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Arts + Justice

Approaching justice from the perspective of arts and culture enables us to attend to its affective, embodied, social, and political dimensions, thus bringing together a range of cross-disciplinary dialogues.  ... more

In this contemporary world of violent protests, internecine war, cries for food and peace, in which whole desert cities are thrown up to shelter the dispossessed, abandoned, terrified populations running for their lives and the breath of their children, what are we (the so-called civilized) to do?…This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal. I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge—even wisdom. Like art. (Toni Morrison, 2015)

Justice, a capacious conceptual category, impacts lives in quotidian and spectacular ways, influencing political institutions, impacting social relations, and inscribing bodies with deeply ingrained habits of thought. Approaching justice from the perspective of arts and culture enables us to attend to its affective, embodied, social, and political dimensions, thus bringing together a range of cross-disciplinary dialogues. While Arts and Justice began with a concentrated effort to coalesce around the particular crises of mass incarceration, privacy and surveillance, border politics, and aesthetics of protests that haunt a broken democracy, we already invite future conversations that exceed the police state, such as on climate justice, ecofeminism, and indigenous praxis. Out of these injustices, we hope to materialize a more just future. 

The Arts + Justice Colloquy explores the relationship between the arts and justice using the arts to understand the symbiotic cultural life of law: culture shapes law and laws determine cultural practices. The arts are frequently celebrated for their capacity to evoke empathy and activate ethical responsibility. While artists have turned to forms of cultural expression to express a sense of voicelessness, this colloquy cautions against romantic celebrations of arts as panacea for social suffering. Cultural productions not only function as an antidote to injustice but can entrench dominant ideologies. Conversely, we are critical of an almost reflexive suspicion of law, which excoriates law as an a priori terrain of injustice, perpetuating existing discriminations. Collectively, these offerings imagine the legal terrain as culturally constituted, suffused with its own practices, and as a powerful force shaping our subjectivity, social relations, and political institutions. Releasing law from text and realizing it in performance provides a kinetic, dynamic mode of thinking about legal scripts activated in embodied and aesthetic form. 

Scholarship on justice in the humanities has tended to cluster around "law and literature" formulations, which, while generative, are also limited in their purview. The focus on law-as-text underestimates the ways in which legal statutes determine and script live, embodied action; law awaits its full realization when it is released from text and realized in performance. To this end, performance provides a kinetic and dynamic mode of thinking about legal scripts that are activated in performance. These offerings expand beyond the frame to include exciting new work in performance studies, art history, music and sound studies, affect theory, critical race theory, new materialism, environmental humanities and queer theory.  

These offerings reflect the guiding thoughts of the Arts + Justice Research Workshop  as sponsored by the Stanford Humanities Center from 2020 to 2022 and coordinated by Professor Jisha Menon and graduate student Anna Jayne Kimmel, alongside an infinite team of supporting students, faculty, staff and community members. The series has been co-sponsored by: the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, the Department of Theater and Performance Studies, and the Stanford Arts Institute.



Morrison, Toni. "No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear." The Nation. March 23, 2015. Web.

Photo Credit:

https://flickr.com/photos/n3k/5422709632
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_Department_of_Justice_Scales_Of_Justice.svg

Jisha Menon's picture
Curator Jisha Menon

Jisha Menon is Associate Professor of Theatre and Performance Studies and, by courtesy, of

Jisha Menon is Associate Professor of Theatre and Performance Studies and, by courtesy, of Comparative Literature at Stanford University. She serves as the Fisher Family Director of Stanford Global Studies. She is the author of Brutal Beauty: Aesthetics and Aspiration in Urban India (Northwestern UP, 2021,) which considers the city and the self as aesthetic projects that are renovated in the wake of neoliberal economic reforms in India. Her first book, The Performance of Nationalism: India, Pakistan and the Memory of Partition (Cambridge UP, 2013), examines the affective and performative dimensions of nation-making. She is also co-editor of two volumes: Violence Performed: Local Roots and Global Routes of Conflict (with Patrick Anderson) (Palgrave-Macmillan Press, 2009) and Performing the Secular: Religion, Representation, and Politics (with Milija Gluhovic) (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.)

Anna Jayne Kimmel's picture
Curator Anna Jayne Kimmel

Anna Jayne Kimmel is a PhD candidate in Performance Studies pursing minors in Anthropology

Anna Jayne Kimmel is a PhD candidate in Performance Studies pursing minors in Anthropology Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity and graduate certificate in African Studies, with an emphasis in dance, memory, and public performance as politics. Her current research intersects critical dance studies and crowd theory, to analyze the resulting representations of race, national identity, and democratic affect, especially as motivated by contemporary Algerian demonstrations. As a dancer, Kimmel has performed the works of: Ohad Naharin, Trisha Brown, John Jasperse, Francesca Harper, Rebecca Lazier, Olivier Tarpaga, Marjani Forte, Susan Marshall, Loni Landon, and Christopher Ralph, amongst others. She is the graduate coordinator of the Arts and Justice workshop at the Stanford Humanities Center and lecturer at Santa Clara University in the Department of Theatre and Dance in 2021. Kimmel holds an AB from Princeton University in French Studies with certificates in African Studies and Dance. Her writing appears in Performance Research, with reviews published in The Drama Review (TDR) and Dance Research Journal. She currently serves on the Future Advisory Board to Performance Studies international, and as the reviews editor of Performance Research. 

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