The Performance of Labor/The Labor of Performance: A Convening
An Illuminations Live Panel Discussion
Recorded Friday, February 11, 2022
Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley Campus
This was a live, in-person and livestreamed event.
Will be available to view on demand on this page.
Watch the Live Stream
To highlight the connection of her exceptional work with the groundbreaking scholarship and ideas generated on the UC Berkeley campus, artist esperanza spalding participated in an Illuminations panel discussion hosted by the Black Studies Collaboratory, which patrons could experience in person or virtually. This panel, entitled The Performance of Labor/The Labor of Performance: A Convening, brought together Black feminist artists and cultural workers to communally explore how the forms and methods of opera, surrealism, free jazz, poetry, and dance help communicate the concerns of radical Black feminism(s).
To explore this topic, spalding, in conversation with other Black femme artists, discussed: What happens when we gather to create out loud, to sound it out in good company? How might improvised creative dialogue disrupt preconceived notions about the relationships between Black femininity, labor, and performance? How do we practice and witness a “Black feminist politic in making”?
All digital versions of the event included captioning.
esperanza spalding (also known as irma nejando, or i.e.) has grown to recognize love in the abstract and aspirational, and is fully dedicated to learning how she can serve and embody actualized love through honor for and receptivity to fellow humans, teachers, and practitioners of various regenerative arts. Bass, piano, composition, performance, voice, and lyrics are tools and disciplines she is engaged in deeply to cultivate her own channel for transmitting care and beauty through vibration, sound, and presence.
She is currently developing a mockumentary in collaboration with brontë velez and San Francisco Symphony; researching and developing liberation rituals in jazz and Black dance; and continuing a lifelong collaboration with practitioners in various fields relating to music, healing, and cognition to develop music with enhanced therapeutic potential. Additionally, she is working with Harvard University to co-create and learn with students enrolled there, working on developing creative practices that serve the restoration of people and land.
spalding is visiting the UC Berkeley campus as part of her tour of …(Iphigenia) a new opera co-commissioned by Cal Performances, in which spalding is the librettist and plays the title role.
Ra Malika Imhotep (panel curator)
Ra Malika Imhotep is a Black feminist writer and performance artist from Atlanta, Georgia, currently pursuing a PhD in African Diaspora Studies and New Media Studies from UC Berkeley. As a scholar and cultural worker, Imhotep is invested in exploring relationships between queer Black femininities, Black vernacular cultures, and the performance of labor. As a steward of Black Studies and Black feminist thought, Imhotep dreams, organizes, and facilitates spaces of critical reflection and embodied spiritual-political education. Imhotep is co-author of The Black Feminist Study Theory Atlas and author of gossypiin (Red Hen Press, Spring 2022).
They are also a co-convener of The Church of Black Feminist Thought and a member of The Black Aesthetic Curatorial Collective.
Gallery of the Streets
Gallery of the Streets (kai lumumba barrow and jazz franklin) is an evolving network of artists, activists, organizers, scholars, cultural workers, and community supporters committed to exploring radical possibilities within Black geographies. Existing at the intersections of art, education, direct action organizing, and movement-building, they fuse public art and community engagement. Their approach includes convenings, political education, and experiential engagement in solidarity with the issues and demands of their Movement(s).
kai barrow is a visual and performance artist who lives and works in New Orleans. She has exhibited paintings, sculptures, site-specific installations, and multimedia performances in Atlanta, Brooklyn, Chicago, Durham, Glasgow, London, New Orleans, and New York City.
barrow is concerned with notions of radical imagination. Her sprawling paintings, installations, and sculptures transgress biological, geographic, ideological, and physical borders. Her work is imbued with cultural and historical clues that reference avant-garde art and radical liberation movements. barrow’s installations and ritualistic environments recall African diasporic cosmologies incorporating reusable materials such as dirt, moss, rocks, machines, money, and bones as a visual and ethnographic language. Together with her four muses—Absurdity, Sarcasm, Myth, and Merriment—she creates work to perform queer, Black, feminist resistance to carceral control.
jazz franklin’s filmmaking praxis plays with power and possibility. Her video and projection work aim to disarm “standard” production processes, storytelling, and visual languages of film and video. She is part of a global network of artists, activists, and organizers called Gallery of the Streets who work together to “transform public and private spaces into temporary sites of resistance…into phantastical subversive imaginaries.” Before moving to New Orleans, franklin worked for The University of Alabama’s Center for Public Television as a videographer and editor. During her time there, she received a regional Emmy nomination for outstanding achievement in the category “editor of a non-news program” for the documentary Preserving Justice. franklin was also the co-director of PATOIS’ 2019 New Orleans International Human Rights Film Festival.
brontë’ velez’s work and rest is guided by the call that “Black wellness is the antithesis to state violence” (Mark Anthony Johnson). As a Black-Latinx transdisciplinary artist, designer, trickster, and wakeworker, their eco-social art praxis lives at the intersections of Black feminist placemaking and prophetic community traditions, environmental justice, and death doulaship.
X’ene Sky is a classically trained pianist, composer, singer, and performance artist. Sky’s work finds itself situated in the interstices of enslaved queer women, negro sprituals, critical fabulation, and “the itchy scratch your skin parts of relating intimately to others.” Having played the piano since age 4, she is constantly experimenting and interrogating the ways her instrument and voice grow and change alongside her.
Co-sponsored by Black Studies Collaboratory
Cal Performances 2021-22 Illuminations series of programming examines the fraught and often devastating effects of migration, exile, dislocations, and separation, on both hyper-local and international scales, through five main stage performances and related online and in person programs with artists, creators, scholars, activists, and thinkers who are part of the outstanding brain trust that is the UC Berkeley community.
Lead support for Illuminations is provided by the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation—empowering world-changing work.
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