Culture Vulture/Performance Diary: Queer Black Artists, Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul, Arooj Aftab, THE AFRICAN DESPERATE, Machine Dazzle, and more

September 29, 2022

The fall season kicked in big-time last week.

Sunday: I swear the New York Times’ fashion supplement T Magazine under Hanya Yanagihara’s editorship has more overt gay coverage than the Advocate does. This week’s cover story feature on young, queer black artists under 40 grew out of photographer Shikeith’s despire to pay tribute to Marlon Riggs’s groundbreaking 1989 documentary Tongues Untied, a beautifully poetic celebration of black gay male culture. The T Magazine event had several facets to it, beginning in Red Hook on August 1 with one of those history-making photo shoots gathering 24 artists in one place.

serpentwithfeet, Jacolby Satterwhite, Tune Olaniran, Troy Montez Michie, and Texas Isaiah, photo by Shikeith

The following day, five of them sat down with journalist Emil Wilbekin for a free-ranging conversation. Adam Pendleton, who recently had a splashy show in the atrium at MOMA, spoke directly to the discomfort many artists feel about having a minority-status adjective (black, queer, female, etc.) attached like a label to their work:

Adjectives are terrible, but generosity and legibility are important. And what I mean by that is: A project like this is almost a double-edged sword, in the sense that any instance where you’re identified is a terrible moment, actually. When you’re claimed as something — when you’re named as something — that’s not necessarily a moment of celebration or liberation. And that’s kind of what this being released into the world will mark. It’s funny because I actually never thought about any of this, so when you keep saying “Black,” “queer” — that’s not the language I used when I thought about myself as an artist. I was just like, “I’m an artist.” That was it.

I totally respect that apprehension, AND I will say for myself that I came out in the first post-Stonewall wave of gay liberation, and for me it has always been exciting when artists identify as gay or queer. It always makes me a little more interested in them. Not because I assume they will conform to some idea of what gay or queer art looks like — just the opposite. I’m thrilled to encounter yet another example of how rich and different and multifaceted queer art can be. So while this T Magazine feature included a few artists I already knew about (Jeremy O. Harris, Brontez Purnell, Jacolby Satterwhite, serpentwithfeet, Jaquel Spivey, and Ato Blankson-Wood, in addition to Pendleton), I now have a bunch more queer black brothers – poets, actors, musicians, designers, and visual artists — whose work I’m curious to investigate. I actively want to know what they have to say about beauty and desire, gender and politics, love and life. The names: Don Christina Jones, Abdu Ali, Jonathan Lydon Chase, Miles Greenberg, Devan Shimoyama, Hugh Hayden, Saeed Jones, Jonathan Gardenhire, Danez Smith, Clifford Prince King, Eric N. Mack, Edwin Thompson, D’Angelo Lovell William, Tunde Olaniran, Troy Montes Michie, and Texas Isaiah.

You can read an extended version of the conversation online here.

Hilarious side note: Leon Curry curated a Spotify playlist that provided the soundtrack for the photo shoot, and the T article includes a link. But the trap-heavy playlist has been thoroughly scrubbed of curse words, and the result is that some tracks make no sense at all because of the frequent dropouts that interfere with sound, sense, and flow.

Monday: The title and the structure of The Nipple Whisperer by the mononymous Lui suggests that the book is a step-by-step guide to cultivating nipple eroticism. It is that, but it is also a lot more. It is ultimately a stealth manual for sacred intimates.

The author has carefully surveyed key encounters with clients and lovers, and he shares with readers his trial-and-error experiments in sexual healing with a huge amount of grace, wisdom, and excellent writing.

Tuesday night: Touring the US for the first time, the Belgian synth-pop duo Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul took Bowery Ballroom by storm. Their debut album, Topical Dancer, dropped earlier this year – fun, effervescent, quirky, playfully political.

Best demonstration: “Blenda,” a hot hot groove (Bolis is the one-man band) while she sings, “Go back to the country where you belong/Siri, will you tell me where I belong?” In performance, they’re energetic and physically unafraid.

For their last number, they both jumped off the stage and cut a Soul Train swatch through the audience, communing and boogeying down with the ecstatic crowd. (Their next gig is at a festival in Bentonville, Arkansas!) Our posse of Body Electricians met beforehand for a drink and a bite at Loreley Beer Garden, and we took a stroll down Freeman Alley checking out the ever-changing artwork.

