with legislation that banned the use of public funds for artists who “promoted” of homosexuality in their work, Jarman made “The Angelic Conversation”—a juxtaposition of Shakespeare’s sonnets with film of gay couples. His late film, “Edward II,” transferred Marlowe’s 16th Century play to the context of early AIDS activism.

My two favorite Jarman films are “Wittgenstein,” a biographical portrait of the philosopher that was the first work to openly discuss his homosexuality, and Jarman’s final completed film, “Blue.” Jarman was diagnosed with AIDS in the 1980s, and by the time he made both of these films he was almost completely blind. “Blue”—which consists of narration over a blue screen without any other imagery—is both a testament to Jarman’s creativity and a reminder of his own mortality. By the time the film was released, blue was the only color Jarman could see clearly.

Jarman died from AIDS on 19 February 1994. Since his death, his films have become widely available on the internet, and his visions have continued to influence artists around the world.

Further reading:
“Derek Jarman: A Biography” by Tony Peake
“Chroma: A Book of Color” by Derek Jarman
“Derek Jarman’s Sketchbooks” by Derek Jarman
“Derek Jarman’s Garden” by Derek Jarman and Howard Sooley

Feature Filmography
Sebastiane (1976)
Jubilee (1977)
The Tempest (1979)
The Angelic Conversation (1985)
Caravaggio (1986)
The Last of England (1988)
War Requiem (1989)
The Garden (1990)
Edward II (1991)
Wittgenstein (1993)
Blue (1993)

Personal Update

Hello Everyone,

I have recently received confirmation that I will be presenting at the Northeast 
Popular Culture Association (NEPCA) Conference in October of this year! My paper, “Tackling the Femme,” about Bette Davis and the “Psycho Biddy” film genre, is part of the Rethinking the Monstrous panel, chaired by my friend and colleague, Heather Flyte. It’s my first presentation at a conference in some time, so here’s hoping that it all goes smoothly. More details to come.

Jamie.