How might the story of a life be told through song? Specifically, how might the story of the life of Zakaria Almoutlak—a sculptor from Homs who joined the Syrian revolution in 2011 and later fled to Belgium, where he now lives—be told through song? For Liner Notes 1, Karthik Pandian and Andros Zins-Browne will address this question with Hanif Abdurraqib and Ganavya Doraiswamy. The live-streaming event—part conversation, part concert, part listening session—is occurring in conjunction with the publication of “Four Songs without Z,” a suite of songs written by Pandian and Andros Zins-Browne with Almoutlak, in Unknown States, a new issue of Triple Canopy devoted to the fictions that give rise to nations and nationalities. (“Four Songs without Z” will be published with the launch of the issue on June 8; in the meantime, preview “Wedding,” one of the songs.)
“Four Songs without Z” is part of a years-long collaboration between Pandian, Zins-Browne, and Almoutlak that renders the banalities and atrocities that Almoutlak has experienced through sculpture and vocal performance. The suite of songs provides a fragmentary account of Almoutlak’s life that draws on memories and fabrications, legal documents and cell-phone videos, tradition and speculation, presented as videos by the artists that mine the same materials. The singers, Doraiswamy and Aliana de la Guardia, improvise as they move between lyrics, weaving the fragments together, migrating Almoutlak’s stories into melodies from a range of popular, folk, and classical genres. Instead of channeling Almoutlak’s experiences into the construction of a single, legible, stable identity, the songs offer a composite of shifting parts and perspectives.
Liner Notes 1 will consider how lives and histories are defined and reconfigured through song, whether by inhabiting a voice or channeling other voices, seeking stability in genre or engaging in “vicious revisions of the original,” in Fred Moten’s words. Pandian and Zins-Browne will be joined by Doraiswamy, who is trained in the recursive South Indian performance tradition of abhang; and Abdurraqib, who has written extensively about the relationship between tradition and invention in the performance of Black music. They’ll consider collective improvisation as a vessel for endless variation, remaking tradition, and retelling old stories (in order to imagine new ones).
For Liner Notes 2, on June 17, Pandian, Zins-Browne, Almoutlak, and M. NourbeSe Philip will ask how the story of a life might be told through the creation, circulation, destruction, and reconstruction of monuments. Video recordings of Liner Notes 1 and 2 will be available soon after the events.
Both events are free and will be hosted on Zoom. Registration is required to receive the meeting link.
This public program was made possible through generous support from Jane Hait, a founding member of Triple Canopy Director’s Circle; the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; the National Endowment for the Arts; the New York State Council on the Arts; and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Research for Unknown States, Triple Canopy’s twenty-seventh issue, was made possible through a Craft Research Fund grant from the Center for Craft.
- Hanif Abdurraqib is a poet, essayist, and critic from Columbus, Ohio. He is the author of A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance (2021), Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest (2019), and the essay collection They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us (2017), and the poetry collection A Fortune for Your Disaster (2019). He is the host of the podcast Object of Sound.
- Ganavya Doraiswamy is a vocalist who was born in New York City and raised in Tamil Nadu, India. Trained as an improviser, scholar, dancer, and multi-instrumentalist, she maintains a library of “spi/ritual” blueprints, offered to her by an intergenerational constellation of collaborators, that anchors her practice in pasts, presents, and futures. She spent much of her childhood on the pilgrimage trail, learning the storytelling art form of harikathā and singing poetry that critiques hierarchical social structures. She is a cofounder of the nonhierarchical We Have Voice Collective. She has graduate degrees in contemporary performance from Berklee College of Music; ethnomusicology from UCLA; and creative practice and critical inquiry from Harvard University. She has recently composed and sung for films, durational performances, operas, and installations.
- Karthik Pandian is an artist who works in exhibitions and public interventions to unsettle the ground of history. He uses moving image, sculpture, and performance to render the mythologies of the present through forgotten, fragmentary, and futuristic pasts. Pandian has had solo exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York City), Bétonsalon (Paris), and Midway Contemporary Art (Minneapolis). His work has been featured in numerous survey exhibitions, including the first edition of “Made in L.A.” at the Hammer Museum (Los Angeles); “La Triennale: Intense Proximity” at the Palais de Tokyo (Paris); and “Adventures of the Black Square: Abstract Art and Society, 1915–2015,” at Whitechapel Gallery (London). He is currently working on a series of temporary public artworks in Boston and Minneapolis, which can be followed on Twitter via @videocommune. Pandian teaches in the Department of Art, Film, and Visual Studies at Harvard University.
- Andros Zins-Browne is a choreographer who works at the intersection of installation, performance, and dance. He is a proponent of “expanded” choreography: extending choreographic notions into work with non-dancers, singers, texts, and objects. Considerations of the interactions between materiality and immateriality are central to his work, most recently his work with voice. His performances have been presented at the Institute for Contemporary Arts (London); the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York City); Rockbund Art Museum (Shanghai); and the Fondation Galeries Lafayette (Paris). His ongoing collaboration with Karthik Pandian, Atlas Unlimited, addresses movement, destruction, and reconstruction through sculpture and performance, and has been presented at Performa 19 (New York City), Netwerk Aalst (Brussels), 80WSE (New York City), and the Logan Center (Chicago). Zins-Browne is the recipient of grants and awards from the Goethe Institute, the Flemish Cultural Ministry, NYSCA, and, with Pandian, the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.