VISUAL AND SONIC CULTURE



TEXTS


  • Evelyn Hu-DeHart, "Introduction. Coolies, Shopkeepers, and Artists: A Historical Overview of Chinese Immigrants and Their Descendants in the Caribbean" in Alexandra Chang, edited, Circles and Circuits: Chinese Caribbean Art.
  • Daniel Martinez HoSang and Natalia Molina, "Introduction" in Relational Formations of Race
  • Tao Leigh Goffe, "'Guano in their destiny': Race, Geology, and a Philosophy of Indenture," Amerasia Journal, June 2019. (Links to an external site.)
  • Tao Leigh Goffe, "Sugarwork: The Gastropoetics of Afro-Asia After the Plantation," Asian Diasporic Visual Cultures and the Americas, April, 2019. (Links to an external site.)
  • Tao Leigh Goffe, "Albums of Inclusion: The Photographic Poetics of Caribbean Chinese Visual Kinship," Small Axe, 56, July 2018. (Links to an external site.)


INTRODUCTION & PROBLEMATIC


This week, the readings considered a variety of Afro-Asian-Caribbean cultural productions, exploring the ways in which art, ranging from the intimate family album usually rendered as "domestic" to fine arts sculpture work utilizing foodstuffs, holds the capacity to excavate or reimagine that which remains "undigested" in the archive, creating new pathways to think about such concepts as the Caribbean, diaspora, free and unfree, labor, and so on. Goffe and Hu-DeHart take what HoSang and Molina define as a relational formation of race in order to examine the figure of the coolie as a site of the convergence of what Lisa Lowe calls the "intimacies of the four continents." As such, these authors examine indenture and enslavement relationally, casting the imperial circuits created by these systems as not marginal to a hemispheric history, but as embedded in the very geology of the Americas.

Hu-DeHart and Siu's essays consider Chinese diasporas in the Caribbean and the art produced by people who grew up in racially-mixed backgrounds. In their artwork, the blends of Afro-Cuban, Indigenous, and Chinese cultures illustrate the complicated nature of mixed identity. HoSang and Molina outline the framework for relational formations of race, discussing scholars who emphasize the "polylateral relations among aggrieved communities of color" and the multiple possibilities for rethinking politics and coalitions through relationality. In "'Guano in their destiny,'" Goffe proposes a geological framework of racial indenture in the Americas, outlining a framework of racial sedimentation, which presents an alternative to classical history writing where written archives and materials are used to understand the internal lives of subaltern groups. In "Sugarwork," Goffe explores through the work of artists Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons and Andrea Chung how the popularity of desserts and sugarwork in Europe is constituted alongside and haunted by "the spectre of enslaved insurrection and emancipation [which] threatened the sugar industry" and which relied on the exploitation of black and Asian labor (35). In "Albums of Inclusion," Goffe describes how the "figure of the Caribbean Chinese family is a conundrum" by focusing on diaspora in a way that reveals the "kindred and enmeshed" black and Asian diasporas characterized by the body as a site for the expropriation of labor (37, 39). For Goffe, family photography becomes a medium through which this figure is actively interpolated, and she interrogates racial meaning within the "layers of silent narratives inscribed in family photographs" as well as the power of art to contest these narratives (38).


KEY INTERVENTIONS


  • Relational studies rethinks traditional conceptions of race and ethnicity by analyzing the ways that racial formation of different groups has occurred through their proximity and relationships to other groups, going beyond comparative studies.
  • Hu-DeHart's work pushed back on the idea that mixed people would create work that would identify them with a perfect blend of cultural influences and points out that the reality of identity and influence among Chinese Caribbean art is relational and highly varied.
  • Reimagining race as a process directly embedded into the soil of the Americas allows us a framework to recreate the internal lives of racialized indentured servants for which material archives and cultural objects are virtually non-existent.
  • "Sugarwork" illustrates how the history of sugar plantations reveals the animalization and dehumanization of Black and Asian laborers, and how this history can be contested through art.
  • Family photography and other intimate cultural productions have the power to reinforce and construct narratives of inclusion, belonging, and race, and the deconstruction and reconstruction of these photos can contest the hierarchy and gendered and racial meanings inherent in the concept of family.


