Orbiting the controvertial
Musa Michelle Mattiuzzi
Scene zero: Athens Diary?
We’ve been here for a month, as part of the CAPACETE program in Athens – a one-year art residency that coincides with the arrival of Documenta 14 and which relates to this mega-event in a very intense way, orbiting the controversial space of cultural agitation that the presence of this institution here has created. Our bodies move around and pass through the city in a way that is particular due to our differences as well as the way they are perceived culturally, but this text will not be a diary of this confrontation. It will be, first, a speculative diary on the limits, short circuits and problems of our own position confronting the contradictions and paradoxes staged in this context. And aims, with this, to direct not the location but the dislocations and their politics, as a part of a broader mapping of the politically dense effects of our black, gender disobedient presence in the art world.
Scene one: To access is a complicated and painful verb when one is neither white nor gender-assigned
Not all the doors close, but even the open ones still have their thorns: like a border that, in order to cross it, requires a hefty toll; a border that makes us arrive broken inside the spaces and systems from which we have been historically excluded. To speak of dissident minority presences in spaces of power is to speak also of the emotionally difficult effect of making oneself present in spaces constructed on the erasure of our ontological existence, or restructured based on the extractivist appropriation of our experiences and perspectives.
Each gate, each waiting room, each encounter with the forceful and unavoidable side of the power that regulates the capacity to move around in the world, redeploys a kind of border paranoia in our bodies, an effect produced by the reoccurrence of the racializing interpellation that tends to always reposition us in the prisoner’s box. The brutal inscription of our experiences in the framework of a grammar of the white supremacist suspect, in turn, produces in us a practice of radical suspicion, put into action always when the encounter with border police authorities is urgent.
Even with all the invitations and other documents necessary for the visa application to study in Athens, upon arriving at the Consulate, we still experience the bitter taste of disregard. The time spent waiting at the borders and migration control authority conditions in us an experience of increased doubts, in which we are always answering questions that were not asked, but which are, there, implicit: “What are you doing here?”, “What world did you come from?”, “What are you?”.
Scene two: What is the price of subjugation?
Civility imposes a price on the modes of coexisting, and living together as subject is to subject oneself to the white gender-assigned human condition in order to move through the chain of privileges. Civility is a system of written rules of hierarchical racialization regarding the knowledge, feelings and desires that are considered respectable in this context. If our presence is considered respectable, subjugation is automatic, but still conditioned by the normative pressures to adhere to a system of pure violence with which we have to be complicit in exchange for possible passing. We start from this idea, because our aim is to disqualify the strategic productivity of narratives about the other body, and, at the same time, to try to read the political choreography of the body of power.
We are not equal. We do not participate in any sense of “we”. Our bodies are not in the position to become subjects, except to the extent that we accept the brutality of subjugation that exists for us, between the “outsider” and the “exotic,” as avatars of progressive postcolonial representation or as the disruptive element to social order.
Scene 3: Parliament of bodies
On 18 April 2017, we went out toward the Parko Eleftherias to watch the documenta 14 public program – which, fittingly, acquired the same name of this scene – with curatorship and media by Paul Preciado. It was the fourth program we attended together, and this time the invited guest was Morgan Goodlander, whose mission was to conduct a participative workshop around experiences of identity, relationships and freedom using the Gestalt method. Unfortunately, the workshop facilitator’s approach got confounded with an exercise of power and control of the audience, so that, on a certain level, the conditions for possible questions he was eliciting were questioned by us sharply.
As he was questioned, Goodlander reemphasized his own position, to the extent of using his microphone to simulate a penis ejaculating from the pleasure of power, the question raised how his white gender-determined masculinity guaranteed him the power that was being performed there. We thought that we already knew the possible modes of discussion in that space, the media’s choreography in order to promote the exercise as a thought in exercise, but, at that time, having his position de-structured with questions about his way of occupying spaces of power, he immediately responded with sexual gestures and demonstrations of power that triggered us to maintain feelings of fear and subjugation.
Noticing the intensity of the racist language Goodlander was using in the space of the Parliament of Bodies, the curator asked him to finish up, because he wasn’t going to allow violence in that space, the aim of which is to provide for the critical collective imagining and construction of other kinds of activism and justice among the ruins of the neoliberal project. The gesture of this text is to elaborate upon what could have happened, but did not: the interruption of a scene of racism. The Parliament of Bodies just continued without us and without the curator who, even possessing the power to make decisions about that space, was discredited in favor of the continuity of the exercise of ontological and epistemic violence against us.
Scene 4: Words do not make it there
We are not going to languor in the cradle of what we have called barbarism. We have concerns about life, bothersome ancestry and a series of voices that have been silenced throughout the civilizing process, and these linguistic constructions exude the smell of death. Tired, we write about expropriated events. In doing so, there are still bodies of resistance and resilience, who are conscious of fear and drinking precariously from the glass of privilege created at the expense of the blood of those who have always been stifled. We don’t know for sure what the consequences of living this process will be, but we live it with an attentiveness to the contradiction of formulating questions without answers and by trying to answer questions that were never asked.
Musa Michelle Mattiuzzi, Black, author, performer, she moves interdisciplinary across the arts.
Jota Mombaça writer and performance artist. Current works include the collaboration with Oficina de Imaginação Política (São Paulo).