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
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