You know that feeling when you say the word race, queer or sexism and suddenly people’s eyes start rolling, a huge pink polka dots elephant appears in the room and nobody knows what to do or say anymore? Well, if you know that feeling, then you also know that as much as we think we don’t need to discuss certain issues anymore, actually… we still do.
Last week two amazing events took place in London, the symposium Power, Subcultures & Queer Stages and the art club night and multi-disciplinary exhibition Royal Trash. We attended and met some of the groundbreaking artists and intellectuals contributing to promote through their art those important conversation I was talking about earlier, from race and gun-related violence to queerphobia.
Moderated by Giulia Casalini and Diana Georgiou [co-directors at CUNTemporary], the symposium examined the relationship between sexual identity and style, camp and spectacle, cultural appropriation and genderfuck, live art and activism, while the night was dedicated to the theme of ‘royalty’, with performances and live art exhibitions on haute couture fantasies, aristocratic mannerisms and vulgarities, subversive gender-bending telenovelas, drama queens and more.
Both events were organised by CUNTemporary, a non-profit organisation that explores feminist and queer art theories and practices, providing a platform where a plurality of genders, bodies, sexualities and discourses that are non-white, non-western, non-able and therefore excluded from mainstream culture, can find common ground.
At the symposium, opened by Dr. Shaun Cole’s [Associate Dean and Course Director at London College of Fashion, formerly Head of Contemporary Programmes at the V&A] keynote on the power of queer subcultural styles, human rights activist and stylist Daniel Lismore, artists La Erreria (House of Bent), performer Malik Nashad Sharpe and alt-drag artist Jonny Woo shared their views and stories on intersectional diversity, visibility and invisibility in public spaces, neoliberal violence and mainstream culture.
In this array of amazing artists, the individual that literally blew us away is Malik Nashad Sharpe. He is an experimental choreographer from New York based in London whose work fully incorporates the nexus of Blackness, Queerness, violence, melancholia and joyousness. Malik also works under the alias Marikiscrycrycry – “three cries like three cheers for the melancholic, conflictual, gay af black boy” – and his art is so peculiar we couldn’t stop our curiosity, so we interviewed him to find out more.
GRIOT: You do emotional choreography. How did you approach the field of art and dancing? And how did you develop the nexus between Queerness and Blackness in your art and choreography?
Malik Nashad Sharpe: I make choreography out of necessity because my survival depends on it. I initially started making work because I needed to make sense of the melancholia I felt being who I was.
I always find myself in environments where my difference marks me as illegible and invisible, and not being seen is tragic because it makes you question whether you really exist, whether you should exist. And then people who look while you are being murdered by the State. And you do everything the society tells you to do, that your immigrant parents believed would enable you to succeed, only to come to the conclusion that no matter what you do, the majority will pursue you for your life. And this is where I make work from.
Choreography reveals what is already there, and the possibilities of what that can be. I don’t need to develop this nexus intentionally, I am and have always been at the intersection nexus. And it has made me melancholic af.
You’re from New York but live in London. Why did you move? And is there a difference in the way you live and feel your queerness and blackness in London compared to NY?
I moved to London for two key reasons. The first being the fact that the genocide against Black people in the United States was making my life completely untenable there. I could not deal with the trauma that I felt from witnessing. I could not deal with the violence of all of the institutions I had to be a part of there. I couldn’t live my life to the fullest knowing that I can be murdered for nothing at all, that all of that violence…it’s deliberate.
I always felt more legible to myself in London, like I have a bit of breathing room to be who I want to be, instead of constantly being re-traumatised in the way that it was happening in the United States. Obviously violence against Black people is global, and despite the extremely vibrant queer life here, you can still be assaulted for it, but somehow my day-to-day life in London is more tenable than it has ever been. I really feel like I have more of a context here and I don’t feel afraid to be who I am.
During your performance you asked the audience what the national flags meant. What do they mean to you?
Flags have no functional meaning to me and I try not to give that latent authoritarianism and nationalism any real power in my life.
Your website is amazing. There you also mention “authoritarianism spectre” and “baby communism”. What do you mean?
Authoritarianism is here and it’s asserting its way into how we understand our society…it is also seeping into the aesthetics of contemporary culture. Neoliberalism has brought us authoritarianism in full force, like a truck. Can communism save us lol? Everyone told me in school that communism was horrible, and in some senses it probably is, but what is our record?
I cannot imagine anything worse than capitalism because now, the people who rule us, are corporations whose goal is endless expansion and at any cost and they will do anything to make us better customers for their bullshit. I like the idea of collectivised societies. And I am trying to make that cute? Maybe I am also foregrounding a new alias. Everything is considered choreography for me.
Could you introduce me to Marikiscrycrycry, your alias?
Marikiscrycrycry is my performance project where I make investigations about the choreographic form and also my space to think, and do whatever the fuck I want around the ontologies of Blackness and Queerness. It is about resisting the demand for me to package my whole experience, vision, futurities, ideas into neat, neoliberal packages. It is about being honest and unabashed about the imprints left by this world on my consciousness and body.
I am trying to resituate what crying looks like, not to obfuscate real responses to our experiences of today, but to offer and create possibilities for that to also do something politically motivated. To say that the cries are also cheers: Cheers for being aloof, conflictual, sad, dreamy, distant, unabridged, tragic, cute, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay and gay. Cheers for being an embodied resistant to the outdated politics of abject White supremacy and queerphobia. I’m trying to disarm systems of hate by holding a mirror that shows the violence of today for all its worth. I am going to smash that mirror into millions of pieces.
“NO NATIONALISM” will debut in Montreal next year. Can you tell us more about the project?
Yes, I am very excited to start this project with Montreal-based choreographer Ellen Furey. We are trying to co-author a work that realises pluralism in and as a dance practice, and as a form of international solidarity. We are done with nationalism and the violence of that kind of identification and its politics. It’s also just boring. We’re gonna make a duet around it.
You can find out more about the artists who tool part to the Power, Subcultures & Queer Stages and Royal Trash events and discover more about CUNTemporary’s work here.
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