On Monday, February 11, the first in a series of discussions on groundbreaking works of American art about race was held in the Performance Arts Building with both Reed faculty and students in attendance. Attendants participated in a group discussion led by theatre professors Catherine Duffly and Jaclyn Pryor on the significance of the performance art piece Couple in a Cage: Two Undiscovered Amerindians.”The hour-long discussion explored topics of indigeneity, the relationship between power and art, vaudeville, and above all the role that race plays in the history of American theatre and entertainment. Like Monday’s event, each of the discussions in the series hosted by the new Comparative Race and Ethnicity Studies (CRES) program this spring will focus on a particular academic text, performance piece, or choreographic work.
Pieces selected for this even, the series’ first discussion, included passages from the book The Archive and the Repertoire by renowned performance studies scholar Diana Taylor, accompanied by footage from a short documentary about Couple in a Cage by the artist-activists Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gomez Peña. Excerpts from each of the respective pieces highlighted the main question guiding the conversation: “How is race embodied in theatre and in art?”
Speaking on the details of the recently formed CRES program, which will be offered as an interdisciplinary major beginning next academic year, Assistant Professor of History and Humanities Radhika Natarajan said, “I think the structure of [the program] is actually really exciting,” elaborating that “the CRES program [involves] six departments who are organized through this program. The departments are Anthropology, Dance, History, Music, Sociology, and Theatre. What I think is interesting about that is that three of those programs are in the arts and three of them are social sciences,” highlighting the collaborative nature of the program’s curriculum.
Natarajan went on to clarify that “the students who will be CRES majors, even though they’re going to focus on one of the [CRES] departments, will still have to take courses in the other [CRES] departments.” The importance of the interdisciplinary nature of the CRES major can be seen in the subject matter of the CRES-Classics discussion. Natarajan added, “I’m a historian, but I don’t just read historians; I read sociologists, I read anthropologists,” emphasizing the value of studying notable works from fields separate from one’s own.
“I think that because it’s such a new program and the major won’t get started until next year, mostly [the CRES Classics series] is to bring people together,” Natarajan said. She helped organize the CRES Classics series, and currently teaches a course in the program entitled “Defining and Defying Difference: Race, Ethnicity, and Empire.” “We [CRES professors] thought that it would be a great idea to bring together all the faculty to just have this series of discussions about ‘What are some the important texts that we all go from when we are talking about race and ethnicity?’” she told the Quest, giving insight into each professor’s selection for their discussion this spring.
The CRES faculty billed for discussions this spring are Natarajan and Anoop Mirpuri of the Portland State University English department, who will present a discussion of Saidiya V. Hartman’s Scenes of Subjection; Mark Burford from the music department leading a discussion on Paul Gilroy’s “The Black Atlantic”; LaShandra Sullivan of the anthropology department will host a discussion of the Combahee River Collective’s “Black Feminist Statement”; and professors Rachel Carrico and Minh Tran of the dance department will be leading a discussion of Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations.” Full details about each event are listed on the CRES program’s poster for the CRES Classics series this spring.
Read more about the new CRES program at https://www.reed.edu/cres/