What ails you / What hails you
Jessica Lauren Elizabeth Taylor
- this body is not a monument.
- the space in your chest that longs for a home you can't remember, a home you no longer belong to, can't be filled. not even with the rhythmic breathing of your children.
- no one is coming to save you.
- Loving is about untying the knots.
- what your ancestors died for. (do you know?)
- swallowing dirt to clean your mouth is a silent collusion.
- how the summer of 2009 felt, the winter of 2017 smelled, the fall of 2021 looked like.
- when Granny said that the boys are gonna say 'gimme some of that there what i see,' she won't know that this harbinger will remain engraved on your thighs.
- lineage is a form of worship.
- your body is not a territory subject to foreign rule.
- keep your eyes open when they come for you.
- when they say 'speak our language,' they mean 'surrender your body.'
- language is contained in the body.
I've got jungle fever, she's got jungle fever,
we've got jungle fever, we're in love.
- Stevie Wonder
Dime, dame, dame, ay.
No, no, no, no.
For a lot of us who grew up before the advent of consent culture, body autonomy was an elusive concept. Forced to kiss your uncle but keep the bedroom door open when friends come over, put some meat on your bones but don't get fat, get the white man's job but don't get in bed with them. Our caregivers acted as prosecutor/protector shielding us from the harms that they imagined would be the death of us, or worse. Desire, ambition and appetite were synchronously policed and mandated. And as a result, what we did in the shadows often remained there. Queer theorist Sara Ahmed examines how being underestimated by society shapes actions and contributes to body fragility writing, "A history of underestimation can shape what bodies 'do do' and thus what they 'can do.' A body can acquire the shape of a loss of confidence; a loss can be reproduced by being inherited."1 Bodies that have been devalued, demotivated, displaced and disregarded can reach beyond the expectation of decay. On the contrary, they have the power of regeneration. The body emerges as a site of becoming. Cultural theorist Stuart Hall was revolutionary in the expansion of the meaning of identity and wrote frequently about the state of 'becoming.' Hall notes that "diaspora identities are those which are constantly producing and reproducing themselves anew, through transformation and difference".2 If identity is a malleable reconstructive process, then the body's potentiality for self-governing and renewal is vast. The use of the body, and by extension the body politic, to resist a history of underestimation holds the power to counteract contradictory doctrine. Vicente Mollestad expresses this desire to liberate oneself and one's community from bodily assimilation in the tercet "Death to you and your politics // We don't need you, hypocrite // Lies from your mouth".3 What if the refusal to be indoctrinated by prescriptive dogmas could create a kind of subversive ballast for the body? How might body sovereignty be an act of anti-assimilation and a tool of liberation?
1 Ahmed, Sara. "Losing Confidence." feminist killjoys. 2016 March 1. https://feministkilljoys.com/2016/03/01/losing-confidence/
2 Hall, Stuart. Cultural Identity and Diaspora. Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader. Ed. Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994. Online.
3 Mollestad, Vicente. Your Lips Are Wet With Venom. Moss: Hverdag Books. 2023.
This text was comissioned by the artist and writer Jessica Lauren Elizabeth Taylor on the occasion of the exhibition and launch of two new works in the form of artists' books by Júlía Hermannsdóttir and Vicente Mollestad. The exhibiton, which was the second iteration of the year-long experiment by Jessica Williams entitled (be)longing, was up between February 4 and April 10, 2023.
Image credit: Tor S. Ulstein / Kunstdok