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yonTande Whitney Vern Hunter, IDSVA





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Cumberland County


My research is concerned with investigating how we can come to understand embodiment as consciousness through choreography, performativity, and performance. Further and more deeply, how the “knowing body” (Merleau-Ponty) enables liberation through an ontological embodiment. I contend that a black liberational spirituality, as an ontological embodiment, is revealed through the phenomenological aesthetics of the black concert dance/performance tradition. Here, I explore the works of eight African American dance/performance artists who convey, lucidly, this subject matter and who are firmly positioned within the black concert dance/performance tradition: Katherine Dunham (“Shango”), Pearl Primus (“Fanga” and “Hard Time Blues”), Eleo Pomare (“Blues for the Jungle”), Reggie Wilson (“Introduction”), Preach R Sun (“CHRYSALIS (Cry Solace)”), Jawole Willa Jo Zollar (“Batty Moves”), and Orlando Zane Hunter, Jr. and Ricarrdo Valentine (“how to survive a plague”). A main point of departure for my subject is an articulation of Haitian Vodou spirit possession (a sublime embodiment) as a perceptual means for the recontextualization of the beautiful. The choreographic and performance work of the eight artists lead the way along with my inquiry. Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Edmund Husserl, and Frantz Fanon offer phenomenological guideposts, while still other thinkers provide necessary grounding in areas specifically focused on temporality, spatiality, gender and spirituality. Three points that guide my investigation of this subject matter are all shared between the artists: (1) the works testify to the power of black embodiment through performativity and aesthetics; (2) the works recognize the interplay between the sacred and the secular domains; and (3) the works maintain a legibility of an inherent spirituality functioning as an animating, illuminating, and vital creative force both conscious and ancestral. The artists signal the viability of an embodied aesthetic of black subjectivity, and their works are infused with an urgency of spirit and a radicalism that demands recognition. It is through their works that the revelation of liberation through the secular ritual act of dance/performance may be encountered. It is, first, the centering of the black body that envisages the discourse from a place of agency rather than alterity. The ultimate goal is to decenter race as a governing principle in determining the beautiful in these works in order to turn our attention to a more equitable place of discovery that contests racial privileging, difference as equal.


Aesthetics | Africana Studies | Cultural History | Fine Arts | History of Religion | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion


Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts


Portland ME

Sublime Embodiment: The Phenomenological Aesthetics of a Black Liberational Spirituality



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