My performance art work arrives at the intersection of installation, conceptual art, and poetry. I find or create environments, enter them, and make things happen—with objects, language, landscape, often other people, and always, always my body. Performance art solved a series of problems for me, or rather the main problem of being an over-achieving, under-desired, smart, plump, black girl in America who craved glamour and creation. I started making performance art to cultivate and manifest my presence in the world. From my physical body has burgeoned a black feminist body of art.
My work as an artist draws from my experiences as a black diasporic subject, an African-Haitian- American. Catalyzed by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, my Fugue trilogy specifically tackled diaspora grief and loss. How to reckon with a tragedy both mine and not mine? What rituals of return could become resources? Starting with 500 pounds of dirt, 4 suitcases and a shovel, this work morphed into an activation of mirrors and cash register rolls in the Atlantic Ocean, then finally harnessed a 100- foot red extension cord in Montreal. Activating these materials with my body allowed me to conjure trade routes, migration. and bloodlines. In performance, I move (through) my body into the world.
My project “In & Out of Place: Making Black Feminist Performance Art in Mexico” also engaged this concern. If much of my work had been grounded in the (often unspoken) inherent social significance of my body, what would happen when those meanings were radically different? The performances developed over my 2008-2009 Fulbright year marked a crucial turning point. When I asked the spectators of BRUSH, if they had good hair, none of them shared my cultural context. The dissonance between my presumptions and their cultural specificity taught me an important artistic lesson. It also raised compelling possibilities.
Long inviting (or provoking) participation, my work is now especially engaged in spectator reversal and audience response. Two current performance series, Q & A and Say My Name (an action for 270 abducted Nigerian girls), shift agency directly from my body into the audience. In Q & A, a starting projection of past performance slides signals the “performance” of the work and the “audience Q & A” becomes the performance. As we ask and answer each other’s questions, authority and vulnerability slip and slide through our bodies.
In Say My Name, I call roll of the Chibok schoolgirls snatched by Boko Haram, dropping their names on the floor when the girls don’t appear. Instructed to do “whatever they feel moved to do” during this action, the audience has to negotiate the pressure of the performance moment. Again, they can choose to cease being just spectators. Or can they? How will their bodies respond? What can art do? What can any of us? These deep questions of witness and agency fuel my work. This score has also been recently activated in Lagos, Nigeria, leading to poignant community conversation.
While my work stakes a claim in western performance art history (the so-called “dematerialization of the object”), it especially calls on the eternal root work of black diasporic tradition (let’s call it “the materialization of the spirit”). Whether manipulating a hundred de-accessioned library books to create healing circles in . . . hewn and forged . . . or dancing with mariachis in Mexico to celebrate Obama, I embody performance art as a means for spirt work and transformation.
The aim of my work is to open up space.
New York University, New York, NY University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
Ph. D. in Comparative Literature, May 2000 A.B. with Highest Distinction, April 1995 (High Honors)
M.A. in Comparative Literature, May 1997 Comparative Literature, French & Creative Writing
+ Selected Performance Art Training
-La Pocha Nostra Workshop with Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Merida, MX, 2017
– workshops with Sharon Bridgforth, Lois Weaver & la Congelada de Uva
- “In & Out of Place” projections and installation reconfiguring body of work
from Mexico at LatinFest, California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CA 2019
- “Kinds of Performing Objects I’ve Been,” performance artifacts & documentation
in “Currencies: New Work by Antioch Arts Faculty,” Yellow Springs, OH, 2013-2014
- “<<MN <->MX>>” (4.5 min.), Low Lives @The Vault, SPACES gallery, Cleveland, OH, 2013 +TRAMPOLIM, Galeria Homero Massena, Vitoria, Brazil, Jan. 2011
- “<<MN <->MX>>” Low Lives 2, Juried Live Art Show On-Line, 2010
- “In & Out of Place: Black Feminist Performance Art in Mexico” solo show
Obsidian Arts Gallery, Pillsbury House Community Center, Minneapolis, MN, 2010
- “Me Enojo Contigo” mirror installation, Irreversibles: Contemporary Women Artists,
Casa de Yhared, Mexico City, November 2009
“Q & A (Eclipsing),” ECLIPSING Festival, Links Hall, Chicago, February 2018
“Q & A,” Denison University, Granville, OH, October 2017
“Say My Name” (an action for 270 abducted Nigerian Girls),”
West Hollywood Aesthetics & Politics series, Oct. 2018 /Rosenbach Museum, Philadelphia, PA, Jan. 2018
Denison University, Granville, OH, October 2017 /House of Wahala Auction, Houston, Texas, April 2017
Texas A & M, College Station, Texas, April 2017 /AWP Conference, Washington, D.C., Feb. 2017
Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY, Feb. 2017/ La Pocha Nostra Intensive, Mérida, Mexico, Jan. 2017
St. Catherine University, St. Paul, MN, Dec. 2016 /Culture / Shift, USDAC, St. Louis, MO., Nov. 2016
Naropa University, Boulder, CO, Oct. 2016 /Women’s Art Institute, St. Paul, MN, June 2015
Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, NY, April 2015 /Antioch College, Call & Response, July 2014
premiered at Girls in their Bedrooms, Minneapolis, MN, May 2014
“(a ritual of nest and flight), performance activation of “Northern Oracle” by Heather Hart,
Doris McCarthy Gallery, University of Toronto-Scarborough, Canada, Feb. 2017.
