Decolonial Dreamwork: Spectatorship, Affect and Indigeneity in Performance  

 Image of Anishinaabe artist Rebecca Belmore's  1,181  (2014). Photo by Lilian G. Mengesha. 

Image of Anishinaabe artist Rebecca Belmore's 1,181 (2014). Photo by Lilian G. Mengesha. 

My manuscript argues that sensation and affect offer a way to circumvent and challenge the paradox of recognition in liberal politics, and does so through readings of contemporary Indigenous performance art across North and Central America. Dene (First Nations) theorist Glen Coulthard, in response to Charles Taylor, explains how Canadian liberal politics of mutual recognition between sovereign Indigenous people and the settler state have continued to entrap indigenous people into a rights-based model of dependency. This structure continues to facilitate colonial dispossession formerly encoded through assimilation. Coulthard argues for an Indigenous resurgence against mutual recognition, such as the creative activism deployed by the Idle No More movement, in an effort to practice Native ways of knowing and being in the world. My long-term intellectual agenda aims to revise our understanding of the political possibilities of aesthetic work. Analyzing a set of theater and performance works made by or for mestiza, First Nations and Native artists from 1990 to the present, my current manuscript argues that the aesthetics of affect can and does distribute a sense of historical responsibility for the disappearances of people, history, and land. 

To date, studies of Indigenous performances in the Americas have been bound by nation (settler or tribal) and treat theater, ritual, or traditional dance, for example, as separate genres. Alternatively, my dissertation focuses on the patterns of performance—both on and off stage—that emerge transnationally, connecting the phenomenon of missing and murdered women from the US/Mexico border to downtown Vancouver. What does it mean when artists make a performance, an already ephemeral act, about disappearance? These artists cohere around impermissible archives, the remaining records of mestiza and Indigenous people violated by settler states, and their performances, in turn, take flight in offering non-representational responses to that violence. The performances in this study mobilize difficult affects, like repulsion and disgust, in an effort to disperse the conditions of vulnerability often placed upon abject subjects, those cast out from hegemonic norms. In this dispersal, these artists do not seek a reparative condition or mutual recognition, as Coulthard suggests, but instead, a way out of dominant forms of regulating and controlling Indigeneity, specifically among women across the Americas.

Samples of my work have been published in The Drama Review and Canadian Theatre Review