an empire is never gentle

How are we then to imagine belonging, beauty, joy and liberation, entangled as we are in the archive of our complex pasts, at the mercy of an empire which does not reckon with its own excesses, does not provide justice and does not apologize?

Bringing into conversation three artistic positions rooted on the West Coast of this land now called the United States, and expanding outwardly, how to gently unpack an empire investigates the capacities and possibilities of living fugitively within the US empire both in opposition and alongside it. Featuring the works of Demian Dinéyazhi’, Vinhay Keo and Gelare Khoshgozaran and accompanied by a suite of public programs—Chitra Ganesh and Mariam Ghani on Index of the Disappeared; lauren woods and Kimberli Meyer on American Monument, Sean Connelly on Hawai’i Futures, and a closing listening session with Arshia Fatima Haq of Discostan —this project is an unpacking of this dialogue through the mining of personal and historical archives of a rapacious empire that both promises and takes away.

In Unthinking Mastery, Julietta Singh eloquently challenges the pursuit of mastery that has haunted and troubled anti-colonial thinkers. Mastery, an inherent vehicle of settler-colonialism and slavery, both as the physical domination of bodies as well as intellectual and linguistic mastery, is continuously replicated by postcolonial states as a means towards self-determination and therefore, their own failures. Complicit in this failure is the curatorial protagonist of this exhibition, culminating as this project is towards a Master of Fine Art.

The exhibition and public program open up avenues to think productively not just the capacity and reach of empire, but also of the possible resistance responses of its fugitive/complicit subjects, without mastery or achievement.  While this exhibition offers few answers and multiple paradoxes, it offers possibilities of survival and imagination through the unfolding of voices that make forms of impossible very possible.

postscript: while this exhibition was conceptualized before the pandemic, it cannot remain invisible to the experience of last year, of a once in a century, planetary event that has impacted a collective body politic. The pandemic and its resultant ruin on those vulnerable and peripheral is itself by design, revealing structural inequities and ruptures. The trace of the pandemic, a part of a longer history of erasure and displacement, rests deeply intertwined within this exhibition.

A publication accompanying this exhibition-program will be published by Archive Books in Fall 2021.

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