Trans Self-Imaging Praxis, Decolonizing Photography, and the Work of Alok Vaid-Menon

Ace Lehner

As an identity and an analytic, trans offers a compelling challenge to photographic discourse. Trans, as a rejection of the assigned sex at birth, is a rejection of what was assigned to us based on our physical attributes, an assumption made about us based on our surface aesthetics. Trans rejects the physical surface in favor of living our lives based on an internal feeling: something that is not visible but manifested visually in a way that plays with the aesthetics and expectations of gender. As trans scholar and artist micha cárdenas has observed, trans is often about a rejection of the visible. To picture trans subjects, then, is to make a surface rendering of something (the person’s outward appearance) that is already de-essentialized from any necessary essence or “truth.” Trans as an analytic offers a method to view the photographic image not only as distinct and distant from the referent but in tension with it. Trans as a method prompts a rethinking of surfaces in relation to essence, identity, authenticity, and fixity, unfixing the surface from the subject.

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Ace Lehner is an interdisciplinary scholar and artist specializing in critical engagement with identity and representation; history, theory, and criticism of contemporary art; visual studies; photography theory and queer and trans theory. Lehner’s artistic practice often embraces collaboration and primarily utilizes photography and video to mine the complex relation between representations and the constitution of identities. Lehner was a recipient of the Murphy and Cadogan Fellowship in the Fine Arts and the Sheffield Art League Scholarship.

Interpreting the Legal Archive of Visual Transformations: Textual Articulations of Visibility in Evidentiary Procedures and Documentary Formats of Colonial Law

Asif Ali Akhtar

A black and white scan of two pages of a book, with a combination of English and Persian.

This article is concerned with tracing an onto-epistemological break through the archeology of colonial penal law, whereby a historical restructuring of the “visible” and the “articulable” produces modern ways of “seeing” and “knowing.” This epistemic break will be investigated through eighteenth and nineteenth century “Regulation” of Islamic sharīʿa penal law by British administrators of the East India Company in colonial Bengal. The juridico-discursive body, which came to be known as Anglo-Muhammadan law, will be analyzed through court records compiled by Company jurists and their Regulations modifying sharīʿa jurisprudence. Islamic penal law is based on hermeneutical practices of juridical reasoning formed through particular ways of seeing, knowing, and verifying the truth through eye-witness and testimony. In this article I will show that when the British commandeered this system of justice towards their own ends, the regulatory changes they instituted inadvertently brought about visual transformations of the ways in which legal life-worlds of the colony come to be recorded, articulated, and expressed. Under the British administration of colonial Bengal, this dual-process of appropriation and subversion of the law took shape through translation and transliteration of fiqh treatises, to legal amendments and sweeping legislations in substantive law. This process not only provided colonial power access to the bodies of colonial subjects, but also conditioned the relations between criminality, visuality, and juridical veridiction through penal legislation. As this article will show, the East India Company’s regulation of Islamic penal law began incorporating modern forms of evidentiary proofs, indexicality, and documentary formats that restructured the lifeworld of colonial law in 19th century Bengal.

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Asif Ali Akhtar is a Ph.D. Candidate in Media, Culture, and Communications at New York University. He holds an M.A. in Politics from the New School for Social Research. Akhtar’s dissertation research focuses on understanding the politics of mediatic regimes and regulatory frameworks in 21st century Pakistan in terms of the colonial and precolonial antecedents through genealogies of mediation, regulation and politics.

Craptions: Instagram Notes from Joseph Grigely

Joseph Grigely

Joseph Grigely is, among many things, an artist, a writer, and a person who is deaf. On his public Instagram page, he occasionally posts documentation of his experiences navigating a world designed for people who can hear. Grigely has generously allowed Refract to publish a selection of his Instagram posts, curated by managing editor Kate Korroch. These posts expand the notion of translation beyond that of language to think instead of the aural, the visual, and issues of access and inclusion. Grigely’s playful documentation reveals a deeply problematic and systemic failing to account for differently abled bodies. His posts offer a perspective that is invisible in a society made for people with hearing. In this instance, mistranslation becomes a form of erasure.

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Joseph Grigely is an artist and writer. He has had solo exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art; the MCA, Chicago; the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris; and the Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin; and he has participated in the Whitney, Venice, Berlin, Istanbul, Liverpool, and Sydney Biennials. His books include Textualterity: Art, Theory, and Textual Criticism (1995), Conversation Pieces (1998), Exhibition Prosthetics (2010), MacLean 705 (2015), and Oceans of Love: The Uncontainable Gregory Battcock (2016).  He has a D.Phil. from Oxford University and is a professor of Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Lupine Sensibilities: Dynamically Embodied Intersubjectivity between Humans and Refugee Wolves

Austin D. Hoffman

There is a growing body of literature in the field of environmental education that draws from the phenomenological tradition in theorizing about human-animal interactions. I am inspired by the eco-phenomenology of Phillip G. Payne and aim here to further an educational pedagogy of intercorporeal relations and to conceptualize M:W as “an active experiential and existential site of and for inquiry in and with various natures and environments.” From the animal welfarist perspective, some work has also been done about how these interactions occur in the contexts of zoos and wildlife sanctuaries, and how they can be mutually enriching for non/humans; Lindsey Mehrkam, Nicolle Verdi, and Clive Wynne have specifically studied captive wolves and wolf-dogs in this regard. Holding all these schools of thought in mind, this essay lies at the four-way intersection of human-animal studies (HAS), anthropological methodology, environmental education, and phenomenology. More specifically, I endeavor to bring the anthropological framework of dynamic embodiment—which draws heavily from phenomenology but has been largely humancentric—firmly into conversation with these other intellectual genealogies.

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Austin D. Hoffman is a PhD student in sociocultural anthropology at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In the past, his research has focused on political subjectivity, social movements, and the semiotics of protest. His work currently centers on the political ecology between humans, the state, wolves and wolf-dog crosses (commonly known as “hybrids”) in the contexts of the exotic pet-trade, wildlife sanctuaries, and wildlife management agencies. Austin takes an intersectional approach to his research and strives to unpack how domestic and wild canines and other non-humans are anthropomorphically racialized, sexualized and politicized, and how such processes can ratify, deny, and problematize claims of subjectivity.

Installation: a dual-screen display; o Slade reports on gang member’s risk of PTSD in the left screen while the right screen features an image from Joseph’s m.a.a.d. The background consists of a black and white image of nuns.

The Heat Is On

Alessandra Raengo

Refract asked Alessandra Raengo to reflect on her work with liquid blackness, a research group that interrogates blackness as an aesthetic, a way of being, and a methodology for investigating the material and discursive forces that condition how blackness operates today. Through an analysis of Kahlil Joseph’s BLKNWS and Arthur Jafa’s White Album, Raengo unpacks how liquid blackness does not “behave” in the way demanded of it by the rules of exchange, labor, and dispossession that so define black social life. Raengo reflects on the way liquid blackness moves in multiple directions, evading characterization. In other words, it is untranslatable, “it cannot be held in place, but only, and precariously, in sus-pension.”

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Alessandra Raengo is Associate Professor of Moving Image Studies at Georgia State University, founder and coordinator of liquid blackness, a research project on blackness and aesthetics, and Founding Editor of its journal. She is the author of On the Sleeve of the Visual: Race as Face Value (Dartmouth College Press, 2013) and of Critical Race Theory and Bamboozled (Bloomsbury Press, October 2016).