How do we build the kind of world we want to live in? How do we gather together, plan together, work together, and create together? We know it takes sustained effort and trust, we know it is difficult and not without conflict, but what do we know about the pleasure of collaboration, the excitement of experimentation, and the fun that can be found within failure? Do we know how and where to begin? Or have we already started? What might this community teach all of us (who desire to make space for joy and pleasure within a world that isn’t centered around our flourishing) about failure, beauty, and improvisation?

This conversation between scholar Emily R. Bock and photographer SHAN Wallace explored the multiple registers through which a community of predominantly Black and queer artists, dancers, performers, and activists have come to build and sustain a world for and by themselves. Known alternatively as the ballroom scene or ball culture, this is a community decidedly organized around desire, support, and love.

Importantly, this conversation doesn’t ask what the ballroom scene can do for us. Rather, we look to this incompossible community as guides for and theorists of collaboration and community building.

About the Participants

Emily R. Bock is a cultural anthropologist whose research and teaching are situated at the intersection of black studies, queer theory, performance studies, ethnography, social theory, and ethics. She is currently writing her book manuscript tentatively titled, Ordinary Queens: Queer Performances of the Good Life, which is a multi-sited ethnography of the contemporary ballroom scene—an underground, predominantly black, queer performance community. Bock received a BA in Anthropology and Dance with a minor in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies from Barnard College in New York and earned her PhD in Anthropology from the University of Chicago. Prior to joining the Department of American Studies at George Washington University, she held a joint appointment in Gender and Sexuality Studies and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies as a Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in the Social Sciences at the University of Chicago.

SHAN Wallace is a nomadic award-winning visual artist, photographer, and educator from East Baltimore, MD. Inspired by the nuances of day-to-day life of her surroundings in Baltimore, not as fixed narratives but a multiplicity of experiences. It was in Baltimore where she learned about the importance of service, the power of collaboration and the effects of social change. Now, she uses her lens, collage and in situ installations as the basis of her work, demonstrating the cultural and political narratives of black life, confronting oppressive politics and histories within communities of the African diaspora, and challenging ideas surrounding existing collections, culture and archives of Blackness. Much of SHAN Wallace’s work is focused on the Archive– its history of development, challenges of the modern Archive, Archive as Artwork and how to ethically accumulate primary source documents.

Calling all artists What question fuels your practice? Submit Your Idea How does your process manifest?
Calling all artists What question fuels your practice? Submit Your Idea How does your process manifest?
Calling all artists What question fuels your practice? Submit Your Idea How does your process manifest?