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INVITATIONS
TOWARD
RE-WORLDING


A Trouble-
making
Conjuring/
Love Spell
for “we”
who care 
[1]


Scored by La Tanya S. Autry


How do you deal with things you believe, live them not as theory, not even as emotion, but right on the line of action and effect and change? – Audre Lorde [2]

This meditation is one of the questions I’ve been living with for years.

Well, what’s your answer?

I often put questions into the world and no one responds.

To be fair, my questions often are loaded. I purposely give them weight because life is heavy and intricate.

How do “we” change desire?

How are “we” going to stand up for one another?

No answer is a response. Every silence and turning away has meaning. These questions are troubling. They are difficult to answer; require self-examination; suggest relationships where things may be murky: undefined, unsaid, undesired, feared.

Lack is a multitude. It is difficult and impossible to comprehend at times.

But my questions are really wishes, you see.[3] Wishes for otherwise. This is conjure work.

Some of you understand, will strive to understand. The questions are still here waiting for us. Are you ready?

I’m stirring up energy for changing conditions, creating more of a true sense of “us, leaning more into “good trouble,” to borrow that expression of the late civil rights activist John Lewis. Yet, unlike before, I’m going slower, focusing on planting ideas more carefully, in places prepared for growth. Consider needs.

Because I work in the arts, I do these incantations over here. But they could/should be recast in other spaces too. We need love spells in all areas of society.

Oh, and about this art thing—I believe the arts are vital. But I don’t romanticize artists or this so-called “Art world.” I know that some of the arts express freedom. Art can also do uncaring, cruel things. Fascists make and fund art too. Some of us worry about that violent association and some of us are fine with it. It’s important to acknowledge the conditions. When we talk about art saving the world, we need to be clear and specific. That’s one way toward building a genuine “we,” a group grounded, working with difference for shared goals, caring about one another.

Knowing who “we” are and how “we” are in dialogue matters.

“Because we share a common language which is not of our own making and which does not reflect our deeper knowledge as women, our words frequently sound the same. But it is an error to believe that we mean the same experience, the same commitment, the same future, unless we agree to examine the history and particular passions that lie beneath each other’s words.” - Audre Lorde[4]

That’s the beginning of any authentic relationship. Often in the arts I see many people talking, but not communicating. Are we really understanding one another?

Applicants to this Think Tank submitted questions that they were/are considering. In our initial meetings as a cohort, we reviewed each other’s questions. But we didn’t really discuss them. For months we generated a plethora of ideas. We started and stopped, and changed directions. We searched for something to build together.

During this pandemic the loss of loved ones, employment, care, contact, and other basic life needs has increased suffering, uncertainty, grieving, precarity, exhaustion. The fight against the ongoing racism of the state and cultural institutions increased last year for some of us. And of course, there have been many other battles. It has been difficult to press on with general questions about the arts and society without knowing material changes will occur, without a deep feeling of kinship. Yet I also know that these times have convinced many of us that we need to get together to build mutual aid networks, labor unions, and community spaces. Organizing can happen.

Go slow. I remind myself again and again. Relationships require time, recognition, trust, vulnerability, commitment. Everything that has torn at the possibilities of thinking together is what has made our Think Tank cohort a “we” in one way.

The thing I am interested in—liberation work—only happens when individuals understand each other’s meaning, when we understand our needs, when we realize our fight is a shared fight. Coalitions are hard to form. The moment has to vibe. Every now and then a “we” who can build something together develops.

Here, I remember my colleagues, organizers in the North Carolina Black Artists for Liberation (NCBAFL).[5] This group of artists and arts workers formed in July 2020. In addition to denouncing the anti-Blackness of the region’s cultural centers, their open letter for economic justice, “A Rendering of Reversal,” called for equitable pay, paid internships, contracting Black vendors, providing free admission for Black, Indigenous, and people of color, and supporting the collective’s fundraising efforts, NC Black Artists for Liberation Project. More than this, they indicated that they would implement a divestment campaign for failure to devise plans and enact outlined changes by the conclusion of 6 months. Yesssssss! Their action plan had a true “good trouble” vibe going on. NCBAFL is now developing a scholarship fund in partnership with local entities.

Recognizing ourselves, our needs, getting organized, making plans, contacting people, issuing consequences: conjure.

So I’m speaking our initial Think Tank responses/questions into the world here as a breathing with which to bring forth some things at Creative Time and beyond.

Re-imagine. Build Anew. Together

THINK TANK 2021: COHORT RESPONSES


Emily Johnson
  1. Centering love’s forces, wielding justice as we gather beyond the digital to include our more-than-human kin in consensual acts of change, what are the shared atmospherics that formulate the shapes of our gatherings? And what is the sharable thing? How are the shapes of our collective changing?
  2. Working within a thought process, Architecture of the Overflow, how do we develop a new model of future-focused community-determined creative action that moves forward from a performed moment, into our collective futures?

Hentyle Yapp
  1. What needs seem most urgent for your immediate communities?
  2. What institutions are you most invested in engaging/shifting/changing/abolishing?