Wednesday: MUBI subscribers get free admission to one indie-film-in-need-of-an-audience every week. This time it was The African Desperate by Martine Syms at the Quad, a very smart, edgy portrait of a black female artist’s last 24 hours in an MFA program at a rural upstate New York campus (filmed at Bard). It opens with Palace Bryant (a brave performance by Diamond Stingily) sitting for a final studio visit with her four white faculty advisors, each with their own brand of excruciating micro-aggressiveness. As she packs up for home in Chicago and navigates stolidly ambivalent farewell partying with her classmates, frenemies, and gender-fluid flirtations, the name-checking of art theoreticians flows as freely as the party drugs.

Syms gives herself a huge amount of freedom to play with the kind of jump cuts, layering, and sound games you’re more used to encountering in music videos and TikToks than in feature films, not unlike, say, Janicza Bravo’s Twitter-inspired Zola or Michaela Coel’s mini-series I May Destroy You. (Although didn’t the recently departed Jean-Luc Godard do all of that first?) I’m not the only person who referenced Gaspar Noë’s Climax during some of the extended, chaotic, nerve-wracking sex-and-drugs sequences. One of the quirks that cracked me up was when friends would be sitting around dishing other people and the soundtrack would blank out the names, as if they were blind items in a gossip column. Speaking of soundtracks, you can listen to the music from The African Desperate on Spotify here.

Thursday: Someone at the Metropolitan Museum’s Live Arts department had the inspired idea of inviting Aroof Aftab, the sublime queer Pakistani Grammy-winning singer, to perform at the Temple of Dendur. Taking the stage, Aftab declared this was the most epic performance the group had ever played, which is saying something because she’s been touring (a lot of festivals) continuously since the release last year of her sublime album Vulture Prince.

She’s an incredible singer in the ghazal tradition, which conveys fragments of poetry in long slow exquisite lines without being show-offy. But she also has a wonderful dry sense of humor. She noted that people tend to classify her music as sacred because so much of it is slow, somber, soulful. But she specifically included one song in English on her album (taken from a Rumi poem, its entire text goes “Last night my beloved was like the moon/So beautiful”) to indicate that all the songs she sings are about being intoxicated and unhappy in love.

After opening the show with the album’s gorgeous first song, “Baghon Main,” she chatted for a while, admitting to the audience that she usually talks a lot and tells jokes between songs but she was a little intimidated by the august venue, so maybe not. In place of her usual glass of red wine, she had whiskey in a paper cup to sip throughout the show. And she said she’s lately taken to tossing roses into the audience, but she worried that security would tackle her if she tried that at the Met. Well, after a few more sips of whiskey, all her inhibitions flew out the window, and she cracked jokes about her fancy outfit, which made her feel like a car (and which she swapped out halfway through the show for a more comfortable but still glam long silvery coat). And she doesn’t shy away from sly political commentary, noting that the Temple of Dendur “may or may not be stolen.” (It is, after all, located in the Sackler Wing, named after the family whose pharmaceutical company has been castigated and prosecuted for its part in the opioid crisis.) And one by one all those long-stem roses onstage wound up in the hands of pretty ladies who caught the singer’s eye.

The acoustics were perfect for her mostly acoustic band, an oddball ensemble of harp (Maeve Gilchrist, tall blond whose high heels doubled as percussion), guitar (Gyan Riley), violin (the gender-queer glory that is Darian Donovan Thomas), and bass (Shahzad Ismaily, who also adds some crazy spice on the synthesizer keyboard he balances on his lap). She said they’d learned a lot about song order on tour, so they closed with their “happy” number, their “banger,” “Mohabbat,” which only in the world of ghazal could be considered a “banger.” The show was being filmed so will undoubtedly manifest online somewhere, but if you’ve not yet had the pleasure of hearing this exceptional vocalist, I would encourage you to check out her “Tiny Desk Concert” filmed during the pandemic for NPR.

Friday: I returned to Forest Hills Tennis Stadium (where I saw Bon Iver and Odesza earlier in the summer) for another extravaganza featuring EDM superstars Jamie XX, Four Tet, and Floating Points. The latter two took the stage together, taking turns driving.

I’m a big fan of Floating Points (a happy bespectacled nerdy Brit named Sam Shepherd) and his bass-heavy grooves; he put out an extraordinary album last year called Promises featuring the London Symphony Orchestra and the legendary jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, who died the day after the Forest Hills concert. Four Tet (another Brit named Kieran Hebden with very eclectic tastes) used his turns to conduct noise experiments that didn’t thrill me. A group of five little girls danced and frolicked behind them every so often. After an hour, Four Tet got the stage to himself and got more fun.

