Every generation believes that their struggles in the face of socio-political global upheaval are worse than that of previous eras. Is today’s creeping darkness of rising nationalism, fascist authoritarianism, and vast economic inequality calling for greater social unrest in North America and Europe than we have seen in the past 75 years? Or are the social and psychological implications of this time of massive change setting us on course for widespread depression, illness, and death? These questions are being asked among artistic and activist circles with increasing urgency.
The opiod crisis is, in part, the convergence of rising psychological stressors, unregulated corporate greed, alienating quick-fix medicine, and the desire to just escape from it all. A society that is ill makes its members ill. This raises a more important question: what preventative and healing medicines beyond Western science do we have available to us, and how do we use them to lift each other up?
A close reading of articles across ArtsEverywhere’s lines of inquiry offers a wide range of such medicines—practices that bring pleasure, that create joy, that release pressure.
Artists Ajamu and Pato Hebert were in dialogue recently on self-care for Black queer activists and artists. Ajamu describes his pursuits of tai chi and kickboxing (“one is very soft and gentle and the other a bit harder, I like entering those different kinds of spaces around and with my body”) as a segue to explain the role that his Blissful Chaos kink and BDSM sex workshops and events play in his personal and collective practice. He explains that “…if you want to transform the culture that you’re born into, if you want to transform society, you have to transform yourself in that process too, and it is central.”
Ajamu: “So with Blissful Chaos, I’m trying to articulate what’s happening in the moment of pleasure. It’s very ephemeral. There’s this notion called la petite mort, a theory about what is lost in that moment of an orgasm—that identity and subjectivity get shattered in the moment of somebody cumming.”
Pato: “The talking, the sharing, the playing, and in that intimacy there is this possibility that the self would not simply be singular or individual. It might be collective. It might be shared, the little death that you’re talking about.”
Alessandra Pomarico, a curator of Free Home University in southern Italy, describes a number of joyful performative activities that were developed in collaboration with the local community of people who migrated there. Building on two years of prior engagement, these activities “were designed to create a collective rhythm and to build the necessary trust for sharing our stories, in the absence of a common language, and within our various social, cultural, and geographic backgrounds, considering our differences and our different privileges.”
Among the list of activities from that session of Free Home University:
“We built a giant face puppet with papier maché technique.”
“We worked with our bodies through dance and movement to get to know each other, to share our scars, to have fun, and to find a balance with the more intellectual and discursive side of our practices.”
As an act of solidarity, the Free Home University team also staged an action in support of an important historical icon of transgender rights. They marched, each wearing one high heel shoe, in front of the house where the first openly transgender woman and sex worker of Lecce lived until her passing several years ago.
In “The Lonely Letters”, Ashon Crawley explores the sound and noise of blackpentecostal spaces: “The clapping of hands, the shouting, these are all grounded in the fact of the flesh.” But he goes on to ask, now that he no longer goes to church, how he can perform these practices to release himself “into the sociality of blackness that blackpentecostalism has carried with a kind of love and exuberance and joy….And I wanted to also really think about how the practices of social dance, of breathing with a kind of intention—like whooping—how praise noise and glossolalia have been sequestered into the religious and how they need a certain kind of release, they are practices that call for the flesh unbound, flesh liberated.”
ArtsEverywhere is committed to an indulgence in these practices of pleasure, joy, and release, setting aside the darkness for a while.