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Experiments in ExileC. L. R. James, Helio Oiticica, and the Aesthetic Sociality of Blackness$
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Laura Harris

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780823279784

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823279784.001.0001

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What Happened to the Motley Crew?

What Happened to the Motley Crew?

James, Oiticica, and the Aesthetic Sociality of Blackness

(p.17) 1 What Happened to the Motley Crew?
Experiments in Exile

Laura Harris

Fordham University Press

In this chapter I examine James’s and Oiticica’s “discovery” of what I conceive of to be the active remains of the motley crew in the aesthetic sociality of blackness. I explore the claim they each make on it, on its modes of composition, arrangement and assembly, and the claim it makes on them, by way of some of their early experiments—James’s Minty Alley, the novel he wrote in Trinidad as an “exercise,” and Oiticica’s Parangolé, the banners, tents and capes whose activation would constitute what he would come to describe, through a phrase he adopts from Brazilian art critic Mário Pedrosa, as an “experimental exercise of freedom.” Both claim the aesthetic sociality of blackness by “appropriating” elements of the creative practices they encountered, the spectacular performance of cricket and samba and the more quotidian performances connected to them, the forms of assembly that James observed in conversations in the barrack-yards and that Oiticica observed in the architecture of the favelas. I look at the ways their claims take shape in these early works and the way the counterclaim of that sociality opens up those shapes, using it as a vehicle for its own expression, one that can’t quite be contained by the works themselves or the gesture of appropriation.

Keywords:   Afro-diaspora, Barrack-yards, Blackness, CLR James, Favelas, Hélio Oiticica, Popular culture, Slums

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