incomplete thoughts on broken sentences and opaque spaces as political resistance

At the Gloves Off panel discussion hosted by Portland’s Black Creative Collective the artists opened by stating they would not take any questions at all. They turned their tables toward each other in a wide open angle so they could be somewhat facing each other, rather than just facing down the audience. Then they let there be a very long silence where we simply stared at them and wondered what would happen if they never spoke to us again.


Gloves Off panelists were: Eileen Isagon-Skyers, Jibade-Khalil Huffman, keyon gaskin, Samiya Bashir, Sampada Aranke and sidony o’neal


But they did speak, and they said a lot. To me the key idea that they shared was about the importance of opacity for black artists. Opacity as in not needing to translate themselves for white audiences, not needing to try to make their work transparent and universal. They claimed the space of opacity as something they get to keep for themselves, something dominant culture can work to learn if they want to understand. Black artists do not need to go out of their way to make themselves understandable for white audiences. I felt lucky to be there and hoped the panelists didn’t feel too much more uncomfortable than we did sitting there watching them converse.

Later that night talking to friends about that panel discussion while in the crowd at Critical Mascara we wrestled with how conflicted it felt for the panelists to have shared the idea of opacity with us in that setting. On the one hand the artists had set up a situation where they could have a conversation among themselves rather than cater to the audience’s needs in their discussion. On the other hand they actually provided us, as a largely white audience a privileged access to witness their black cultural experience. And within that they also offered us a tool to better understand their work by presenting the idea of opacity as a key concept for us to think with. Did we as the white audience maybe still end up getting more out of that event than the black artists did? Is there a way out of that catch 22?

The next morning I went to the group artist talk at the visual art space, which was dealing with seemingly totally unrelated topics from the day before: formlessness and poetry. But the talk ended on the idea that not making clear sense might be one of the only possible political resistances to capitalism’s all encompassing appetites, which then jolted me back into the conversation around blackness and opacity. Maybe not making clear sense is a deeply political instinct in these times. If capitalism can digest and commodify almost everything, even the protests against it, and we live in a society where everything we do and say can be tracked and sold back to us, how can we speak freely other than in broken sentences which offer no sense to be made into cents by the mechanisms of the market? While the art market may be the perfect allegory for resistance getting turned into exponential profit, poetry just doesn’t make money the way art does.


Artist talk was about the collaborative project Commonplace by Karl Larsson and Pascal Prosek with Morgan Ritter and Gary Robbins


But again it feels like this line of thought loops back on itself. I so appreciate the artist speaking about how he sees his work as broken sentences made to resist capitalist assimilation. From those words I am able to feel and think into the politics of his work, to question what can be protest in these times, to go a little deeper in my understanding of the implications of the idea of opacity from the day before. And yet what that means is he provided me with access to a more shared meaning, to something that made a lot of sense. I don’t think I could ever survive a politics where the relatedness of making sense with each other was actually negated, though I am really interested in all this generous talk about the power of resisting shared understanding.

-Ariana Jacob