Radical Acts of Self-Preservation

When I was invited to speak at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) for their Digital Dialogue series, I had previously been thinking more on the use of social and digital media platforms as sites of radical archiving, as alternatives pushing the bounds on traditional notions of archives. Here are some brief highlights from my talk:

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Traditional archives on marginalized groups are projects on omissions within the archive––not a new issue for understudied and underarchived histories. We have always had to ask: where can we find these stories and how can we fill the gaps when we seek to study or archive communities that are often isolated from time and space?

Archives have traditionally been relegated to institutional gatekeepers, limited by documentation sources, and perceived as presenting a unified history. Within a radical tradition, to consider the politics, function, and act of archiving, strive to reflect community, intersectionality, and acknowledge the power entrenched in the archive.

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Our blog obviously lives online through our site, which is one way we archive. However, I am particularly drawn to Instagram as not only an extension of our site, but also as an act of self-curation to express a radical politic.

From our inception we created an archive, tagging ourselves as brown, and in relationship to museums in a very particular way––”brown” encapsulating the institutions asserts a privilege that we brown folk are rarely afforded, preserving our voice in the caption (similar to a museum label), and increasing the flow of discourse between the institution, us, and our audience.

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If Brown Girls Museum Blog represents asserting the space in the archive, @YoungThugAsPaintings represents asserting the relationship within the archive–– to renegotiate the terms and their relationship to one another, how we think about our sources, and as a critical site of intersectional dialogue.

The student who created the Instagram profile remains anonymous, and gives no indication of what course or subject matter the page relates. As a result the archive created here becomes legible through many lenses, allowing us to engage via social media, art history, African American studies, etc. We are forced to rethink such terms as “thug” and “art” as they are put in dialogue. This archive reflects the simultaneous collision and divergence of narratives that is constant with the archive.

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We’ve seen music archives with record labels or a particular sub-segment of music, such as Folk. But what of a music archive that does not preserve a specific sound but reflects an identity. What does it mean to have Fetty Wap and Aretha Franklin in the same Archive?

Here, I zeroed in on two particular entities, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center (APAC), a migratory institution, and the Black Art Incubator (BAI), a social sculpture created by Taylor Renee Aldridge, Jessica Lynne, Kim Drew, and Jessica Bell Brown.

These examples offered an opportunity to explore the significance, especially for institutions, on creating intimacy in the archive through engaging accessible spaces, and reconsiders the archival material to change the discourse. Here, music acts as an entry point to examine collective identity, race, history and more.

How else do we explain why President Obama almost broke the internet with his summer playlist?

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As we move to imagine the future of archives, we remember collections are not innocent, and they breed meaning. And if we are to truly do the work of inclusion and intersectionality within the archive, we must restructure and renegotiate across galleries, libraries, archives, and museums.

Additionally, I offer a resource page of sites and projects that influence how I think through radical archives such as The Very Black Project, Latina Rebels, Phila Print, Museum Hue, DocNow… These archives shift the narrative of who we understand as existing and as viable within and across our institutions.

To watch the talk in full, visit the MITH website here. Tweet us your thoughts @2brwngirls.

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