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“To dissolve into the sea:” An Interview with Kearra Amaya Gopee

Kearra Amaya Gopee’s video how to break a horizon: a memory as retold by the sum of its residue (2019) imagines new strategies for possibility within the queer Caribbean diaspora. As we watch two performers move on the shore, we come to see both memory and survival as shared, transferable skills. Through gesture, voice, and touch, Gopee builds a speculative archive that exists on the line between earth and ocean, a violent past and an unstable future.

This video will be part of the program, Deep in the Mud, We Are Enmeshed in All Its Forms, screening at REDCAT on November 20. The program, curated by Jheanelle Brown, will also include pieces by Simon Benjamin, Tamika Galanis, and Aliyah Blackmore.

Here, Gopee discusses the ocean, Caribbean diasporic futurity, and training for the apocalypse with Erin Marie Lynch, Air/Light associate editor.

Kearra Amaya Gopee (they/them) is an anti-disciplinary visual artist from Carapichaima, Kairi (the larger of the twin-island nation known as Trinidad and Tobago), living on Lenape land (New York, NY). Using video, sculpture, sound, writing and other media, they identify both violence and time as primary conditions that undergird the anti-Black world in which they work: a world that they are intent on working against through myriad collective interventions. They render this violence elastic and atemporal–leaving ample room for the consideration and manipulation of its history, implications on the present and possible afterlives. In the spirit of maroonage, they have been developing an artist residency in Trinidad and Tobago titled a small place, after Jamaica Kincaid’s book of the same name. They hold a MFA from University of California, Los Angeles; BFA in Photography and Imaging from New York University, and are an alum of the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. They have held fellowships from Queer|Art and MacDowell, and they are currently an Elaine G. Weitzen ISP Studio Program Fellow at the Whitney Independent Study Program. (Photo Credit: Elliot Jerome Brown, Jr.)

Erin Marie Lynch (EML): I want to start with something really simple: could you talk about the role of the ocean in this piece? I see it as being a really active character and performer. It’s archiving, and bleaching, and crashing. It’s sound and also action. So I’m wondering if you want to talk about how you see the ocean as a performer in your work.

Kearra Amaya Gopee (KAG): The ocean is not necessarily only referenced, but is a present character. It is a totalizing force, something that is able to simultaneously rip clean, but also by the process of deposition, able to build up. It is both a container and a methodology. In a metaphysical sense, I see it as a being that is able to hold Black aspirations and desires in the wake of the transatlantic slave trade. Ultimately, it has been and continues to be a final resting place. It is a partner and a platform by which we have attempted to slip away from the objectifying force of slavery, to move beyond anti-blackness via self-annihilation. But yeah, I’m thinking about the sea as something that is also an active agent, one that is vengeful on behalf all the life that it holds and intends to take back the land bit by bit because of it.

EML: In the video, the human performers move on that line between the sea and the land. And the voiceover describes the human body in relation to the ocean – as flotsam, jetsam, lagan. Could you expand a little bit on the relationship between the embodied and then the disembodied? And how you see the performers existing in between those two landscapes?

KAG: It’s easier for me to enter into this question by talking about the particular motions that are being undertaken on that line. Part of the conceptualization for this is thinking through preparation: preparation for when the sea is ready to take its time back, but also preparing for climate disaster as facilitated by the state and corporate interests. Not to be a doomer, but the seas are rising. And who goes first when this happens? The Caribbean. People discuss climate change and what is happening as a very abstract concept from time to time. But it’s happening now in the Caribbean in a very tangible way. At all times, islands are being swallowed up and spat out. Homes are slipping into the sea. The coast is eroding at a rate that is unprecedented. However, living in the West, in the imperial center, we can see the world collapsing under the weight and velocity of its own violences. Who pays the cost for this? In terms of the diaspora, the land that we live on abroad is also being eroded. That said, everyone on the horizon line in my video is training to swim out to this (post)-apocalyptic vision or to the island from whence they came. They are training to build endurance, to see themselves to the end. I’ve also evolved a lot more in my thought since first making this and can see the horizon as the point of dissolution–a site where Black people can slip out of a human-centered/humanist framework for being with the world. They’re training for somewhere else not yet here, to assume another form, for being in concert with this larger, ancient, cyclical force.

EML: As I watch the performers and their swimming motions, one thing that stands out to me is that they’re standing up, out of the water. When someone is actually swimming underwater, you can see little pieces of what they’re doing, you know, the hands and the head coming up, but you can’t really see the body. So I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that choice to take those motions out of the water and make them visible.

KAG: I feel like, in a poetic sense, it was really important for me then to make a living metaphor for essentially, for the work that I assumed needed to be done, to make clear that that work is in concert with other people. It is something that we can practice and learn from. At a certain point in the video, I become implicated in this learning too. By removing the veneer of objectivity that is often assumed by the filmmaker, I also understand myself as somebody who’s also learning and teaching and growing and to do that, these gestures have to be a little bit visible, enough so that they can become blueprints.

EML: You talked a little bit already about the video’s concern with the future, which I think is also implied in the title: a set of instructions that teaches something that can be repeated, something that can be done in the future. A set of decisions and actions – which is what memory is, too. You talked about an understanding of the future as potentially catastrophic, thinking about eco-disaster and the effects of a colonial past and imperial present extending out into the future. But could you unpack the vision of the future that you see in the piece, and the role of memory in that?

KAG:  The future, for me, is less about seeing clearly than it is about sensing – more about what I feel has to happen than a concrete set of steps towards that. I sense that, in an untenable world that reduces some to chattel and the earth to a means to a capitalist end, collapse becomes not only inevitable but necessary for something else to take root. I was also just thinking about the wide breadth of knowledge that is available to Black people through one another and across diasporas. To dissolve into the sea then is to become one with this kind of larger epistemic sensation or pulse.

EML: Would you want to talk a little bit about how your work fits in with the other artists that are going to be at the screening. What do you see as some of the reverberations between the artists?

KAG: I really admire everybody on this bill. We are all working from the archive in a sense, but also creating archives of our own through interpretation or fabulation. They are also thinking deeply about collective authorship via the archive and through documentation, across and between and beyond both human and non-human partners, and with both the living and the dead. They’re asking questions of the archive and not taking it for granted, which I believe is critical.

Erin Marie Lynch is the author of "Removal Acts," forthcoming from Graywolf Press in 2023. Her writing appears in "New England Review," "Gulf Coast," "DIAGRAM," "Narrative," "Best New Poets," and other publications.

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