The question of survival in the time of perpetual crisis pervades not only our current political moment but also the stakes of our art. The artists and writers in this issue of Apogee Journal speak of survival beyond claims to easy victory, asking: What can we bear? It is evident in the spirit of Amber Atiya’s opening of “how to survive (for Black grrls)”: “i’m not always sure how i’ve survived, though certainly i have…” The word “though” reminds us that even in uncertain times, there is persistence nonetheless. The art and writing in this issue speaks to moments of maneuvering through marginalized histories, which have had to be re-threaded after longstanding erasure. In this patchwork, the artists and writers here offer us ways to move forward in present time.
Within this issue, artists and writers confront the traumatic aftermaths of U.S. imperialism, how its hypocrisies instill harm across borders and bodies. The queer brown body in Vanessa Angélica Villarreal’s “Assimilation Progress Report” is caught between the history of U.S. seizure of Mexican territory with present day pressures to assimilate to whiteness: “learn whitegirl nipples are your erotic shame the only body/ you long for is hers.” Paul Tran confronts the violence of erasure in the poem, “Aubade with Agent Orange” which tells of U.S. complicity in Vietnam War atrocities. Whereas Nixon was recorded as having said, “I will never forget,” Tran’s speaker in the present responds, “Forget? I could never.” For Mohja Kahf as well, forgetting is a privilege to which she was never privy as a Syrian exile in the U.S. The refrain of “I cannot go to Syria” (of which her piece is also named) accrues weight as she recounts the ways in which U.S. complicity in Syria’s current regime have not only intervened in her familial sense of belonging in the U.S. but also led to censorship of her academic work on Syria. Sometimes this violence carries itself out slowly, as is the case in Jon Lewis-Katz’s “Bertram’s Commandments,” which follows Trinidadian grocery store owner Bertram Allen’s growing realization of gentrification’s impacts on his family’s lives, how a near fatal disaster pushes him to confront the fatigue that accompanies buying into the U.S. promise of a better life only to be pushed out once his labor has been exhausted.
Although the works mentioned above largely examine the impacts of such violence in the U.S. domestically, its presence is also felt globally, compelling the artists and writers in this issue to design a space of reprieve for those most vulnerable to this violence. Artists such as Victoria Sin, who graces our cover in all-white garb against an equally white backdrop, are concerned with ways of looking that celebrate queerness and non-whiteness through hyper attention to the very ways in which gender and race are typically presented, while simultaneously embracing moments of softness. Rather than reject femininity outright, Sin’s drag is plastic breast plate and a fully painted face that dares you, the viewer, to acknowledge how softness can take up space that is often refused to feminine presentation. In another attempt to interrogate the space of an image through portraiture, Derick Whitson’s photographs show queer black bodies against a lack of negative space, intent upon filling the body and the space surrounding it with abundant colors, shapes, and textures. These aesthetic moves challenge our current moment in art-making, when portrayals of queer, trans, and racialized suffering are demanded at the cost of the breadth of expression available for marginalized artists and writers. They ask: Do we not get to have our celebration too? Our contradictions? Our moments of unclarity? Our loss and ownership of this grief?
Perhaps what’s most notable about the works in this issue is that they do not claim to provide solutions to our current circumstances. They do tell us that by simply being here, by our very making, we are establishing our terms for a more certain survival. While this issue marks our final print issue for the foreseeable future, we hope you will continue to follow us as we move into the next phase of our publication life. We celebrate you, dear readers, in this time of calamity, as we have always done and will continue to do in the years to come.