I’ve spent the past two years organizing Loophole, a symposium focused on Black women’s intellectual and creative labor, conceived as an extension of artist Simone Leigh’s US Pavilion exhibition for the 59th Venice Biennale. Part of the early curation process included conversations with Simone, as well as with Tina Campt and Saidiya Hartman, about the framing of the gathering. The invitation to the 65 participants—scholars, filmmakers, performers and poets was “carte blanche.” Each woman and femme was issued an open-ended invitation to speak about her own work and highlight topics of her own interest or expertise. The conceptual framing draws from the 1861 autobiography of Harriet Jacobs, a formerly enslaved woman who, for seven years after her escape, lived in a crawlspace she described as a “loophole of retreat.” Jacobs claimed this site as simultaneously an enclosure and a space for enacting practices of freedom. As a larger framework for the constellation of presentations at Loophole, however, we identified a group of key directives to guide our collective thinking:
– Manual: Of or pertaining to the hand or hands. Inspired by “Manual for General Housework” from Saidiya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval.
– Magical Realism: Defined by Caribbean poet and theorist Kamau Brathwaite as a larger cacophonous movement—a radical disruption of Western progressivist history.
– Medicine: Using the qualities of science, plants and animals to cope with the natural and supernatural world around us, inspired by the work of root and leaf doctors, traditional healers and conjurors of the rural Black American South and the Global South.
– Sovereignty: The title of Leigh’s US Pavilion exhibition, speaks to notions of self-determination, self-governance, and independence for both the intellectual and the collaborative.
– Maroonage: Maroon refer to the people who escaped slavery and created independent communities on the outskirts of enslaved societies.
Deborah speaks of the environment of Cockpit country and the strategies of the maroons that required interdependence with the landscape. Her work today brings forward the practices of freedom that are necessary during this moment of crisis—climate crises, women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, climate justice, racial justice, decolonization, landback, and the fight against the resurgence of fascism. Through her work, we understand the urgent and continued need for transnational solidarity and collaboration. And that these contemporary crises often have local historical solutions.
Curator, Loophole of Retreat: Venice