Posts tagged as: insurgency

Jet Lag as an Act of Insurgent Art

For the first time since starting to provide words for Colorado College’s blog, I am going to relate the content of the post to the title: on Tuesday our class will be presenting our final performances for the block… jet lagged.

We have safely arrived back in the United States of America as of about 3PM Saturday, and I think that I might speak for more than just myself if not two or three people and maybe everyone when I say that Serbia was a wild experience. Looking back on it, it all seems like some weird twilight zone. We learned so much in that twilight zone, though, so the next challenge is maintaining that in our everyday lives.

By the end of our week in Serbia, I had really started to piece together the violent and disturbing recent history of the former Yugoslavia, in particular the events between Serbia and Kosovo, and NATO and Kosovo and Serbia. Dah Teatar’s relevance as an important catalyst in the process of remembering and addressing the region’s history of atrocious crimes against humanity, involving genocidal violence, massacres, rapes in unbelievable numbers, and ethnic cleansing, became clear to us as these pieces fell into place.

Dah Teatar is in the business of forcing people to recognize parts of their history that they are trying to ignore. They use performance, both in the theater proper and the public theater of the street, to help people recognize the truth of their country’s history, rather than accept that which is professed by the state. Dah also addresses a more positive side of the region’s “alternative history” by showcasing in public performance the beauty of ethnic and cultural diversity and promoting recognition and acceptance.

We met with an activist group, under the guidance of Dah Teatar, called Women in Black. This is a global organization that has a strong and extremely interesting branch in Belgrade. Their performances are powerful and have been the target of retaliation from nationalist factions in Serbia. These women carried themselves with a confidence and conviction in what they believe that was enthralling. When asked whether they get scared when they are beaten verbally or physically on the street during their protests they answered simply. Getting scared doesn’t occur to them. Their devotion to the cause for which they are sacrificing their personal safety negates any fear. They act with purpose.

Everything we have learned from the workshop with Dah Teatar will be an available technique for our final performances. Personally, I can’t wait to see how the projects improve from the two we did before Serbia. I think that even with the added challenge of jet lag, we will see some pretty inspiring stuff.

On a separate note, I was excited to eat a meal that wasn’t a meat sandwich and to walk around both indoors and outdoors without feeling like I had just inhaled a pack and a half of cancer. I know I probably speak for at least myself and maybe a second or fourth person or more when I say that I am happy to be back in the US. Belgrade was a lot to take in in just one week, and now we’ve got three days to process it before the block plan leaves it all behind and we move on to bigger, smaller, greater and lesser things. Maybe I’ll even look for a job.


Check out the pics below to see some of the things we saw!



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Crazy Adventures (And We Aren’t Even Abroad Yet): Part Two

Hey again!

We presented our second round of group performances today. The assignment this time was to do a site-specific performance with a strong intention, one that would “intervene with social order, perhaps even political space.”

My group realized that two of our members, Anya and I, both had experience figure skating. We designed a performance in which we acted as figure skaters and our third group member, Chris, acted as our coach. We went to the ice rink during a morning figure skating practice session and did a performance in which Anya and I broke the norms of figure skating in multiple ways (the wrong movements, the wrong music, the wrong clothing, skating as a pair with each other instead of with men, and a general failure to be appropriately ladylike and graceful). Chris, as the coach, then repeatedly tried to put us back in our place. We wanted to draw attention to the ways in which the overall institution of figure skating enforces gender in harmful ways, and encourages abusive coaching practices. It was scary to do this in front of figure skating coaches, skaters, and rink staff, but I do think that our performance sent a message.

The next group had everyone in the class write a political slogan we disagreed with, and then go out on the street corner and protest. For me, that felt really uncomfortable and messy, but it made me think hard about the performative aspect of protesting. The next group had us “protest” with signs that said things like “Smile, it’s a beautiful day!” and “Just saying hi!” We earned a lot of smiles, waves and honks, and it felt like a really positive way to interfere with social space.

Similarly, the next group had us hand out flowers and give compliments to strangers downtown. This, too, made us feel good and like we were connecting with the Colorado Springs community. The final group sent out a few people to collect signatures for a petition that had no content. They would offer people candy if they signed, but would not tell them what the petition was for. They got some signatures, but not a lot. I thought that this, similar to the first protest, said a lot about the performativity of political processes.

Here’s a picture of our whole class in the park downtown after all the performances:



We also took our Serbian language test today. I think I managed to learn to read Cyrillic just in the nick of time!

