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Faculty Fellows

The Center for World Performance Studies provides summer funding to individual faculty members to pursue research projects which involve traveling to various sites for field work, both domestically and internationally. We encourage inventive ideas, especially those that involve thematic support for CWPS mission, including ethnography and performance as research. Fellows are invited to share their research with the CWPS community through our Faculty Lecture Series and as mentors to graduate students in the Certificate in World Performance Studies. Applications to the Faculty Fellows Program are accepted annually in March; for more info, visit our faculty funding page.

2022-2023 Faculty Fellows

Samer Ali
Associate Professor, Department of Middle East Studies
“Orientalism and White Supremacy: Race, Gaze Training, and Middle Eastern Studies”

The project begins with the simple observation that early modernity and the Enlightenment found the racialized figure of the Muslim (aka, the Moor) critical for producing white supremacist discourse and practice. In the Reformation, for example, the “Sons of Noah” theory subordinated Semites (meaning both Jews and Muslims) and Hamites (Africans) relative to white Japhetites; an estimated 30% of enslaved Africans in the New World were Muslim; the first enslaved African revolt in the Americas had Wolof Muslim leadership, which prompted the 16th-century Spanish Crown to prohibit their importation from that ethnic group; Queen Elizabeth I deported legions of London-based Moors in 1596, and shortly thereafter, Shakespeare’s Othello the Moor (1603) and The Tempest (1610) framed the characters of Othello and Caliban (the monstrous Arab) as the quintessential flies in the white ointment of a new world order; Linnaeus’s taxonomy of race (1767) painted the “Sooty Moor” as ungoverned and ungovernable; and Immanuel Kant described the Moor as spreading “an evil smell.” Like the Jew and the African, the figure of the Muslim was indispensable to white self-definition. Yet, despite this history, critical race studies from W. E. B Du Bois to Nell Irving Painter have overlooked the phenomenon. Simultaneously, in Middle East studies, scholars like Edward Said have studied orientalist discourses against the Muslim but have overlooked the concept of race and the process of racialization. The goal of this project is to place the two fields in conversation and to create a synergy of comparative insights about how white supremacy operates. This project conceives of white supremacy in the spirit of Du Bois as a global phenomenon with multiple sites of application—the plantation, the eugenic university, the gas chambers, the race sciences, the colony, and the ethnological exhibit.

Nachiket Chanchani
Associate Professor, Department of the History of Art

“War Dance”

Professor Chanchani will travel to Cambodia to study the position of dance in the region in the medieval period. Specifically, by melding clues preserved in the art historical record with surviving epigraphic evidence, Chanchani will explore his working hypothesis: that certain medieval dances concurrently recounted classical myths about cycles of cosmic dissolution and regeneration and masked struggles to reconcile the ethics of nonviolence with the need to use coercive violence as the Angkorian state as extended its authority across the vast Khmer Empire. Through his fieldwork and archival research he plans to publish an article and use this research to inform his upcoming special exhibition at UMMA.

Michael Gould
Professor of Jazz & Contemporary Improvisation

Professor Gould will partner with former CWPS Graduate Fellow and Zimbabwean artist Masimba Hwati to focus on how climate change and man made intervention has affected the Tonga people who live on or near the Zambezi river. This work will use the story of the Zambezi river itself and how it has been altered by the dam. It will also consider the story of Nyami Nyami, known as the Zambezi River God or Zambezi snake spirit as inspiration while putting this in context with the broader impact and complexity associated with the Anthropocene. The two will collaborate while in Berlin, Germany at Tanz Tangente, a gallery space and dance company that Gould has collaborated with for the past 15 years.

Marc Hannaford
Assistant Professor of Music Theory

This project comprises of archival work as part of Professor Hannaford’s research into African American music theorists. Specifically, Hannaford will spend time at the Institute of Jazz Studies (Newark, New Jersey) and the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center (New York City) examining the archives of Andrew Hill, Sonny Rollins, and Mary Lou Williams.

Most people’s encounter with music theory is dominated by white male composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Brahms. The vast majority of music theory textbooks are archetypal in this regard. The theories that shape these books and most music theory classrooms were developed in the Western art music tradition and by white men such as Heinrich Schenker, Hugo Riemann, Arnold Schoenberg, and Milton Babbitt. Whiteness thus operates largely unmarked in music theory on the levels of epistemology and representation.

This narrowness is also evident in music theory’s academic spheres. At the level of both the classroom and academic society, music theory is white and male. These statistics are extremely problematic because representation is an important part of welcoming a more diverse range of students and scholars into the field. The issue here is not that there has never been Black music theorists, but that they have been excluded from the field and erased from its history. Following recent calls to work toward greater equity, diversity, and inclusion in music studies by scholars such as Philip Ewell (2020; 2021), Ellie Hisama (2000; 2018; 2021), and Loren Kajikawa (2019; 2021), Hannaford reexamines and redresses who counts as a music theorist.

