Criteria of Beauty Statement (October, 2018)

     “[John Cage] doesn’t have the right to make any comment about jazz, nor would Stravinsky have any right to make evaluations about jazz, because they don’t know the tradition that jazz came out of. I’ve spent years in school learning about European music and it’s traditions, but these cats don’t know a thing about Harlem except that it’s there. ... They never subject themselves to … Louis Armstrong’s criteria for beauty, and until they do that, then I’m not interested in what they have to say. Because they simply don’t recognize the criteria.”—Cecil Taylor, Four Jazz Lives

 

 

     Half century ago, Cecil Taylor issued this rebuttal to John Cage after Cage criticized contemporary Jazz for its structural regularity and reliance on “emotions.” Taylor’s assessment of his white contemporaries as dismissive and uninformed still rings true. Today many artists still find their cultures and communities ignored by those who feel emboldened to comment without context. This condition is not isolated from the fact that many of our biased educational and economic institutions, that produce sets of exclusive criteria, have not changed either.

     The artists in Criteria of Beauty represent experiences that exist outside of whiteness, heteronormativity and gender binaries. These artists have been selected for the conversations their works evoke around gender, sexuality and safety; diaspora, race and belonging; education, institution and space. In the process, they propose individual, collective, responsive and always shifting "criteria for beauty."

     Criteria of Beauty reclaims our dead and hidden kin to tell our stories in ways that give agency to our bodies—the same bodies that find themselves criticized too often, yet rarely understood. The exhibition also reclaims the art gallery in order to challenge the systems that prevent accessibility and further perpetuate othering.

     We, Queer, Black and Brown folks expressing our realities through video, sculpture, print, and other media represent hope that even if the past did not recognize our beauty, the future that we carve will.

Grandma (April, 2018)

My Grandmother keeps a good Christian home

in the heart of the Caribbean

She does not question Jesus

nor the white man’s hands that gave him to her

she lets us know

we are not buffalo soldiers

at least not anymore

we are seventh-day Adventist

Presbyterians, Catholics, Baptist

we are blood colonized so deep

we should say thank you

thank you for unlikely lovers from across the sea

native Caribs welcoming West African slaves

all by way of white man's ships

 

My Grandmother tucked three colonizer’s tongues in her mouth

buried them deep beneath Kwéyòl

until dementia gnawed away at her hola

then her bonjour

then her hello

what happens when there are no words left to greet her?

when even her children's names sound foreign?

 

Kwéyòl is the last tongue in her mouth

a language our ancestors stitched from each tongue that survived

each sentence a spell to bring us out of bondage

sorcery birthed from slavery

withdrawing whips from backs

 

Kwéyòl taught me I have a lineage worth remembering

reminds me

there are things that I know about myself

that cannot be translated into English

a history only this tongue can speak

 

I visit my grandmother

she opens her mouth,

but dementia devours her words before she can put them together

nothing but nonsense mumbles out

I wonder which of her stories went untold

I wonder If her stories stretch back far enough

to cross the diaspora

 

can her tongue remember her mother’s ancestors?

Black bodies on white man's ships

tight-lipped, holding histories in their throats

on course to meet lovers they never asked for

 

can her tongue remember her father’s ancestors?

indigenous bodies who fought off the Spanish, the English, the Dutch

force fed treaties to silence savages who defend their shores

 

When I am in St. Lucia

I dig up all the stories I can

sharpened by chains and cannon fire

dust them off

wonder if they could cut a way back through diaspora

a gift to our children

tuck them into my throat for safe keeping

tongue I don’t know how to use

my history smothered by all this English

 

I look at my Grandmother’s mouth to see how I should use mine

when sounds mumble out I say, Saudi a’

or, tell me again

and sometimes if you look her in the eyes

her lips open and you can see the beginning

an ocean calm

bloodless

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