Silencing: An Assembly on Censorship

Elizabeth Larison, Che Gossett, Gavilán Rayna Russom, Salil Tripathi, Saw Wai

April 27, 2024, 3-6pm
Géza, 306 Maujer

On the occasion of Shilpa Gupta’s exhibition, I did not tell you what I saw, but only what I dreamt, Amant hosts an afternoon of poetry, lectures, and performances that brings friends, artists, and scholars together to delve into historical and contemporary understandings of silencing through censorship.

In keeping with the motivation of Shilpa Gupta’s sound installation For, In Your Tongue, I Cannot Fit (2017-18) currently on view at Amant, which comprises a set of one hundred names of poets who have been incarcerated from the past and present, this assembly presents a series of provocations on censorship in its many manifestations.

Censorship is the silencing of speech, the human ability to express thoughts and feelings through written, spoken, or signed language. Speech articulates our desires to connect through the exchange of language. Yet language rests in the hands of a singular structure defined by power, whether military, governmental, corporate, or otherwise. For centuries these powers have practiced censorship as a method of control, and other forms of oversight that include self-censorship and the policing of social media. It is the violent silencing of voices, the active practice of restricting the expression of another, be they writer, poet, artist, or activist—dead or alive.

Silencing: An Assembly on Censorship features responses from Elizabeth Larison, the director of the Arts and Culture Advocacy Program at the National Coalition Against Censorship; Che Gossett, a trans femme writer, scholar, and archivist; Gavilán Rayna Russom, an artist, composer, and scholar; Salil Tripathi, an Indian-born author and editor and former Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee; and Saw Wai, a Burmese poet, performance artist, and political activist, whose poems and remarks criticizing Myanmar’s military have resulted in his imprisonment. This event is moderated by Patricia Margarita Hernández.

Special thanks to the National Coalition Against Censorship’s Art & Culture Advocacy Program for their conceptual and promotional support.

Elizabeth Larison is director of the Arts & Culture Advocacy Program at the National Coalition Against Censorship, leading initiatives to advise and educate artists, writers, playwrights, as well as curators and other cultural intermediaries, in how to address the presentation of controversial works. Elizabeth is also an active member of Don’t Delete Art, a collaboration between free speech organizations and activists working to defend the freedom of artistic expression online. With academic degrees in Human Rights (BA) and Curatorial Studies (MA), and over fourteen years of working with and in support of artists and curators, Elizabeth brings a depth of understanding to the fundamental importance of defending artistic expression. Prior to joining NCAC, Elizabeth worked in curatorial, programmatic, and directorial capacities for arts organizations and venues such as Flux Factory, the Park Avenue Armory, the Vera List Center for Art and Politics, and apexart.

Che Gossett is associate director of the Center for Feminist, Queer and Transgender Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and is finishing their final semester as a postdoctoral scholar at Columbia University. Che is currently completing a political and intellectual biography of queer Japanese American AIDS activist Kiyoshi Kuromiya, which brings the critique of the individuated subject active in Black studies to bear on biography as the literary genre of the human. Che has an article, “The Dark Sublime,” on Blackness, aesthetics, oceanic ontology, and the work of John Akomfrah and Sylvia Wynter forthcoming in Transition Magazine from the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University this spring.

Gavilán Rayna Russom is an artist, composer, curator, and scholar based in New York City. Over the past two decades she has produced a complex body of works oriented towards providing alternatives to binary thought and fixed modes of categorization. In addition to an extensive discography of recorded music, she has presented solo and collaborative works in performance, video, and installation at a range of international institutions. Since her teens, Rayna has been involved with clubs, artist-run venues, and other “underground” spaces of artistic exchange and community. She has presented her own work and curated events in and for these spaces for more than thirty years and has consistently advocated for their cultural value in her writing and public speaking.

Rayna is the founding director of Voluminous Arts, a cultural organization whose mission is to foreground, nurture, and advance the experimental artistic culture of transgender people and communities. Through Voluminous Arts she co-curated and co-directed the summer 2023 residency program “Bloom How You Must, Wild Until We Are Free” at the Center for Art, Research, and Alliances, as well as the accompanying Cooler Nights experimental performance series and Traces: Sonic and Material closing exhibition.

Salil Tripathi was born in Mumbai and lives in New York. He is an award-winning journalist and the author of three works of non-fiction. Salil has reported out of Asia, Europe, and Africa. His articles have appeared in many prominent publications. He studied at the University of Bombay and at the Tuck School at Dartmouth College, and served as chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee and is now a member of its board.

Saw Wai is a poet, artist, and activist based in Buffalo, New York. He is a Buddhist. His first short story was printed in the magazine Sar Pay Lote Thar in 1984. In 1996, he received the Readers’ Choice Award for his poetry, published in the magazine Ma Har Thi. In 2000, he received the Readers’ Choice Award for his poetry in the magazine Cherry. In 2008, he received the PEN Award from the World Association of Writers. In 2009, he received an award from the Human Rights Watch, US. and was a finalist for the Freedom to Create Imprisoned Artist Prize. He has published three collective works of poems and one satire book. In 2008, he was imprisoned for 28 months and 5 days for his poem that criticized the Senior-General. During the military occupation of Myanmar, almost a hundred of his poems were censored. He is also doing installation art and performance art shows in Myanmar and in ASEAN countries. With Myanmar’s current government, he received permission to write articles and poems again. Being a member of PEN Myanmar, he is involved with the social networks and micro-political movements in many regions of Myanmar.