Refusal, Renewal

Our refusal will make space for abundance — Tricia Hersey

Image of ART PAPERS Summer 2023 Issue titled Refusal Renewal

I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted. Actually, I probably do know a little about you—enough to guess that you’re exhausted toobecause we are sharing these times, living within shared structures, and confronting challenges that should be shared, that must be shared. So, from this place of collective exhaustion, I invite you to pause, take a deep breath, come into awareness of your body, into your surroundings, and to receive this message: It’s okay to take a damn break. 

We are amid a reconfiguration of people’s willingness to work under exploitative and exhausting conditions, to tolerate structural oppression, to live our lives under the increasingly unbearable conditions of late capitalism. Forms of refusal—such as blocking, resting, stalling, and withholding—are returning to the foreground as strategies for change and resistance. Such practices, importantly, draw upon and continue a historical legacy of Black and Brown resistance against white supremacy. This issue explores forms of artistic refusal, ranging from political action to exuberant evasion. It looks at art and exhibitions that acknowledge conditions of widespread fatigue, ableism, burnout, and resource exhaustion through a lens of rejuvenation, collectivity, and embrace. 

In Masking Practice, Kelly Taylor Mitchell speaks about how she creates boundaries for her works, and for herself, to hold space for a deeply personal, spiritual practice to emerge in her work. In doing so, she attests to the generosity inherent in acts of communication, and to the reciprocity of exchange between artist and viewer. Chase Hall discusses his first museum solo exhibition in Sweat Equity and considers the “punch and counterpunch” of negative and positive space in his paintings. 

Gabriel Cira, in his aphoristic essay Stubborn Materialism—Stoppages, Blocks, and Piles,” muses upon an impedimentary movement, the agency of waste, and Ang Li’s spoliage of salvage, with accompanying images of works by Ang Li. And, in an artist project poetry commission, danilo machado offers a mash-up of references to gestures that actively eschew in WON’T (after Freak Nasty’s Da Dip, Oliver Jeffers’s Dipped Paintings, Allen Ginsberg’s America, & Titus Khaphar’s Jerome XXVII). 

Refusal creates a path to renewal by wrenching notions of rest, rejuvenation, and “self-care” away from the sole domain of privilege—away from white supremacist, capitalist logics—and by returning them to those upon whose backs those structures were built. This issue, and the broader discourse it engages, owe a foundational debt to the radical work of Black women—particularly Tricia Hersey’s movement The Nap Ministry and the artist collective Black Power Naps, among others who are expanding the philosophies of great thinkers and writers such as Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Martin Luther King Jr., and Alice Walker. In Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto, Hersey writesThe politics of refusal is an ancient tactic …. It is not new or a trend. It is a necessity and a way of survival for many. It comes from a place of connection and knowing.” 

In Making Time, Sherae Rimpsey chronicles three days spent, at the Menil Collection, sitting with Mildred Thompson’s monumental and iconic painting, Magnetic Fields. The resulting reflection is a work of slow time ekphrasis. For this issue’s glossary entry, Jerron Herman takes up Athleticism (n.) in the context of his work as a disabled dancer to summon an athleticism of rest. Reviews in this issue explore acts of refusal in artistic practices and exhibition making: Kit Edwards on Carolyn Lazard’s traveling solo exhibition Long Take, Cathy Byrd on the second iteration of St. Louis’ Counterpublic, Y. Malik Jalal on Lonnie Holley’s recent solo The Eyes Were Always on Us, Cinqué Hicks on LACMA’S Coded Art Enters the Computer Age, 1952–1982—an exploration of early computational aesthetics, and Barbara Purcell on The Contemporary Austin’s presentation of Eamon Ore-Giron: Competing with Lightning / Rivalizando con el relámpago. As always, the theme—and departures from it—will be expanded with online exclusives on 

Postscript —

This issue marks a significant moment of change for Art Papers, as we bit farewell to our executive director of 11 years, Saskia Benjamin. As we undertake the process of selecting a new leader to carry Art Papers into the future, we do so filled with gratitude for Saskia’s stewardship and commitment. In the spirit of this issue’s theme, we hope she will embrace a moment of rest after many years of dedicated service. 

Sarah Higgins
Editor + Artistic Director