Against Afronormativity: Queering Afro-Asian Intimacies and the Aesthetics of Blackness in South Africa
Artists have been at the forefront of documenting social change, imagining new livable worlds, contesting the violence of the normative, and creating, through aesthetic practices, transnational communities that challenge the limits of the nation. Against Afronormativity examines the relationship between aesthetics and politics, art practices and decolonization, and visual culture and race in South Africa, opening up broader questions related to racial formations in the African and Indian (South Asian) diasporas. This project focuses on brown and black women and queer artists such as the black queer performance duo FAKA, Reshma Chhiba, Sharlene Khan, Sheetal Megan, Riason Naidoo, and Jyoti Mistry, who turn to aesthetics in order to critique the heteronormative underpinnings and the linear progressive narrative of the post-apartheid nation and post-apartheid blackness. I am interested in the shifting nature of blackness (from the formation of black consciousness during apartheid to normative and nativist articulations of blackness in the post-apartheid period) in order to reconsider Afro-Indian intimacies in South Africa. Central to this project is a consideration of the ways in which artist/activist/scholars use aesthetic practices to create counterintuitive assemblages of race that offer alternative trajectories in the pursuit of black and brown freedom and the creation of new liberatory social worlds.
As part of this JHI-Mellon collaboration my research will also consider the relationship between theory and practice and I will develop a framework and method to consider my own aesthetic explorations of the intimacies between race, diaspora, sexuality, and the erotic. My visual projects “Queering the Archive: Brown Bodies in Ecstasy” and short film cane/cain (2011), consider family archives, personal memories, and private histories as counterintuitive modes of knowledge production through which we can theorize race, gender, sexuality and their relationship to visual culture. As a scholar-artist I am interested in exploring other ways of understanding race by drawing on Black Studies theories of affect and the haptic. Through this collaboration with scholars and artists I hope to develop a language to write and think about the relationship between aesthetics and politics and the creation of new forms of knowledge production, especially as this relates to marginalized subjects who are often written out of normative national and cultural narratives.