Monday, November 25, 2019
9:00 AM-11:30 AM
Hilton Bayfront-Indigo C (Second Level)
San Diego, California
Decolonizing and Resisting through the Arts
The Society for the Arts in Religious and Theological Studies, a community of inquiry devoted to the development of the arts in religion and society, presents a panel of four scholars who will investigate and illuminate, how religious or theologically inspired artistic expression contributes to movements of resistance and the work of decolonization. The panel will explore the theological and religious dimensions of artistic responses racism, nationalism, homophobia, and Islamophobia in a variety of contexts from the urban U.S. to the Israel/Palestine border. Panelists will use a variety of artistic expressions in making their explorations, including musical composition, poetry, performance, and public art.
Abstracts of Panel Papers:
Maria Eugenia Fee, Fuller Seminary
The Urban Monasticism of Theaster Gates (Paper) The work of Chicago artist Theaster Gates becomes the means to explore the way artists sacralize secular spaces for the benefit of many. Comprising religious and spiritual elements, Gates’ collaborations, especially with his musical ensemble the Black Monks of Mississippi, seek to care, steward, and reconcile brown and black cultural expressions while simultaneously infuse spiritual life into the fine arts world to enable all people to experience the holy. Gates’ endeavors accommodate resilience and resistance for people of color, all bodies, really, and further critique art world biases pertaining to race and religion. For these reasons, Gates’ art is aligned with the “struggle for subjectivity” constitutive of second-generation liberation theology, according to theologians Anthony Pinn and Benjamin Valentin. Accordingly, liberation theology calls for, gathers, and investigates images and gestures as a means to understand discrepancies, felt injustices, and to further grace and uplift the lives of persons, communities, and the society at large. What follows this review of urban monasticism is an artist’s example of a secular liturgy grounded in liberation theology’s “struggle for subjectivity.” Blk Halos (Performance) Blk Halos is an artistically theological reflection on race. The performance offers a broad overview of the history and the present-day reality of the Black American experience through the use of poetry, song, and excerpts from theological texts. These elements culminate in the prophetic call for reimagining the black experience, the trajectory of which is a newly defined people group with a royal destiny. Blk Halos aims to shift perceptions regarding the value of black and brown bodies in order to celebrate the full range of possibility in a society that celebrates the darkest of its members. The group consist of three vocalists and a guitarist. The performance length is fifteen minutes.
Dismantling the Barriers of the Christian Imagination: Postcolonial Theological Encounters with the Art of Khaled Jarrar
Devon Abts, King’s College London
This paper situates the art of Khaled Jarrar in a postcolonial framework in order to explore strategies for decolonizing the western Christian imagination. A Palestinian soldier-turned-multidisciplinary artist, Jarrar is known for his subversive interventions and public performances which disrupt and transform the mechanisms enabling state powers to profit from dividing and subjugating human beings caught in the crossfire of geopolitical conflict. As a native of the occupied West Bank, his concerns focus on the struggles of Palestinians living behind the 700-kilometer concrete barrier separating Israel from the West Bank. This monstrous icon of modern colonialism is a major motif in Jarrar’s work. He took a hammer to the wall for his 2014 ‘Whole in the Wall’ exhibit, removing and reconstituting fragments as sculptures conveying personal stories of loss and hope in modern Palestine. His London installation featured a giant concrete barrier running through the gallery’s center, forcing viewers to climb through a small Palestine-shaped hole to see the entire show. Jarrar repeated this feat in ‘Castles Built from Sand Will Fall’ (2016), an exhibit showcasing his diverse modes of resistance. And the artist recently intervened at the U.S.-Mexico border, where he dismantled a piece of the partition to create a free-standing ladder in protest against American imperialism. This paper explores how Jarrar’s courageous art memorializes the suffering of those on the borders of society, and simultaneously bids viewers to transcend the barriers of their own colonized imaginations and participate in a shared task of peace-building. As I will show, these tensions between memory and hope in his work resonate with the idea that theology enacts ‘dangerous memories.’ Ultimately, I argue that Jarrar’s secular Palestinian art calls western theologians to the difficult but crucial work of dismantling the violent structures—physical, mental, social, spiritual—of colonial Christianity.
Imagining Freedom in the Space Between: On the Decolonial Poetics of Terrance Hayes
Tyler B. Davis, Baylor University
“National liberation,” Amilcar Cabral announced, “is necessarily an act of culture.” An incisive theoretician and tactician of decolonization in the Third World, Cabral recognized the indispensable role of cultural production for resisting colonial power. Following Cabral’s insight, this paper considers how poet Terrance Hayes offers imaginative resources for decolonial theologies of freedom. Across six poetry collections spanning the last two decades, Hayes has produced searching poems exploring race, music, and subjectivity, while creatively experimenting with form, sound, and image. Despite his standing as a black poet in the tradition of the Black Arts Movement, Hayes may nevertheless appear to be an unlikely resource for decolonization because his poems at times depict the failure of political solidarity as much as celebrating liberation at hand. Yet it is precisely this apparent failure which I seek to identify as salient for the decolonial imagination, for Hayes presents a poetics that reveals the force of dreaming of other worlds which are not defined by reactionary and dialectical reference to colonial terms of order. By analyzing poems including “The Avocado” (2010), “Boll Weevil” (2015), and select poems from American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin (2018), I bring into view how Hayes’s seeming uneasiness with revolutionary political aesthetics is rather an indication of an alternative form of the decolonial imagination which creates new terrains of struggle by inhabiting what Hayes calls the “space between,” an utopian standpoint which finds performances of indirection, rambling, and play as important for resistance as dialectics, scientific critique, and national uniformity. Such a poetics, I argue, informs a theological imagination of freedom delinked from the totalizing conceits of colonization.
Considering Matthew Shepardand the Theology of the Cross
Carl S. Hughes, Texas Lutheran University
This paper is about what I consider to be one of the most profound musical compositions of the last decade, the concert-length choral work Considering Matthew Shepard by Craig Hella Johnson (2016). Although it does not present itself as a work of sacred music, the piece often refracts Shepard’s death through the prism of the cross. I focus in this presentation especially on the lyrics of the composition, which are poetry in their own right. I argue that the work has the potential to shape how Christians relate themselves to both the crucified Jesus and the many crucified victims of our contemporary world. The connections to the cross in Considering Matthew Shepard are both explicit and implicit. On a fundamental level, both deaths are stories of tragedy and trauma, which faithful communities continue to remember and retell. One way in which Johnson evokes Jesus’ death is by voicing the presence of the Westboro Baptist Church at Shepard’s funeral with the phrase “kreuzige, kreuzige!” from Bach’s St. John Passion. There are numerous more subtle evocations of the cross as well. However, Johnson also warns against ignoring Shepard’s concrete humanity by sacralizing him as something other than an “ordinary boy living ordinary days.” I argue that Considering Matthew Shepard can teach Christians how to relate to the cross in an immediate and non-abstractive way, rather than turning its tragedy into a transcendent good. Too often, Christians interpret the cross through the lens of some form of atonement theory, making Jesus’ death into a cog in a larger mechanism of salvation. Johnson calls listeners to bear witness to tragedy without imposing meaning on it. (“I am open to hear this story" goes a repeated phrase at the beginning.) At the same time, Johnson describes this sort of aesthetic contemplation as imposing an overwhelming ethical call: “What could be the song? / Where begin again... / Only in the Love, / Love that lifts us up."
Members of SARTS meet annually in conjunction with the AAR/SBL.
Typically, meetings include a Friday-night reception and event, with a session of papers on Saturday or Sunday, plus an architectural or museum tour.