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The Temporality of the Drag: Queer Mixed Race Aesthetics in Emma Sulkowicz’s Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight)

Date and Time: 
Wednesday, May 8, 2019. 06:00 PM - 08:00 PM
Meeting Location: 
Stanford Humanities Center
Feminist/Queer Colloquium 2018
Meeting Description: 

In 2014, when Emma Sulkowicz started carrying a dorm mattress on Columbia University's campus — to class, to the dining hall, to the library — the world took notice. This durational performance protesting the mishandling of rape cases at the university drew scathing derision, critical acclaim, and widespread debate. Most news media focuses on the mattress as “the centerpiece” of the work – as “the defining symbol of her assault,” “as the site of violation,” as “a symbol for a movement,” etc. Thao's objective in this presentation is to shift the focus from the mattress (and its symbolic weight) to an equally crucial element of the performance – Emma Sulkowicz’s body. The body of the artist – a mixed race body, a body assigned female at birth, a genderqueer body – is often overlooked and even outright misread. What social processes are enacted (and occluded) when we fail to notice the racialized and sexed body of the artist? How does embodiment and movement, when taken as an analytic category, elucidate the nuances of sexual violence in queer world (un)making and change what and how we know about queer pain and survival?

Thao P. Nguyen is a PhD Candidate in theater and performance studies, writing a dissertation about queer and trans people of color art and performance on sexual violence. Their research lives at the intersection of critical race studies, queer of color critique, and performance studies. Thao is also solo performer, writer, and producer. They make art about whatever pisses them off — racism, sexual violence, white power, hetero/cis-sexism, and people who don't say "please" and "thank you."