Surafel Wondimu Abebe
To the Stories, Bodies, Movements team,
It was a great pleasure and honor to watch Fractured Threads tonight. Indeed, your performance is a “patchwork of reflections.” It brings together incongruous yet related stories of everyday life. You also redefined performance as a critical act of making patchwork together. Your performance does/performs so many things at once.
Portraying neither a protagonist nor an antagonist, Fractured Threads allowed me to refrain from identifying myself or claiming sameness with any of the characters but to understand myself as a person with a fractured being who is always in the process of (precarious) becoming. For instance, looking at how Fractured Threads showed the institutional racism embedded even in the space that claimed “radical criticality,” I reflected back on my particular journey in the University of Minnesota as a black international student. Your bravery to allow students to think-act with their professors (with a great deal of mutual self-reflexivity) reminded me of a professor who does “activism” with “marginalized communities” in the twin cities but showed no empathy to me (her student) when I was racially profiled.
Given that your performance as a patchwork complicates the seemingly unrelated but related polka spots of the quilt called life, your drumming, singing, dancing, speaking, reciting, reading, gesture(ing), projection, etc. interrupted the ways in which I desired to dwell on my raced subjectivity. The ways in which you used your “transgenre” storytelling fractured my desire to plot a single unified linear story. You forced me to face my own historicity as a man who enjoys his own privilege in particular time-spaces. Though it presents specific polka spots to let us see particularities, your work does not reside there but traversed the spaces between the dots revealing the tensions thereof. Your aesthetic allowed me to think what the political is in your performance. I found myself struggling in the manifold, fleeting tensions.
While academic papers and dissertations (ways of knowing and knowledge productions) have continued to sustain the tyranny of writing in most of the academia, Fractured Threads shows the ways in which critical reflections can be embodied acts of revealing. Given that the bodies that I saw on the stage have their own historicities, their embodied acts would break them or make them vulnerable. Yet, that vulnerability is, I think, a self-reflexive move that would allow the performers to come out of a solitary act of writing and co-navigate with historically marked and privileged bodies in the interstices of peripheries and centers. This is one possibility that your performance has created. I know, however, you know that performance does not radiate innate promise of freedom and one cannot (especially those marked by multiple marginalizations) step in and outside of a performance/character. I saw, for instance, your decisions to switch roles (black bodies embodying white subjectivity and vise versa) as a conscious aesthetic choice that would not leave the audience in a simple identification of characters in a realistic way but as a critical creation that provoked spectators to actively engage with Fractured Threads.
Not an end itself, as freedom is a continuous act of self-recreation, this performance opens avenues for critical engagement and healing. For students who have been trained to do laboratory works and writings, performance is a messy process where lines could not be memorized, lights and sounds may not perfectly fit into the play and “staying in character” might be difficult. Yet Fractured Threads, as a mode of thinking, has already made it possible for students to take performance as an open-ended and shaky yet critical co-recreation: an act of writing, reading, singing, crawling, dreaming, healing and traveling.
Abebe, S. W. 2021. “Fractured Threads: Surafel’s Letter to the Class.” AGITATE! 3: https://agitatejournal.org/article/fractured-threads-surafels-letter-to-the-class/.