Waiting for Thunderbird Immolation
Bryn Mawr College. Department of History of Art
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Bi-College users only
Caught between arrest and spectacular motion, bodies of color often face a problem with movement. From the Middle Passage to the impact of contemporary laws, such as Florida’s Stand Your Ground legislation, movement by people of color, particularly black movement, has been limited and policed. When black movement is not stifled, it is rendered spectacular. My project explores the politics of movement, performance, and race through William Pope.L’s Thunderbird Immolation. In 1978, William Pope.L, a black man from Trenton, New Jersey, threatens to set himself on fire in a performance called Thunderbird Immolation. During the performance, the artist douses his body in Thunderbird wine within a circle of kitchen matches. After the artist prepares for self-immolation, he simply sits still with his legs crossed and eyes closed in a meditative pose. By examining Thunderbird Immolation, I investigate how Pope.L’s stillness challenges the problem of movement faced by people of color. More precisely, I argue that the artist’s stillness is not an act of passivity, but rather, a willing and conscious act, which reimagines the relationship between blackness and movement.