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS


  • Bringing together Claire Jean Kim's "The Racial Triangulation" and Tao Leigh Goffe's "The Gastropoetics of Afro-Asia," how does the latter's "repurposing" of sugar into an "alternative [aesthetic] form of knowledge production" (31) rethink and redraw the former's relational theory? How does the Afro-Asian geometric of what Goffe calls a "political aesthetic of resistance" (37) map onto the geometric of racialization Kim lays out?
  • Daniel HoSang and Natalia Molina's intervention with Relational Formations of Race is as much pedagogical as it is social, historical, and political. Before the semester quickly ascends to its peak in terms of workload, can we take time to deliberately reflect upon our course/community? How does this course/community differ from the prototypical Yale seminar? What makes this course and its trappings-i.e., the group format, wiki pages, and final project-an "ethic of shared inquiry rooted in the social production of knowledge" (12)? What are the ramifications of this new scholarly ethos vis-à-vis our positions as subjects of the institution of Yale University?
  • In "Albums of Inclusion," Goffe writes that "Arai's critical distance is important in that her work grapples with the ethics of identification to craft a creative aesthetic that reanimates the past without appropriating it" (53). The artists analyzed by Hu-DeHart and Goffe (Wifredo Lam, Albert Chong, Richard Fung, Tomi Arai, Andrea Chung, Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons), as well as Goffe herself, engage in projects from which they have varying degrees of "critical distance," from the directly personal to the "archipelegically" observant. How do these forms of closeness and distance work in the artists' projects of troubling inherited perspectives and lacunae? How do they work in our own academic work?
  • In "Albums of Inclusion", Goffe quotes Albert Chong, an Afro-Chinese Jamaican, as saying "Is it possible to read a photograph without reading race?" (44). Lok Sia describes diasporic affect as the desire to make sense of simultaneous sameness and difference, and goes on to state "[t]he meaning of any cultural object shifts depending on the positionality of the viewer" (215). In considering Chong's question, Sia's statement, and the metaphors explored by Goffe in "Sugarwork:The Gastropoetics of Afro-Asia After the Plantation" and "Guano in Their Destiny", what can be said about the power of sonic and visual mediums in the study and analysis of race? Keeping in mind dynamics of power and the "positionality of the viewer", how do sonic and visual mediums affect racialization and cultural histories? How does art and its interpretations both reinforce and challenge longstanding dynamics of racial discourse?
  • How do the artistic productions discussed by Goffe and Hu-DeHart - and their analyses - operationalize a relational theory of race as defined by HoSang and Molina? How do these artists theorize and represent race as a verb, as something mutually constituted among different racial groups? Lastly, how do these artists reckon with the distinctiveness and singularity of racial groups while also maintaining a relational framework?
  • How do the artistic productions discussed by Goffe and Hu-DeHart foster a dynamic relational futurity while also using relics of the past? More specifically, how do these artists represent the past without adhering to racial essentialism or fixity? How do they tell stories about the past without reproducing racial hierarchies or logics?
  • An examination of colonial efforts to maintain the relationship between Black slaves, Chinese laborers, and white colonists understands the uses of heteropatriarchy in reifying racial hierarchies. How do the Goffe readings also illuminate heteropatriarchy served to relationally racialize these groups? How does racial purity discursively interact here as well?


PRIMARY DOCUMENTS/MULTIMEDIA



RAPPORTEUR REPORT


Our discussion centered around how colonial modes of racial categorization obscure the multiplicity of archives that exist, as well as the alternative archives are continuously created as a result of "race as a verb," or racial formations. Specifically, we talked about how Afro-Asian cultural products in the Caribbean act as and are products of alternative forms of knowledge that might help us imagine racial relationality. These alternate historiographies push against the colonial racial ordering methods and existing archives of the white nation-state, alluding back to what Lisa Lowe calls the colonial "intimacies of the four continents."

We drew out three main themes from our conversation: method, materiality, and mixing (as making and unmaking), all three of which are deeply intertwined. Colonial archives and colonial universities can only be resisted through unconventional methods, and Professor Goffe's work involves unsettling method in order to unsettle archives and summon different genealogies. We discussed the heterogenous archives she pulls together - of family photographs, of unrecognized art like the guano bottles, and of contemporary art - in order to restore untold histories. We also spoke about "undisciplined" methods through which to overcome the siloing of knowledge production, which we've discussed frequently in previous classes, e.g. in the form of the "food groups" model. Central to "undisciplined" work is democratizing knowledge production and meaningfully mobilizing institutional resources to serve ends beyond the university.

A crucial aspect of Professor Goffe's method is intense attention to the material. She is interested in things that come together and fall apart, things that contain their own unmaking - gastropoetics being one such example. We talked about gastropoetics as an archive of colonial desires, as well as gastropoetics as an archive of familial desires - Grace raised the example of Chino-Latino food in Queens, which materializes routes of travel, desire, and intimacy. Food, we said, has its own temporality - a more unstable, transient one than that which colonial archives might demand, and this transience, too, must be accommodated and understood in undisciplined work. Land also has its own temporality, a much longer one, and Professor Goffe talked about the sedimentation of not only guano and but also laborers' bodies that composed the Chincha Islands. Alternative archives are a way to remedy the "theft of the body" through the material.

Finally, we talked about mixing as a central aspect of Goffe's method and of the histories we learned. DJing - a form of "mixing" - destabilizes genre (a racialized/regionalized construction, as we discussed) by mingling musics into a cohesive sound in a collaborative, co-created environment, and Professor Goffe brings this method to other aspects of her work, too. Gastropoetics and sedimentation are also both about mixing: in gastropoetics, the human gut and the microbiome (i.e. the human and non-human) collaborate; in the Chincha Islands, the death of Chinese and Indigenous laborers and guano become the land, comprising a much more sinister form of multi-species relation. Professor Goffe thinks about sedimentation both literally and metaphorically: as the process through which islands are created and as the way meaning is formed - in layers over time. The material and the symbolic blend together. Mixing is inevitable and omnipresent, and a method of mixing - of making and unmaking - aids us in tracing transnational roots and routes.