Namita G. Wiggers
  1. The systems within which we operate in arts organizations, academia, and museums, just to name a few, are structured for slow, incremental change. Even agendas, for example, leave "new business" or Q+A for the shortest times at the end of a meeting —in this way discussion, disagreement, new things are deferred and held at bay. They are also structured in a representative model, not unlike the government, in which a few people with money and power are decision makers.
  2. What leadership models and systems can we learn from (most likely from outside of the arts) to effect institutional and systemic change and actually leave room for difference, new ideas, and ways of working?

Caitlin Cherry
  1. Is there a collective solution that can reduce the costs of tuition across the board by introducing microsolutions instead of big ideas and new models?
  2. What are all the ways we can share education in post-Covid times and then ensure it's accessible beneath the Ivory tower?

Prerana Reddy
  1. Power as strength creates a set of “losers” who have to give up something to achieve greater equality, as if power was a finite resource. How can art challenge Western ideas of power, not just representationally, but through creating an experience in which power is felt and negotiated differently and more actively?
  2. Transformational Justice is inherently creative and connective work; it involves people taking responsibility for community safety, for seeing harm as something that everyone does...and that everyone also experiences. How can cultural organizing efforts reframe justice as a response to structural and historical inequities rather than individual blame and revenge?

Kevin Gotkin
  1. What do we need to design a system of accountability for this group?
  2. What's an example of a transformative process we have witnessed or participated in?

Sonia Guiñansaca
  1. How do we mend the importance of artists and cultural workers as cultural "producers" and this larger global time we are in that leans on slowing down and resting/healing?
  2. What may be our ethical commitments in gathering "virtually"?

Che Gossett
  1. How might museums shift and divest from prisons, war, etc?
  2. How might curation as a field/landscape (from art history programs to museum hiring) shift given the institutional anti-Blackness that Black curators are working against?

La Tanya S. Autry
  1. How do we challenge and refuse social justice frameworks that are grounded in anti-Blackness (often through assimilationist strategies, practices centering whiteness)?*
  2. How do we seize resources that are funneled into oppressive art organizations and redirect them to those with foundations and active liberatory practices?
These questions are wishes too, you see. Wishes for otherwise. This is conjure work.
Some of you understand, will strive to understand.

The questions are still there waiting for a “we” who care. Good trouble and new worlds are calling. Are you ready?

Peace and power,
La Tanya

footNOTES

  1. My use of the expression ”those who care” thinks with Christina Sharpe’s formulations. See Sharpe, Christina, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being, Durham, NC: Duke University, 2016.
  2. Lorde, Audre, “An Interview: Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich,” in Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches by Audre Lorde, Berkeley: Crossing Press, 2007, 107.
  3. My thoughts on wishes and conjuring are inspired by Jared Sexton’s discussion of Cedric Kyles’ identification of “the wish factor.” Sexton describes wishing as an antagonistic mode, a refusal of consensus. Despite the odds, wishing determines to create an otherwise. See Sexton, Jared, “Afro-Pessimism: The Unclear Word,” Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge, 29: 2016, http://www.rhizomes.net/issue29/sexton.html
  4. Lorde, Audre, A Burst of Light and Other Essays, Mineola, New York: Ixia, 2017, 63-64.
  5. Howe, Brian, “White-Dominated Arts Institutions Are Keen To Diversity. But Are They Willing To Give Up Power,” IndyWeek, February 24, 2021, https://indyweek.com/culture/art/the-NCBAL-petition-six-months-later/
  6. Question inspired by Activity 4: (in)Justices in the Academy” of the essay “Pedagogical Applications of Toward What Justice?.” See Del Vecchio, Deanna, Sam Spady, and Nisha Toomey, “Pedagogical Applications of Toward What Justice?,” in Toward What Justice: Describing Diverse Dreams of Justice in Education, New York: Routledge, 2018, 130.




Image description: La Tanya S. Autry smiles wearing a raspberry long sleeve and a yellow and brown beaded necklace.

La Tanya S. Autry
She/Her/Hers
Shawnee Lands, Cleveland, OH

As a cultural organizer in the visual arts, La Tanya S. Autry centers collective care in her liberatory curatorial praxis. In addition to co-creating The Art of Black Dissent and the Social Justice & Museums Resource List, she co-produced #MuseumsAreNotNeutral, a global initiative that exposes the fallacies of the neutrality claim and calls for an equity-based transformation of museums. Her latest project, the Black Liberation Center, an experimental series of exhibitions, workshops, and programming, spotlights arts and culture that envision and strategize paths toward the freedom of all Black people, and thus, all people. Also, she has organized institutional exhibitions and programming at moCa Cleveland, Yale University Art Gallery, Artspace New Haven, and elsewhere. Autry, who is completing her Ph.D. in art history at University of Delaware, is examining the interplay of race, representation, memory, and public space in her dissertation The Crossroads of Commemoration: Lynching Landscapes in America.



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