Black Performance on the Outskirts of the Left: A History of the Impossible

Malik Gaines (Author)


Articulates the role black theatricality played in the radical energy of the sixties

Black Performance on the Outskirts of the Left illustrates the black political ideas that radicalized the artistic endeavors of musicians, playwrights, and actors beginning in the 1960s. These ideas paved the way for imaginative models for social transformation through performance. Using the notion of excess--its transgression, multiplicity, and ambivalence--Malik Gaines considers how performances of that era circulated a black political discourse capable of unsettling commonplace understandings of race, gender, and sexuality. Following the transnational route forged by W.E.B. Du Bois, Josephine Baker, and other modern political actors, from the United States to West Africa, Europe and back, this book considers how artists negotiated at once the local, national, and diasporic frames through which race has been represented.

Looking broadly at performances found in music, theater, film, and everyday life--from American singer and pianist Nina Simone, Ghanaian playwrights Efua Sutherland and Ama Ata Aidoo, Afro-German actor G nther Kaufmann, to California-based performer Sylvester--Gaines explores how shared signs of racial legacy and resistance politics are articulated with regional distinction.

Bringing the lens forward through contemporary art performance at the 2015 Venice Biennial, Gaines connects the idea of sixties radicality to today's interest in that history, explores the aspects of those politics that are lost in translation, and highlights the black expressive strategies that have maintained potent energy. Black Performance on the Outskirts of the Left articulates the role black theatricality played in the radical energy of the sixties, following the evolution of black identity politics to reveal blackness's ability to transform contemporary social conditions.

Product Details

New York University Press
Publish Date
August 22, 2017
6.0 X 0.7 X 9.0 inches | 0.8 pounds

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About the Author

Malik Gaines is a writer, performer, and associate professor and director of undergraduate studies at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. He is the author of Black Performance on the Outskirts of the Left: A History of the Impossible (2017). Since 2000, Gaines has performed and exhibited extensively with the group My Barbarian, whose collective has presented work at the Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Biennial, and Performa Biennial.


"Black Performance on the Outskirts of the Left provides an impressive account of embodied tactics, affects, and experiments that launched provisional challenges to hegemonic systems of order and charted energetic paths for future radical acts to follow. Constructing a genealogy that defies generic, national, and gendered bounds, Gaines supplies black performance studies with an expansive and heterogeneous approach to the history of radicalism, to performance, and to blackness itself."--The Drama Review
"Rhetorically and structurally, this [book] provides a fascinating coda. Histories and theatrical legacies of black not exist solely on the page or in the brick-and-mortar archive but are embodied and reexamined through live performance."--PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art
"Malik Gainess position as both a practitioner and a scholar lend a unique depth to this study...[His] text reveals a striking sensitivity to the subtle frequencies on which black performance operates and is an important addition to the expanding black performance studies canon."--The Journal of American Drama and Theatre
"Every reader interested in the sexual and revolutionary politics of black feminist and queer performance needs to read Malik GainessBlack Performance on the Outskirts of the Left. This examination of 1960s music, theater, film, and experimental performance scenes isdetail-rich, sophisticated, and sharp. One emerges from this text inspiredwhile we must look to the margins to findthese black, queer, and feminist artists who have navigated difficult revolutionary and post-revolutionary waters, in moving toward them we move in the direction that the left needs to go."--Jennifer Doyle, author of Hold It against Me: Difficulty and Emotion in Contemporary Art
"Malik Gainess artistry and intellection is so important to me that I can scarcely remember a time now when both didnt influence my own. Black Performance on the Outskirts of the Left is alive with what is essential to Gainess way of seeing and thinking: politics, race, sexuality, and the theater of being. An important contribution on any number of levels, including mans further understanding of man, with and without masks. A wonderful achievement."--Hilton Als, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Criticism and theater critic for the New Yorker