Exploring Black Geographies: A Recent Performance

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This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to perform at Indivisible, which is a residence-based gallery in the east side of Portland. My performance and exhibition of work had to do with the topic of maps and blackness. After reading a chapter from Katherine McKittrick’s book, Demonic Grounds, I was inspired to explore the connection between the domestic, black female geographies and mapping. Since Indivisible is a living residence, I thought it would be the perfect place to explore some of these themes.

 

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In all honesty, I have been interested in maps and map-making as fantasy of territory and nation-state for a very long. For me, this show is the beginning step of a larger exploration of work that I am excited to pursue. I was performing my piece in a cubbyhole under the stairs, out of sight from gallery guests; however, people were able to view me in internet space through a live streaming I did of the performance on Instagram. Why the internet? I chose to use the internet because I am interested in the choice made on the part of black women to remove themselves from public space, yet control their image/visibility on the internet as a liminal space. I am interested in the power negotiations of that space.

There are a lot of components to this performance. I am hoping that my artist statement helps tie some of these themes together:

Jaleesa Johnston’s body of work on display at Indivisible’s Interchange show is a material interrogation of the link between the birth and maintenance of US colonial empire through the hypervisibility and erasure of black, brown and Indigenous bodies from the “American” landscape. Using contemporary maps of US and Western geography, the artist manipulates, erases and interweaves traces of her body and blackness with the material, nodding to the implicit presence of structures of power, capital and control within the geographic fantasies of the US nation-state. Inspired by Katherine McKittrick’s analysis of Harriet Jacob’s slave narrative in her book, Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle, Johnston utilizes the domestic space of the cubbyhole under the stairs to simulate the cramped liminal space that Jacob’s inhabited for two years. As a space that hovers between freedom and captivity, and presence and absence, Johnston’s disembodied subjectivity works to transform the legibility of the map, bringing to light the fragile nature of the seemingly objective and innate structure of US territory.

 

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This piece carries similar threads from previous performances: black color as material blackness and using the body to mark-make and inform material. It also has some new components as well: using the internet as a geographic space, absence as performance, and maps/geographies. I look forward to pushing this body of work and seeing how it all progresses.

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