Jamie XX (aka James Thomas Smith, former member of the XX) definitely knows how to please a crowd by mashing up his own tuneful beats with surprises for the audience to sing along to (“Psycho Killer”! Ariana Grande’s “Into You”!).

Andy and I met up with our friends Jay and Paul, who just moved from Brooklyn to New Jersey and needed to let off some steam. Mission accomplished!

Saturday: Our friend Allen was visiting from San Francisco so Saturday afternoon we took him to the Museum of Art and Design and introduced him to the genius that is Machine Dazzle, who gets two whole floors to display his “Queer Maximalism.” The fifth floor showcases some of the mind-boggling outfits Machine created for Taylor Mac’s “24-Decade History of Popular Music.”

The fourth floor covers his non-Taylor costumes for shows at the Guggenheim, at Rice University’s Moody Center for the Arts, and for the Dazzle Dancers.

The detail and the beauty is insanely overwhelming. You could make separate trips to the show just to study the handbags, the shoes, and especially the kkkkkrazeee headdresses.

After beers at the 9th Avenue Saloon, Allen went off to Brooklyn, and we continued the day of Queer Maximalism by seeing the David Bowie movie MOONAGE DAYDREAM.

Not exactly a documentary, it’s more of a cinematic essay that collages rare concert footage, talk show appearances, and period cultural artifacts to present Bowie as more than a rock musician or pop star and more of a philosophical artist on a quest for meaning, for understanding his place in the universe. It’s written, directed, and produced by Brett Morgen, but the real wizardry is Morgen’s spectacular editing.

Sunday: I was feeling a little overwhelmed and oversaturated, but I raced down to the East Village on an electric Citibike (the trains were not running properly) to see Mud/Drowning at Mabou Mines at 7:30…only to learn that the show was at 2pm that afternoon. I rescheduled for this coming Friday, sandwiched between Monochromatic Light (Afterlife), the Tyshawn Sorey concert staged by Peter Sellars at Park Avenue Armory, and two very different shows on Broadway — MJ The Musical and Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt. Next week: another wacky, eclectic marathon starting with Flying Lotus at BAM, continuing with David Greenspan’s one-man version of Gertrude Stein’s Four Saints in Three Acts, and at long last Funny Girl on Broadway!


Quote of the Day: SOCIAL MEDIA

September 20, 2022

SOCIAL MEDIA

Jeremy O. Harris: One of the things I worry about is that the little gay boys and girls I’m friends with don’t meet people their age IRL. They only know people through their oomfs, right? The oomfs run the world.

Danez Smith.: What’s “oomf”?

J.O.H.: An oomf is an “O.O.M.F.” — “one of my friends,” as in someone you know only in a digital space, from Twitter or Tumblr.

D.S.: Oh, yeah, one of my followers.

J.O.H.: The idea that people are discovering their sexuality and their expressivity online is a beautiful thing. I have a 12-year-old niece who’s a she/they pansexual, and she learned about all of those things on TikTok. But there’s also a troubling thing where people become only what you see in 160 characters.

Adam Pendleton: But, Jeremy, it’s even more than that because those spaces are mediated spaces.

J.O.H.: Yes.

A.P.: So if you find your way into something, you might never find your way out. It becomes a prison.

D.S.: Look, if I can make it out the church, they can make it out of Twitter. [All laugh]

“What Happens when Your work Gets to Move Past Argument?” New York Times T Magazine

photo by Shikeith; clockwise from left: Don Christian Jones, Abdu Ali, Jeremy O. Harris, Jonathan Lydon Chase, Miles Greenberg, Brontez Purnell, Devan Simoyama, Hugh hayden, Saeed Jones, Jaquel Spivey, Jonathan Gardenhire, Clifford Prince King, Eric N. Mack, Edvin Thompson, D’Angelo Lovell Williams

Quote of the day: QUEEN

September 14, 2022

QUEEN

Queen Elizabeth II died at Balmoral, Scotland, on September 8th, four years short of her centenary: a surprise as well as a melancholy shock, for it often seemed that she would run forever. Trying to grasp what made her tick is no easy task, but a useful place to start would be “The Queen: Elizabeth II and the Monarchy,” a judicious biography by the historian Ben Pimlott. The index has an entry devoted to the sovereign’s interests. “Dogs” gets nine mentions; “Horses,” seven; “Racing,” six; “Shooting,” five; “Art collection,” four; “Reading,” three; “Politics,” a paltry two; and “Jigsaw puzzles, Scrabble, and television,” one.

