How do you give a future to your colonized ancestors? How do you part from the idea of “coming from a place” and, instead, embrace placelessness? How do you refuse to talk or invent your own linguistic codes when you are summoned to speak? Tarek Lakhrissi gives us hints in his exhibition Caméléon Club.
Article published in The Funambulist 24 (July-August 2019) Futurisms. Click here to access the rest of the issue.
“I think the struggle for a bearable life is the struggle for queers to have spaces to breathe […] with breath comes imagination. With breath comes possibility. If queer politics is about freedom, it might simply mean the freedom to breathe.” (Sara Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness, 2010).
I know that RuPaul’s Drag Race has been called out for many reasons: racism, transphobia, misogyny… But I keep watching it. It’s a guilty pleasure. One of the queens that I really like is Valentina. Every drag has its own character, and Valentina’s character, besides embracing and playing with Latinx culture, is this playful and dreamy character who always lives and — I’m quoting her — “in her own fantasy.” I’ve been thinking recently about how radical it can be for a queer person of color to actually preserve their own fantasy, or rêverie, as we say in French. But also because Audre Lorde wrote it in “A Litany for Survival” (1978): “We were never meant to survive.” For me, this kind of fantasy is very empowering, because we’re normally expected to perform political discourses. I actually feel way more honest about seeing Valentina just enjoying herself, and talking about fantasy with a lot of humour and self-irony on a mainstream TV show. I wonder if fantasy can be perceived as a way to escape space and time. It’s a counternarrative against death, which queer and trans people of color always link their identities with. I think Valentina’s fantasy is also her way to breathe. I think for me, breathing is a way to produce a counter-discourse and to escape reality.
First, working on futurism is indeed a response to dystopian representations of fascist homoerotics (cf. Jean Genet erotics, Jack Halberstam’s book The Queer Art of Failure). On the other hand, it’s also a way to present a future to my colonized ancestors from North Africa, who were not supposed to have a Future or to see the Future. A common reference in my art has been Jose Esteban Munoz and his books Disidentifications (1999) and Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (2009) which consider queerness more as a possibility, a horizon than an identity. In Cruising Utopia, he quotes photographer Kevin McCarty and a striking anecdote about two clubs in a strip mall in Dayton, Ohio. According to McCarty, to get to the 1470 — a gay bar — you first had to pass through the punk Chameleon Club. Two worlds coexisting in the same space. Muñoz comments that McCarty “is narrating a stage of in-between-ness, a spatiality that is aligned with a temporality that is on the threshold between identifications, lifeworlds, and potentialities.” Thanks to the existence of such a threshold, a space of potentialities and utopias opens up and it’s precisely this notion of a threshold that was the starting point for my Caméléon Club exhibition (2019). I wanted to create a experience of in-between-ness inside the exhibition space.