Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Trading Credit for Debt: Queer History-Making and Debt Culture

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Trading Credit for Debt: Queer History-Making and Debt Culture

Article excerpt

Once you start to see bad debt, you start to see it everywhere, hear it everywhere, feel it everywhere.

-Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study

If you had gone to the opening of Rare & Raw: Queer History Then and Now at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian History in New York City on February 15, 2013, you would have seen among the small selection of artworks "exploring the themes of queer history, visibility and notions of representation" ("Rare & Raw" 2013) twenty-seven framed photographs from Zoe Leonard's The Fae Richards Photo Archive, originally created for and coanimated by Cheryl Dunye's 1996 film, The Watermelon Woman (Fig. l). Returning to the museum a few days later, you would have found the photos removed from the exhibit and in their place what looked like a foreclosure notice, or what we came to think of as the foreclosure installation: four documents taped to the wall, a record of the loan agreement between the museum and the Eileen Harris Norton Collection, which owns one of the three copies of The Fae Richards Photo Archive and which, on the day of the show's opening, "amended" the loan agreement such that there would be no loan at all (Fig. 2). With "regrets for the unfortunate timing and difficult circumstances," the loan was deemed too high risk and revoked, it seems, because of concerns about the material fragility and value of the photographs (Shim-Boyle, 2013).1

The story of this amended installation is compelling to us for a few rea- sons. Most immediately, as dykes of a certain age, we have an affective, aesthetic, and intellectual attachment to The Fae Richards Photo Archive and to The Watermelon Woman; in fact, both of us became committed to the kinds of recuperative and critical feminist and queer storytelling that Leonard, Dunye, and their many collaborators in the project were for(a)ging in the early 1990s. Furthermore, this transaction situates the Leslie-Lohman Museum and the Rare & Raw exhibit (and its project of queer history-making) as unreliable borrowers; that is, the foreclosure installation advertises bad credit and both the museum and the exhibit get thrown into the subject position reserved in U.S. history for African Americans and other minoritized groups figured as socioeconomically delinquent. Moreover, the capital (not) exchanged in this transactionThe Fae Richards Photo Archive-is a series of images signifying the forgotten or abandoned African American lesbian histories that Dunye and her collaborators work to repossess and revalue in The Watermelon Woman, a repossession that might be said to expose the violence of (cultural) capital itself, a system that has historically devalued the lives and work of African Americans and queers. And finally, this story is compelling for us because in the moment of encountering that familiar scene-cheap paper printed with legal text, contradictorily taped both haphazardly and with forceful, binding purpose across a prominent wall (usually the front door of a repossessed property)-we were reminded of the ways in which so much queer history-making negotiates the strained relationship between good credit and bad debt. That is, the eloquent shock of this foreclosure installation activated our thinking about queer history-making through debt as a mode of inquiry, as methodology, as "queer hermeneutics" and "black study" (Crosby et al. 2012, 130) that "runs in every direction, scatters, escapes" (Harney and Moten 2013,61).

Here, we propose that the repossession of The Fae Richards Photo Archive effectively resituates The Watermelon Woman and Rare & Raw into the context of debt culture. As Paula Chakravartty and Denise Ferreira da Silva remind us, this is a culture "embedded in the colonial and racial matrix of capitalist accumulation of land (conquest and settlement), exploitation of labor (slavery, indentured labor, forced migration), appropriation of resources, and ultimately the very meaning of debt in what Walter Mignolo calls the modern/colonial world system'" (Chakravartty and da Silva 2012, 364). …

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