And buttocks start flapping

Twerk 2 resist - aufgesprüht auf einer Mauer

Niv Acosta’s performance “Discotropic” rediscovers queer blackness. A performance that weaves together science fiction, disco and astrophysics with queer bodies and black experiences. KWEEK. A queer interjection.

Something has come along that began as the future of the past and is now making us astutely aware of the crisis of postcolonialism. Huh? Let me put it another way: If we thought that “post” meant we had overcome colonialism, we are constantly forced to realize that we were wrong. And yet that tiny, delicate plant that raised hope in recent years is alive and well. Well, at least, that was the case at a small off-theater venue in Berlin where Niv Acosta performed “Discotropic” as part of the Tanz im August festival. His new performance weaves together science fiction, disco and astrophysics with queer bodies and the black American experience, thereby mashing up pop-cultural references while also making periods of time implode. Thus the performance whets your appetite for the future.

The piece sets out to problematize the future of black femininity in sci-fi history. And it does so by examining the marginalized representations of black women in popular futuristic works of the past.

But it’s not just about critiquing past futures, it’s also about articulating a vision. Amid the current crisis of diasporic coexistence that manifests itself in violence against African-Americans, refugees and people of Muslim faith, the dance movements beat back the forces of fear and hate. When, in commenting on how “Discotropic” came about, Acosta says, “I was thinking about universes, suns, how planetary formations are created or how stars collapse when they create new systems”, he is not only talking about a reordering of the intergalactic system. He is also talking about the creation of an “outer space” for black queers at a time when they are endangered and threatened with destruction (the Orlando massacre has not been forgotten).

Niv Acosta, Discotropic, 2015 (performance document) - Artforum

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Science fiction has been and continues to be a predominantly white genre. If black femininity makes an appearance, it is degraded – as the example of Diahann Carroll in the TV movie Star Wars Holiday Special (1978) shows – to the holographic fantasy world of mermaids and aliens.

Niv Acosta’s representation of queer black femininity provides in itself a counterpoint to this mixture of idealization and exoticism. His weighty body that twirls, sometimes not so gracefully, around the performance space is physically present but also looms about like a fantastical promise.

Kicking progress’s ass

During the piece the performers eventually reconquer their bodies – and their sexuality – through the dance style known as twerking.

DISCOTROPIC: ep. 3 rhythmic decay - Navild Acosta

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DISCOTROPIC: ep. 3 rhythmic decay from niv Acosta

Similar to how Beyoncé appears in the film accompanying her latest album as a swimming mermaid before later bouncing around “cocky fresh" [1] with Serena Williams, Acosta and Co. churn their bodies lasciviously and appropriate the performance space with their arresting, jerky movements. The racist fantasy once so brutally materialized in pictures of the Hottentot Venus exhibition is reinterpreted through the virtuosity of thrusting flesh that assumes a life of its own and the dispersed unity of flapping buttocks. Instead of being about the display of exotica, it’s about the dynamic embodiment of an out-of-the-norm temporality. Like the bums flying in all directions, I also take flight, not moving forward but drifting steadily through the grid of normative time.

The Western notions of time disintegrate under the rear end’s disjointed movements – twerking as a means of kicking progress’s ass. That is typical of the concept of Afrofuturism, which acts as a template for the performance. Afrofuturist thought provides a critique of the visions of progress generated by a global “futures industry” that has always equated blackness with failure. It refrains from associating blackness with pre-civilized anarchy or backwardness, as is traditionally the case. By appropriating science fiction and conquering other galaxies, Afrofuturism creates the possibility to imagine a black future “not mired in the residual effects of white liberal subjectivity” (Weheliye 2002).

Tiresome white fantasies of feasibility

The out-of-control twerking bottom seems to me a cheeky response to white fantasies about a possible future, which are thrown around in some posthumanist discourse under the labels of rationalism, transparency and truthfulness. Anyone who has ever tried to shake their butt to fast beats knows what I’m talking about: When trying to catch the rhythm of the music, it is your butt that sets the tone.

Further pursuit of this line of thought also means understanding the queer side of Afrofuturism. The tactile and sensual rediscovery of queer blackness in the fantasies of future technologies begins with the butt.

This is a translation of the article "Und der Po fliegt" that was first published on the website of the Gunda Werner Institute.

[1] Beyoncé describes “cocky fresh” as a black feminist aesthetic that involves enjoying pleasure with a sense of controlling her own sexuality that is usually reserved for men.