The Color Pynk:
Janelle Monáe, Janet Mock, and Black Femme Futures
2019 Matthiessen Lecture by Omise'eke Natasha Tinsley
Tuesday, March 12, 2019, 4:00pm to 6:00pm
Thompson Room, Barker Center 110, 12 Quincy Street
Free and open to the public / Talk followed by a reception
This talk engages black femme-inist imaginations in Janelle Monáe’s music video “PYNK” and Janet Mock’s writing for the television drama Pose (2018) as creative re-scriptings of feminist imaginations of solidarity. A queer gender that self-consciously embodies and subverts cultural standards of femininity, black femme remains undertheorized in contemporary feminist, queer, and critical race discourses where black queer feminine thinkers have been dismissed. But in the crisis in U.S. feminism following Donald Trump’s 2016 defeat of Hillary Clinton, black femme intellectuals have insisted with increasing urgency that the particularity of our racialized (black), gendered (feminine), and sexual (queer) imaginations offers important vantage points from which to challenge heteropatriarchy.
F.O. Matthiessen Visiting Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies
Visiting Professor of Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality
Omise’eke Tinsley is Associate Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies and Associate Director of the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Texas, Austin, where she specializes in Black Feminism and Black Queer Studies. When asked why her work focuses on Caribbean and African American creative production, she often recounts this story: In 19th century Paramaribo, a cargo of African women disembarked to dazzle eyewitnesses with the living art they had created in the holds. Using only pieces of glass and careful hands, the women had decorated each other’s heads with suns, half-moons, and other designs: beauty created for and with one another as an act of resistance. Animated by a desire to celebrate and add to such defiant creation of black beauty, Tinsley’s work centers art as a mode of theorizing resistance to anti-blackness, misogynoir, and heteropatriarchy.
Beginning with an examination of 19th and 20th century songs, poems, and novels in Thiefing Sugar: Eroticism Between Women in Caribbean Literature (2010), Tinsley’s research emphasizes that this mode of creative queer and feminist theorizing has a long, transnational history. Moving to examinations of 21st century Caribbean and African American women’s novels, films, performance, and music in her most recent monographs, her work also commits to imagining black feminist futures in the African Atlantic. Ezili’s Mirrors: Black Queer Genders and the Work of the Imagination (2018), winner of the Caribbean Studies Association’s 2018 Barbara Christian Literary Award, explores spirituality and sexuality in 21st century black queer literature, dance, music and film from the Caribbean and African North America.
In November 2018, University of Texas Press published her third book, Beyoncé in Formation: Remixing Black Feminism, which meditates on the creative possibilities for black queer femininity in the contemporary U.S. South via a black femme-inist reading of Beyoncé’s Lemonade. Tinsley’s artistic work includes performance and collaboration with Ananya Dance Theatre as well as a novel in progress entitled Water, Shoulders, Into the Black Pacific, which explores relationships between black female shipbuilders during World War II.
F.O. Matthiessen Visiting Professorship of Gender and Sexuality
The F.O. Matthiessen Visiting Professorship of Gender and Sexuality was created at Harvard University's Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) through a successful funding campaign by members and supporters of the Harvard’s BGTLQ alumni group, the Harvard Gender and Sexuality Conference. The resulting endowment enables Harvard to invite eminent scholars studying issues related to sexual minorities -- that is, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people -- or to sexuality, to teach in the FAS for one semester every year, or two semesters every other year.
F. O. Matthiessen (1902–1950), founder of the field of American Studies, was a distinguished gay Harvard professor. He is considered “the most eminent American literary critic of the first half of the twentieth century.” For his time, Matthiessen was an unusual example of a gay man who lived with his sexuality as an “open secret.” He and his partner, artist Russell Cheney, were together for 23 years until Cheney’s death. Because of his unique position as a prominent Harvard scholar and his inspiring commitment to his life partner, he is a fitting choice for a named chair in this field.
This event is co-sponsored by the Committee on Degrees in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, the Harvard Gender and Sexuality Caucus, the Open Gate Foundation, and the Department of African and African American Studies.
Images: (l-r) Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley, Janelle Monáe, Janet Mock.