Annual Jessie Daniel Ames Lecture, “Considering Distances and Absences: Because When God is Too Busy”
Gina Athena Ulysse is a feminist artist-academic-activist, a self-described Post-Zora Interventionist. She was born in Pétion-Ville, Haïti. Her various creative projects include spokenword, performance art, and installation pieces. She deploys the spoken word to both explore and push the blurred border zones between ethnography and performance. She considers these works “alter(ed)native” forms of ethnography constructed out of what she calls “recycled ethnographic collectibles” (raw bits and pieces that seem too personal or trivial) through which she engages with the visceral that is embedded, yet too often absent, in structural analyses. Her ultimate aim with such works is to access/face and recreate a full and integrated subject without leaving the body behind. An interdisciplinary scholar-artist, Ulysse weaves history, statistics, personal narrative, theory, with Vodou chants to dramatize and address issues of social (in)justice, intersectional identities, spirituality and the dehumanization of Haitians and other marked bodies. With her performance work, she seeks to outline, confront and work through the continuities and discontinuities in the unprocessed horror of colonialism. Or to put it another way, Ulysse explores the complex ways the past functions in the present and is disavowed as both Michel-Rolph Trouillot and Sibylle Fischer have aptly put in Silencing the Past and Modernity Disavowed. In recent years, she has learned to release her attachment to narrative. A dynamic performer, described by artist Evan Bissell as “a powerhouse and a whirling storm,” and historian Robin D.G. Kelley as “a one-woman aftershock” Ulysse has performed variations of her one-woman show Because When God is too Busy: Haiti, me and THE WORLD and other works at conferences, in colleges and universities throughout the United States and internationally. An often inspired intermittent blogger, she is also the author of numerous articles and essays and the books, Downtown Ladies: Informal Commercial Importers, a Haitian Anthropologist and Self-Making in Jamaica (University of Chicago Press, 2008), Why Haiti Needs New Narratives: A Post-Quake Chronicle (Wesleyan University Press, 2015), and Because When God is Too Busy: Haiti, me & THE WORLD (Wesleyan University Press 2017). She is currently Professor of anthropology at Wesleyan University. (biography from her website, http://www.ginaathenaulysse.com) This Jessie Daniel Ames Lecture is funded by the Jessie Daniel Ames Endowed Lecture in Feminist Studies, the Feminist Studies Program, and the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Southwestern University.