Verhalen 2020 > 2021

‘In a difficult way, I’m happy that crisis could turn us together like this’ 

Issue no6
2020
Strategieën voor de lange termijn + Nieuwe Collectie

Ada M. Patterson remembers moments shared with Joy Mariama Smith and Geo Wyeth; two friends, among many others, who made a difference in 2020.

Some moments,

happening, not happening;

some queer differences

being made, being unmade

through, from, in, out, because of, in spite of

crisis.

for Joy

I’m sitting in your room in Amsterdam with a handful of queer cuties you invited here. There are boxes of vegan pizza strewn across the floor, to keep us fed, to keep us well, while listening to what you have to say. You’re on a weird Zoom panel called “How to Assemble Now. You’re experimenting with the Zoom structure by having a live element. You’ve invited us all here to be here with you, to support you. We each know the risk; we have consented to hold the risk together.

A question that guides the panel:

What are the means, limits, and possibilities for mobilizing and forming lasting collectivities in this crisis-driven present?

Mm… crisis-driven present. Juicy.

I remember something you surfaced in the panel; your performance, Joyride. The image stuck with me, your words stuck with me, and there’s a dissonance between your words and the words of someone else writing about Joyride:

a fast and dangerous ride, especially one taken in a stolen vehicle.

Joy Mariama Smith’s body is not a stolen car. Instead it is a queer black body, freighted with danger in a different way. Or in the same ways: likely to be policed, likely to be questioned, likely to be followed.

I remember you mentioned how this work was received and read as heavy, intense, disturbing, but that you felt really… joyful in it. I wonder how many times the abundance of your joy has been misread as dangerous, as too much, by viewers who can’t catch your rhythm, by viewers who can’t catch your feelings. Maybe it is dangerous—for them, that is. But I’m not talking about them.

Crisis-driven present… It makes me think of “queer death drive” (I still can’t remember exactly what that’s all about). But thinking about Joyride, watching it, hearing you talk about it, I’m feeling you feeling yourself. I’m feeling you be present in your own body, riding the waves and currents of your body. Joyride, for me, is a queer life drive. You’re living so much life—slowly, soaking it all up, taking it all in — this is one wild f*cking ride.

Joy, you’ve been taking me on such a wild ride since we first met at The Black Joy Sessions [2].

Color Block 2020 [2] was everything I couldn’t anticipate needing, and I’m so grateful that you took me with you. I’m thankful for all your facilitation, for all the checking-in, for giving support and reassurance where risk felt conditioned and threatening. I’m grateful for that deep turquoise skirt you lent me; the way it hugged my hips and let me walk with a rhythm I thought had long been silenced in my body. I’m happy for the sequin top that brought to surface all the shimmer, glimmer and glamour that was stuck at the back of my life’s throat. You are a living affirmation.

Color Block really feels like a world away from the world. It is a retreat for QT’s of colour; an exercise in worldmaking and unmaking, in images different to that world [3] we turned away from. It is a space to get in touch with, rehabilitate, attend to and heal our relationships to our bodies, nature, each other and the complicated crossings of all these and more. At the very least, it is room to breathe; at most, it is an affirmation that hope for something more than just survivalis real, difficult, practicable and liveable. And, for me, it is the place where my new name took root in the mouths of others; its sound, a flowering of everything to come.

I don’t want to say what happened there because it’s not only mine to share. All I will say is this:

where queer brown and Black bodies gathering is already risky, precarious, policed and too dangerous for that world

where queer brown and Black gatherings are more urgent and more under threat because of the pandemic and its culture of police measures—

where queer brown and Black gatherings, contact, intimacy and connection are precious and necessary to our survivals—

where queer brown and Black bodies gathering in a pandemic means to choose risk, joy and love over precaution and where that is never a choice taken lightly—

Color Block gives the space to navigate all of this complication, conflict and grief, and to dream with a difference. It is a space to feel seen without being sighted.

Thank you for the joyride. I hope (and trust) that the mileage of this queer life drive will carry us far or, at the very least, to where we need to be.

for Geo

You saw me outside the cash machine between the MCD and Yaşam, in our little shared neighbourhood. It was the first time seeing and being seen by someone outside of my littler household world. I sent you a message afterwards, and its timestamp reminds me the date was 25 March 2020. The message was almost an apology—an apology that I couldn’t find the right words for you and Jay in that meeting. I tried to reason with my lack of words:

It feels like everyone’s disappeared and I’m trying to reconcile that

You wished you could’ve given me a hug and I felt the same way. We weren’t really that close back then. But I like to think that moment made a difference; it made me know that I wanted to be closer to you.

Fast-forward: the email timestamp tells me it’s 23 July 2020.

You’ve invited me for your performance, Come Closer: Muck Studies Dept. It’s something that was postponed until now. It’s something that couldn’t happen before and is now going to happen differently. It signals a turn of events. It is an event turnedby crisis. You mention that you’re trying something different; you want to perform for a more likeminded, like-bodied audience. You want to feel supported by an audience of lives and experiences closer to your own, in communion with your own. You need us to show up for you, so you can show up for us.

Something noted in the performance description:

I get into the water because I want to go home.

Maybe we could be the water for you. Maybe we could be each other’s water. Maybe we could feel at home within each other. Maybe we are saltwater healing. Maybe we are thirst-quenchers. I know, after all that’s happened, after all that’s still happening, I’m thirsty af.

I can’t make it to the performance. I’m leaving for Color Block. But your invitation stays with me:

If I’m happy for anything, I’m happy that you could find the time to figure out what you needed, what you wanted, and what you were thirsty for between your performances and your audiences. I don’t feel supported by rooms of white hands clapping away our moments. Offbeat clapping, offbeat engagement, Olive Senior, in her Meditation on Yellow, reminds me:

You cannot catch

my rhythm

(for you have to be born

with that)

And so, I feel such a resonance when you’re imagining an audience with whom you can feel supported.

Fast-forward again: we’re in your studio, vibing. We’re collaborating on something with Charissa around my exhibition, The Whole World is Turning. That something ended up not happening; from some other personal crises, I no longer had it in me.

I’m reading something I wrote from the reason I couldn’t attend your performance. You’re on your keyboard, conjuring some chord progressions like magic and you catch the rhythm of my voice. To have my rhythm be held, to be held in your rhythm, I can only describe it as some kind of love.

And, in a complicated way, I’m happy for these moments, for this turn of events. And, in a difficult way, I’m happy that crisis could turn us together like this.

Overwhelmed, over-loved

and with an overwhelming capacity for love,

Ada

[1] The Black Joy Sessions (2019) is a co-created, Black-led, three-day series of conversations, performances, workshops and social activities, produced and hosted by Tarik Elmoutawakil with Jaamil Olawale Kosoko.

[2] Color Block is a space held by and created for people of color to work, play, and experiment around performance, improvisation and activism, hosted by Joy Mariama Smith. It aims to collectively and collaboratively focus on perseverance, resistance, freedom and healing.

[3] That world where white cis masculinist governments thought they already knew enough about a pandemic that couldn’t yet be known or ascertained; white cis masculinist states sanctioned mass death in more ways than one through systemic neglect, a precedence of police measures and a conditioned scarcity of support structures; white cis masculinist attitudes that know nothing about preparing for hurricanes, pandemics and other kinds of crisis.

Ada. M Patterson
is a visual artist and writer

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 6 — 2020