And that is how you live to be ninety-six. Stay outdoors as much as possible. Keep a few books and games for rainy days. Enjoy the company of quadrupeds. And hope that nobody from the government drops in for tea. Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith—or, as Private Eye used to call her, Brenda—was a countrywoman at heart.

–Anthony Lane in The New Yorker


illustration by Malika Favre

From the Deep Archives/Performance Diary: Nico in concert, Boston, 1979

September 8, 2022

4.17.79 12:20 am

Earlier I’d been to the Paradise Theater to see Nico, which was hilarious, wonderful & absurd. She had long, dark hair, with bangs down to her eyelashes, loose flowing clothes, & a heavily-accented slow voice.  “I’m so happy that you remember me,” she said first. Sat down at the harmonium & announced she would play some new songs. The first she said was “Genghis Kahn – or is it Jenghis Khan?” (“I have come to lie with you/to die with you”) The next one was something about “Do you dare to be insane?” Between those two someone brought her a tissue & a glass of wine – she said, “excuse me, I have something in my eye,” dabbed at her eye a little bit, then whispered “thank you.” For the 3rd song, which she introduced as “Henry Hudson,” she was joined by a man with beautiful long blond hair and a guitar. When he started playing, we decided it sounded like “Both Sides Now.” (I was sitting with Liz Ireland and Bill Tupper [Boston-based rock critics].) Then she said she would do some Lou Reed songs & did “Femme Fatale” (with the guitar, I thought it sounded like a George Harrison song; Tupper suggested Melanie) and “All Tomorrow’s Parties.” Then the guitarist went away. Nico thanked Lou Reed, and when someone asked, “Where’s Lou?” she said “He’s probably on his farm. He is always on his farm a lot these days.” At some point she mentioned “I have never done a concert so sober as I am tonight.”

photo by Ebet Roberts

Then she did a smattering of songs from her albums – she did a song from The End LP dedicated to Baader & Meinhof, it went something like “His sweat is my innocence/must they kill my fate/can’t I betray my hate?” which made me ponder “the right to hate.” Then she did a song in German from (she said) The Marble Index but it was actually from Desertshore – but she couldn’t finish the song. She just stopped for a moment, then said “I don’t know where the notes are.” A fan brought up a trinket to her, & she said “Is it black magic?” The woman assured her it was not. Oh, before that, just after the Lou Reed songs, she had said, “Are there any special requests?” People had yelled various of her songs. The only thing I could think of was “The Hissing of Summer Lawns.”

Anyway, after the song she didn’t finish, she said “I’m supposed to make mistakes. Andy Warhol said that.” A fan said, “Your mistakes are perfect.” She said, “I don’t think so.” Then she launched into a song I thought was called “You Will Know Me.” Maybe it’s “You Forgot to Answer.” It began, “If I could remember what to say…” but she didn’t finish that song either, forgot how it went. She seemed upset, & for a minute it was like Ronee Blakely in Nashville. Then she sang “No One Is There,” & everything went smoothly. Another couple of songs – “Frozen Borderline,” “Secret Side,” one about vestal virgins, then she introduced her  last song — & it was “The End” [long lugubrious song from the Doors’ first album]. We all groaned. It is pretty dumb. But she came back for an encore – I asked who was on the button she was wearing and she said, “oh – Sid Vicious.” And, finally asserting herself, she said, “whether you like it or not, I’m going to do another German song. That doesn’t mean I’m a fascist.” It was “Deutschland Uber Alles.” & it was over.

The harmonium is an odd instrument, very monotonous, but intriguing to watch her pumping the pedals & hearing the  repetitive wheeze. Soho News said her CBGB’s gig was eerie like a wake, and this was spooky, too, but more like watching an eccentric woman who makes old-time radio shows. Her enunciation is painfully precise, her pitch often painfully uneven. But I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.


Quote of the day: LIFE

August 10, 2022

LIFE

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.

Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine

in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,

a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways

I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least

fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative

estimate, though I keep this from my children.

For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.

For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,

sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world

is at least half terrible, and for every kind

stranger, there is one who would break you,

though I keep this from my children. I am trying

to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,

walking you through a real shithole, chirps on

about good bones: This place could be beautiful,

right? You could make this place beautiful.

–Maggie Smith, “Good Bones”


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