Heard Immunity

Poems and Pictures Now

Experience the artist project

MoMA PS1

A young man reads out the names of police violence victims—those also present on the makeshift tombstones in the park—aloud to a crowd in Powderhorn, Minneapolis. Picture and caption by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn © 2020

Heard Immunity: Poems and Pictures Now was conceived by Gregg Bordowitz this summer as a response to the public health and safety crises unfolding in the context of intensifying political and economic destabilization. Against the backdrop of the pandemic and uprisings for racial justice, Bordowitz invited six esteemed poets to contribute works of their choosing to what he called a “group reading of poetry with images that pose singular responses to the existential conditions of this moment.” Recordings of each poet reading are presented alongside pictures taken this summer in New York and Minneapolis by celebrated photographer Laylah Amatullah Barrayn. This virtual gathering is commemorated in a free ebook that collects the poems together with a selection of Barrayn’s pictures. “I believe that poetry has a unique and significant contribution to make to current discussions regarding the pandemic and the rebellion for racial justice coinciding now,” Bordowitz explained. “We need a new language.”

About the Participants

Laylah Amatullah Barrayn is a documentary photographer. Barrayn is a frequent contributor to The New York Times and has been published in Le Monde, National Geographic, Vogue, NPR, VOX, Vanity Fair, among other publications. Her work was recently nominated for a 2020 News and Documentary Emmy. She is the co-author of the book MFON: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora. She is a member of Kamoinge, a pioneering collective of African American photographers founded in 1963. She was included as one of the Royal Photographic Society’s (UK) Hundred Heroines. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, with solo exhibitions at The Museum of the African Diaspora San Francisco, The Taubman Museum of Art (VA), MAK Gallery (Venice + London) and the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporic Arts (NY). Her work has been shown collectively at the MANIFESTA Biennale (Italy); Brighton Photo Biennial (UK); The Museum of Contemporary Photography (Chicago) Barrayn is currently working on a book on contemporary Black photographers.

Samiya Bashir is the author of three books of poetry, most recently Field Theories (Nightboat Books, 2017), winner of the 2018 Oregon Book Award. A multi-media poetry maker, she sometimes makes poems of dirt. Sometimes zeros and ones. Sometimes variously rendered text. Sometimes light. Her work has been widely published, performed, installed, printed, screened, experienced, and Oxford comma’d. She theoretically lives in Portland, Oregon, with a magic cat who shares her obsession with trees and blackbirds and occasionally crashes her classes and poetry salons at Reed College. However, as the 2019-20 Joseph Brodsky Rome Prize Winner in Literature, Bashir is currently in pandemic exile far from Italy and further yet from wherever home might be.

Since the late 1980s, writer, artist, teacher, and activist Gregg Bordowitz has made diverse works—essays, poems, performances, drawings, sculpture, and videos—that explore his Jewish, gay, and bisexual identities within the context of the ongoing AIDS crisis. Bordowitz is also the author of many books, including: The AIDS Crisis Is Ridiculous and Other Writings, 1986–2003, and he has published numerous catalog and journal essays on art, literature, AIDS, and their intersections. A long-time faculty member of the Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, Bordowitz is the Director of the Low-Residency MFA program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Bordowitz was an early participant in New York’s ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), where he co-founded video collectives including Testing the Limits, and a video-making affinity group within ACT UP—DIVA (Damn Interfering Video Activists).

Dolores Dorantes is an Acharya in the Buddhist tradition, a journalist, writer, therapist, poet, performer and sacred animal. She is a Mexican born in the mountains of Veracruz in 1973 but raised in Ciudad Juárez, right next door to El Paso, which is just across the US border. In 2011 she fled her country and was granted political asylum in Los Angeles. Dorantes is Black and Nahua indigenous from her mother’s side, Spaniard and mestiza from her father’s side. Recent books translated into English are The River, a collaboration with the artist Zoe Leonard, and Style. Her socio-cultural writings and political-social reflections, along with the majority of her books, are part of the commons. She believes in a United Latin America.

Cathy Park Hong’s book of creative nonfiction, Minor Feelings, was published in Spring 2020 by One World/Random House (US) and Profile Books (UK). She is also the author of poetry collections Engine Empire, published in 2012 by W.W. Norton, Dance Dance Revolution, chosen by Adrienne Rich for the Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Translating Mo'um. Hong is the recipient of the Windham-Campbell Prize, the Guggenheim Fellowship, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. Her poems have been published in Poetry, A Public Space, Paris Review, McSweeney's, Baffler, Yale Review, The Nation, and other journals. She is the poetry editor of the New Republic and is a professor at Rutgers-Newark University.

Joy Ladin is the author of nine books of poetry, including The Future is Trying to Tell Us Something: New and Selected Poems and Fireworks in the Graveyard, and two Lambda Literary Award finalists Impersonation and Transmigration, and The Soul of the Stranger: Reading God and Torah from a Transgender Perspective, a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award and a Triangle Award. She holds the Chair in English at Stern College of Yeshiva University. Links to her poems and essays.

Fred Moten teaches at NYU. His latest book, written with Stefano Harney, is All Incomplete (Minor Compositions/Autonomedia).

Pamela Sneed is a New York-based poet, writer, performer and visual artist, author of Imagine Being More Afraid of Freedom than Slavery, KONG and Other Works, Sweet Dreams and two chaplets, Gift by Belladonna and Black Panther. She has been featured in the New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Artforum, Hyperallergic and on the cover of New York Magazine. She is online faculty in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Low-Residency MFA, teaching Human Rights and Writing Art, and teaches new genres in Columbia University’s School of the Arts. Sneed has performed at the Whitney Museum, Brooklyn Museum, Poetry Project, MCA Chicago, The High Line, New Museum, MoMA and the Toronto Biennale. In 2018, she was nominated for two Pushcart Prizes in poetry. Sneed’s Funeral Diva, a poetry and prose manuscript, has just been published by City Lights.

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