Bethany Hughes
Assistant Professor, Native American Studies & Department of American Culture

Professor Hughes is working on a collaborative research project titled Performing Indigenous Networks. It seeks to understand Indigenous networks of cultural production as active processes and interconnected sets of relationships and resources that influence the possibilities and practices of Indigenous artists. It is motivated by the question, "How do Indigenous creatives produce work while navigating the constraints of existing networks of production and forge new networks in the process?" The collaborative project is comprised of scholars, archivists, and Indigenous creatives who will come together in August 2022. Hosted by the Clements Library we will spend time interacting with archival objects that captured Indigenous performances in early 20th century Michigan, hold a public facing panel on the relationship of Indigenous creatives to institutions and networks of production, and dedicate time for Indigenous theatre artists to develop new work as a pilot/lab space for the project's central questions.

Holly Hughes
Professor of Art & Design, Theater and Drama, and Women's and Gender Studies

INDELIBLE is a new multimedia solo performance that Hughes is writing and will appear, under the direction of acclaimed theatre artist and designer Dan Hurlin. This work draws upon art history, psychological theories of trauma formation, feminist theory, court documents, and autobiography to examine how the current discourse in American culture on sexual violence places a great emphasis on the importance of victims’ narratives while neglecting to ask larger questions about the prevalence of such misconduct despite decades of feminist organizing.

Reginald Jackson
Associate Professor, Asian Languages and Cultures

Professor Jackson will continue work on his book, “Spectacular Dominion: Slavery, Performance, and the Boundaries of Personhood in Premodern Japan”, which explores the relationship between slavery and performance in premodern Japan by analyzing the intersection between embodiment, economy, and sovereignty. Jackson focuses on three historical moments over six chapters. First, on the early Muromachi period (1336–1573), when Noh plays about slavery emerged. Next, the late-sixteenth century, when slave trade by Jesuit missionaries occurred between Europe, Africa, Asia, and “The New World.” Finally, the book considers Commodore Perry’s mid-nineteenth century mission to Japan, when blackface minstrel shows by “Ethiopian Players” abetted U.S. gunboat diplomacy in Asia. In each of these contexts, the relationships between social status, spatial practices, gender, and racial formations become vital analytical concerns, particularly as they shaped how various forms of religious discipline or colonial subjection took hold.

Spectacular Dominion ventures new lines of inquiry into how personhood was defined and contested in premodern Japan, tracing shifting responses to the central question: How is personhood performed—both literally and metaphorically—when one’s humanity is persistently threatened? The project engages questions significant to Performance Studies and Black Studies, drawing insights from critical race and queer theory.

Mbala Nkanga
Associate Professor of Theatre Studies

Professor Nkanga will explore the many facets of multidisciplinary performances currently taking place in Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Considering the history of Kinshasa, once known as Kinshasa-la-Belle, or Kinshasa-the-Beautiful to now Kinshasa-la-Poubelle, or Kinshasa-the-Trashy, Nkanga will observe the following: the language of the trash and its implication in the artistic creation of masks and performances; the techniques used by the performers to put together these masks and costumes; the contradiction of the symbolism of trash and SAPE (Société des Ambianceurs et Personnes Élégantes) known for their high fashion in the same neighborhood of Matonge and in Kinshasa; issues of individual and collective memories along with the daily experience of being Congolese and Kinois (a resident of Kinshasa); and the role played by Congolese traditional and the Rumba Music, along with dances in the performances.

Edward Sarath
Professor of Jazz & Contemporary Improvisation

Professor Sarath will present performances in South Africa of his composition, His Day is Done. The piece sets to music Maya Angelou’s poem of the same title, which she wrote to commemorate the life of Nelson Mandela. Written for symphony orchestra, choir and jazz soloists, the work will involve 150 musicians, and— reflecting the length of Angelou’s poem—comprises five movements and is close to 40 minutes in duration. This work provides as musical example of a core principle of Sarath’s vision for the future of music studies, where the best of conventional practice coexists and coevolves with an expanded creative and cultural palette, with black music as a powerful galvanizing force. The performances are part of an ongoing initiative launched by Sarath with his collaborators called South Africa/America Music Exchange (SAME).

Kira Thurman
Assistant Professor, German/History

Professor Thurman's next project, entitled "Our Lives Can Be Made Beautiful," takes a broad view at the politics of race and classical music in the twentieth century. The title—“Our Lives Can Be Made Beautiful”—is taken from the African American soprano and activist Aida Overton Walker’s 1905 essay encouraging Black musicians to perform art music in spite of white criticisms of their talent. Inspired by Walker’s essay, Thurman's book explores both the history of systemic racism that has historically functioned to keep Black people out of classical music and also the discursive and musical practices that Black musicians developed to perform it anyway. Ultimately, her next project addresses the urgent contemporary question that Black people ask— “Is this music for us?”—by placing that question in a historical context.