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Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto

The Centre for Media and Culture in Education

Works in Progress Seminar Series, Session 5

Wednesday, March 27, 1-3 p.m.
OISE/University of Toronto
(@ St. George Subway Station)
252 Bloor St. West, 12th Floor
OISE Boardroom, Room #12-199

This event is wheelchair accessible.


Sarah Stefana Smith | PhD Student | Humanities, Social Sciences & Social Justice Education | OISE/UT

'Constantly a stranger': The poetics of bafflement and queer affect in the work of contemporary black diaspora visual artists

My presentation focuses on the artistic work of Mickalene Thomas, Deana Lawson, Zanele Muholi and the beginnings of my own body of work—“constantly a stranger”—as a means to consider the negotiation of a variety of radically different conceptions of blackness. Through an engagement of queer affective space, I cultivate what I call a “poetics of bafflement” that works through slippages among aesthetics, blackness and desire (homoerotic and otherwise) to engage the affective and sociocultural dynamics of black belonging. Bafflement acts as a mode in which to negotiate spaces of contradiction, dis-ease and dis-satisfaction. The figures that emerge in Lawson, Thomas and Muholi’s work, for example consider the mundane, erotic, interior and exterior. Mickalene Thomas’s “Origins of the Universe” (2012) and Zanele Muholi’s “Being Series” (2007) negotiates the interior and exterior through the black queer figure. In conversation with one another, Thomas and Muholi’s work frustrate and also accommodate the proliferation of nation-making and development discourses that name black sexuality as a problem. Thomas’s rhinestone studded pussy paintings to Muholi’s supple black and white photographs of queer couples engaged intimately formulate these struggles.

Similarly, Lawson’s “Corporeal” (2009) considers the body’s ability to take up the everyday, the sexual and the abject. Not shying away from articulations between the profane and the sacred Lawson’s photography explore the interior spaces of matters of the heart—family, desire, mothering and sexuality. Yet these interior spaces make public the slipperiness of the erotic. Lawson’s practice of photographing strangers who later become friends—for example in many ways mirror Saidiya Hartman’s “proverbial stranger” and its relationship to un/return (Hartman, 2008). Here then the figure of the “stranger” which I draw from in my own collaborative visual body of work—“constantly a stranger”—conceives of itself through relation, bafflement and queer affect. Here I look at the beginnings of a project that grapples with the dynamics of ruin and resistance, belonging and desire emerging through encounters between neighborhoods making up the East End of Toronto (Wellesley, St. Jamestown, Regent Park and Riverdale). My presentation then grapples with that which baffles. Molding time and space in relation to moments that baffles these artists grapple with often “un/invisible economies” of relation that coalesce both and through the making, execution, content and context in which the work is received.

Dr. Trish Salah | Instructor | Humanities, Social Sciences & Social Justice Education | OISE/UT

Poetics of constraint, rhetorics of erasure: Preliminary thoughts on trans minor literatures

From Sandy Stone's citation-with-a-difference of Spivak's rhetorical question: "can the transsexual speak," to Judith Butler's representation of transsexuals as performing an "uncritical miming of the hegemonic," to Viviane Namaste's claim that transsexuals are permitted to speak only in an autobiographical mode, if there is a critical consensus on any point within the emergent field of Trans Studies, it may be the fraught conditions of possibility for transsexual discourse. Despite this long standing attention to the impossibility of transsexual writing, the last 20 years have seen a proliferation of transsexual practices of inscription and the emergence of what I argue is a minor, if not minority, trans literature. In this talk I will offer some preliminary thoughts on the poetic and rhetorical contours of this 'radically constrained,' 'merely figural,' and 'categorically impossible' trans minor literature.