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Book Review, Vol. 30 No. 2

Black Performance on the Outskirts of the Left

Black Performance on the Outskirts of the Left. Malik Gaines. New York: NYU Press, 2017; Pp. 248

It begins with a bold proposition. In Black Performance on the Outskirts of the Left, scholar-practitioner Malik Gaines suggests that performance is a radical act and that black performances can amend “dominant discourses that manage representation and constrain the lives they organize” (1). Gaines analyzes this phenomenon “against the archives of three complicit registers, each of which engages a history of radicalism”: blackness; the sixties; and the transnational route between the United States, West Africa, and Europe (2-4). This configuration also permits Gaines to consider the “ties between visuality and power’s organization” (7). Thus, Gaines’s book uses interdisciplinary means to assess a range of stunning black cultural artifacts. Black Performance on the Outskirts of the Left adds to the field of black performance studies by providing crucial context for some of the most significant acts of black performance in the mid-twentieth century and by firmly rooting black performance studies within the even broader field of black diasporic studies.

In the first chapter, Gaines considers the political nature of jazz singer Nina Simone’s onstage performances in the 1960s. In chapter two, he probes the plays of Efua Sutherland and Ama Ata Aidoo and illustrates the complexities involved in the production of dramatic work meant to express a singular African identity. Gaines then directs his attention towards Günther Kaufmann and finds that the black German actor “problematizes the representation of national identity” on screen (96). In the final chapter, he illustrates the ways black drag queen Sylvester bolstered the Cockettes’ transgressive performances. In each of these contexts, with their strong transnational connective tissue, Gaines finds that black performance troubles hegemonic discourses surrounding race, gender, sexuality, and nationhood. Transnational black performance signifies black diaspora even as it disrupts audience expectations and political rhetoric.

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