“. . . hewn & forged . . . (Alchemical Activation against the Shadow Book),” Boulder, CO, Oct. 2016
“. . . hewn & forged . . .” Salt Lake City Performance Art Festival, UT, Sept-October 2016
“_______ is the thing with feathers,” Call & Response, Antioch College, Yellow Springs, OH, August 2014
“Fugue (Da, Montreal),” Hemispheric Institute Encuentro, Montreal, Canada, June 2014
“and then. . . .” Currencies, Herndon Gallery, Antioch College, Feb. 2014
“Aide-mémoire,” premiered at AFiRiPerFOMA Biennial, Harare, Zimbabwe, November 2013
“Fugue (dissolution, Accra)” Yari Yari Ntoaso, Accra, Ghana, May 2013
“Fugue,” a meditation on the 2010 Earthquake in Haiti, Pillsbury House, Minneapolis, MN, Nov. 2012
“Fugue,” ArtQuake, Haiti Cultural Exchange, 5 Myles Gallery, Brooklyn NY, December 2011
In & Out of Place actions (MN reconfiguration), April-May 2010
“despedida,” Galería Interferencial, Mexico City, Mexico, Noviembre 2009
“Tie Air (reconfigurations)” Teatro Casa Cruz de la Luna, San Germán, Puerto Rico, August 2009
“In & Out of Place (México, DF),” Museo Ex Teresa Arte Actual, Mexico City, Mexico, June 2009
“Muño (fantasía de la negrita)” Performagia Encuentro Internacional de Performance,
Museo del Arte de Tlaxcala, Tlaxcala, Mexico, June 2009
“Tie Air,” Center for Independent Artists, Minneapolis, MN, March 2009
“In and Out of Place (MLK & Obama),” Paseo de la Reforma, Mexico City, January 2009
“BRUSH,” Pasagüero, Mexico City, Mexico, December 2008
“Me Enojo Contigo,” Parque Mexico, Mexico City, November 2008
“Comedy & Other Work,” Bedlam Theater, Minneapolis, MN, June 2008
Prizes & Awards
2016 Selected by Creative Capital as an Artist “On the Radar”
2013 Invited as 1 of 15 non-African artists to present at the AFiRiPerFOMA Biennial
in Harare, Zimbabwe, the first ever all performance art festival in Africa
Residencies and fellowships
2008-2009 Fulbright Fellowship to Mexico for “In & Out of Place:
Making Black Feminist Performance Art in Mexico”- hosted by Museo ex Teresa Arte Actual
Experiments in Joy. Civil Coping Mechanisms Press, Los Angeles, CA: 2019
Swallow the Fish. Civil Coping Mechanisms Press, Los Angeles, CA: 2017
+ *a n e m o n e (performance meditation), MAI: Feminism & Visual Culture, Autumn 2018
“In Conversation: Gabrielle Civil and Mankwe Ndosi,” The Third Rail, Issue 11, Fall 2017. http://thirdrailquarterly.org/gabrielle-civil-mankwe-ndosi/
“Behind the Orange Door—Gabrielle Civil & Rosamond S. King in Collaboration,”
Small Axe 52, Caribbean Women Artists Special Issue, vol. 21, no. 1 March 2017.
“From the Hive: A Conversation,” with Ellen Marie Hinchcliffe,
“Girls in Their Bedrooms: Creativity in Intimate Spaces,” Aster(ix) Journal, Spring 2015
“Touch/ Don’t Touch,” (on risk and performance art) Art 21, Balance Issue, April 2017
“Remedios: Breaking the Frame: Dreaming into the Urgent Now,” Aster(ix), Jan. 2017.
“Call & Response: Experiments in Joy: An Introduction,” & “_______ is the thing with feathers,”
Obsidian: Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora, vol. 41.1-2, special issue guest editor, March 2016.
“A Performance Artist Explores “the Vast Possibilities of Black Female Subjectivity”-Monica Uszerowicz https://hyperallergic.com/391765/a-performance-artist-explores- the-vast-possibilities-of-black-female-subjectivity/
“… HEWN & FORGED…” by Gabrielle Civil-Julien Blundell
“Creating Space and Speaking Silence in Black Women’s Performance Art:
The Body Power of Gabrielle Civil’s “Fugue – Dissolution, Accra” by Angelique V. Nixon
“Route And Wing: Urban Interventions In Montreal”-Ebony Noëlle Golden, (on “Fugue (Da, Montreal) http://alternateroots.org/route-and-wing-urban-interventions-in-montreal/
“In Mexico City, Mariachis for Obama”-Daniel Hernandez https://danielhernandez.typepad.com/daniel_hernandez/2009/01/mariachis-for-obama.html
MFA Faculty, Creative Writing , Califormia Institute of the Arts, 2018-present
Associate Professor of Performance, Antioch College, 2013-2016
+ Artist Engagement
“In Conversation: Gabrielle Civil and Amanda Hunt,” in conjunction with Senga Nengudi exhibit,
Art + Practice, Los Angeles, CA, 2018
Roundtable Participant on Community Identity & Exclusion for “Breathing Deep, Pushing Back” exhibit, Dayton Visual Arts Center, Dayton, OH, August 2017
Gallery Talk Facilitator for “Scaffold Room,” with Ralph Lemon, Okwui Opokwosili and April Matthis,
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, September 2014