Now we go to Serbia! But for most of this week, we weren’t so sure we would be able to go. The pilots on Lufthansa, one of the airlines we’re flying, are going on strike, so our original flights were cancelled. The process of trying to re-arrange everything has been stressful for our whole class. As it stands, the class flies out tomorrow through a re-routed flight. I will fly out a day late, on Friday, through a different flight. (I joined the class late, so I had a different plane ticket, but my original flight was cancelled too.) This whole ordeal has been really frustrating and time-consuming. But the pilots’ strike is exactly the kind of performative political action we’ve been studying and even seeking to imitate. So I feel like I can’t be mad at the pilots. I should support them. But at the same time, I am annoyed…so I feel like this is a reminder for us that political performances, performative politics, etc. are quite disruptive. They interfere with people’s lives. Even our class performances today interfered with rink staff, coaches and skaters, cars going by, and passersby. Some people made it clear that they felt harassed even by the positive signs, flowers, and compliments. And compared to the disruption caused by something as large scale as, say, the WTO protests in Seattle, which we’ve been studying, our class performances were nothing. (It’s important to note that the WTO protests didn’t just cause disruption to the organization they were trying to disrupt, they also caused disruption to a whole city.) Thus, I think before every action or performance, it is crucial to ask, “Does the good of the message I am trying to convey outweigh the bad of the disruption I will cause?”

Well, I should probably start packing! The next time I blog, it’ll be from Serbia (unless I get bored in the Denver, Boston, or Munich airports).


Gossip Serb



The Insurgency of Art

John’s last post outlined most of what we did during First Week, but let me update you on Friday’s class, because it was awesome! We’ve been studying a lot of political theory (and practice) and we’re just starting to get into what for me is the most fascinating part of the “art of insurgency”: the potential for insurgency in art.  Yesterday, we had our first set of performances. The assignment was to create a performance that reinforced and/or challenged hierarchy. The results were varied, but uniformly very cool.  There was a modern dance performance about the Cold War, a Brechtian illustration of discrimination at the airport, an audience-participation heavy piece about the changing means of production in a PB&J factory, and a rendition of Orwell’s Animal Farm using tableaux.  These performances brilliantly illustrated many of the political science principles we’ve been learning about.

We’ve been discussing the ways in which various resistance movements appropriate the dominant norms of their cultures for their own ends. For example, Asmaa Mahfouz posted a vlog that helped spark the recent Egyptian revolution. Her call to action embraced patriarchal norms; she insinuated that men were not real men if they failed to participate in the protest movement.

My classmates’ performance about airport discrimination engaged this dynamic on a much smaller scale. In their performance, a character is discriminated against for wearing traditional Muslim garb. He then takes off his shoes and lifts them up, showing them to the TSA agent. The TSA agent interprets this as the Muslim man’s compliance with airport security norm of taking off one’s shoes. However, in many Middle Eastern countries, showing someone one’s shoes is the ultimate sign of disrespect. The Muslim man in this skit is thus appropriating dominant norms for his own resistant purposes in the same way that Asmaa Mahfouz was.

We’ve also studied the ways in which small, everyday acts of resistance can eventually build up to turn into a movement. In the performance about the PB&J factory, the “abused worker” character sneaks a taste of the peanut butter when his supervisor isn’t looking. This type of theft was common in Eastern European “Communist” countries, and it built momentum for regime change.

Here’s a picture of the “PB&J Maker” that ultimately replaced human labor in the performance:



We also learned a lot on Friday about the history of modern dance. I’m so excited to further explore the connections between these kinds of revolutionary (and traditional) aesthetic practices and revolutionary movements!


Gossip Serb

The Art of Insurgency

Thursday, Week One, Block 7, Year 4.

This week is the first of four in which a group of 14 Colorado College students will be focusing their academic energy on the connections between acts of insurgency, civil disobedience, protest, regime opposition and performance. The focus is largely in the Balkans. What roles did performance play in the usurpation of Slobodan Milosevic? A short documentary about the non-violent anti-Milosevic organization, Otpor!, along with readings highlighting acts of civil disobedience and discussion of effective insurgent strategies have guided us this week. We explored the tactics that effective movements use to gain a following, to become legitimate, and to ultimately achieve a goal. Many of these strategies, we found, are based on varying types of performance: street performance, humor, political performance, public image, and the arts.

Sta ima, bre!

If you don’t speak Serbian that’s a nice, “What’s up, dude?” Our afternoons are spent learning the basics of Serbian in preparation for next week’s journey to Belgrade, the capital of the Balkan state whose turmoiled and fascinating recent political history is our morning focus.

Tomorrow, we will perform our first project. Using performance, doing rather than saying, to provide an insight into power relations and obedience.

Dovidenja! Goodbye!


The clenched fist used by anti-Milosevic group, Otpor! in the 2000 ousting of the Serbian authoritarian.

The clenched fist used by anti-Milosevic group, Otpor! in the 2000 ousting of the Serbian authoritarian.