Mientras la Sombra y el Sueño: Art as Resistance in Theological Education
By Yohana Agra Junker and RJ Lucchesi.
As we enter the third academic year disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, I come to the realization that nothing about this experience has been predictable or steady. The spread of the Delta variant has forced our institutions to evaluate, yet again, how classes should or not meet this fall semester. What seemed to be a possibility of re-establishing contact and closeness is now fraught with hesitation and a wave of even deeper anxiety. Teacher-learners across the country have started a fourth semester under the heaviness of an unending global pandemic. We, indeed, have experienced too much, too fast, too soon these last two years.1
In assessing some of the learnings from these last few semesters, I am convinced that our classrooms could benefit from engaging with creative practices as well as the integration of trauma-informed work. Both fields of investigation invite us to develop communities that see creative art practices as spaces to shape co-belonging, conscientização, and liberation even in the face of impossibility. The arts, as Laura E. Pérez puts it, “are an important part of constructing the social imaginary—the space from which we imagine, and then become […] Suffused with the poetic, the arts can be revolutionary language of vital energy, midwifing mental and shared social spaces beyond colonizations of unjust power. The poetic, like desire, is not a language of certainty.”2 Creative practices are, indeed, poised with this capacity to integrate the most difficult and paralyzing experiences as well as give us tools to be present to the uncertainty and ambiguity that often emerge from them.
Art practices allow us to tap into the creative dimensions of ourselves while also inviting us to re-member all that constitutes our identities, bodies, desires, longings, histories, and hopes. They remind us we have the capacity to imagine, speculate, rehearse, and intimate this world differently—that we can sustain subjectivities that resist and refuse “the worst muck of racialized, ableist heterocapital” settler-colonialism, as Alexis Pauline Gumbs names it.3
Art also has the power to evoke, create, and witness other possible worlds into being. The act of drawing, for example, is incredibly helpful in processing anxieties that arise from the various threats to our existence. The visual arts, in particular, are generative tools for speculative imagination, for the integration of knowledge of the body and our intellect. It is a place to create worlds, to dream, rehearse new possibilities of being in and agitating the world. When we immerse ourselves in acts of creation, we have access to the visceral and the somatic life of the body, to its reflections, limits, intuition, responses, desires, needs. We can begin to see the invisible being woven back into the perceptible. Mientras la sombra y el sueño, as Anzaldúa writes, art, movements of resistance, the stories of our ancestors, and the production of artists keep our collective visions alive to resist violence and domination. Anzaldúa has written that artists, images, and stories help us access our own knowledge, our roots, our strength, our remedy. These practices allow us to undress the wounds of what cishet patriarchy, extractive and racialized capitalism, and neocolonialism have forced us to lose, forget, discard.
She reminds us:
My job as an artist is to bear witness to what haunts us, to step back and attempt to see the pattern in these events (personal and societal), and how we can repair el daño (the damage) by using the imagination and its visions. I believe in the transformative power and medicine of art. As I see it, this country’s real battle is with its shadow—its racism, propensity for violence, rapacity for consuming, neglect of its responsibility to global communities and the environment, and unjust treatment of dissenters and the disenfranchised, especially people of color. As an artist I feel compelled to expose this shadow side which the mainstream media and government denies. In order to understand our complicity and responsibility we must look at the shadow.4
Art as Resistance was the overarching theme of one of the classes I taught at Claremont School of Theology in the Spring of 2021. In an attempt to explore and engage with the arts as tactics of witness, survival, and protest, the class explored how creative practices are “among the most valuable laboratories for creating relevant new forms of thought” as well as building new spaces of “co-response-ability.”5 Their poetic makings demonstrated that shaping change is possible, that co-presence and co-belonging can be actualized, and that oppression can be dissolved, even if momentarily, as we continue to commit to loving ourselves, each other, our cross-species siblings, the planet, and Mystery.6
One of the most agitative artworks that emerged from this class by way of “final integrative project” was RJ Lucchesi’s Liberation Ahead. What follows, is his reflection on the process of creating the artwork and how it has shaped his teaching-learning experience.
“I knew from the start of this art practice that public installation would be my medium and method. Throughout this time of isolation, my wife Andrea and I have found peace driving through the beach neighborhoods where we live in Southern California, breathing in the sea air and taking in the fleeting images. We realized we drove by many things unconsciously—road construction signs being one of them. I thought about my social location as a white cis male in this context of not giving thought to things. As an activist and would-be theologian, I asked myself: What needs to be pronounced? How can the arts create an interruption in the flow of these streets? How could we agitate these spaces to provoke positive change in ourselves and our communities? These questions led me to create an art piece for the class Dr. Junker taught at Claremont School of Theology: Imaging Resistance. I acquired a road sign and changed it to read Liberation Ahead. I installed it in my neighborhood for many reasons: to call for action over inaction, to create pause, to agitate change, and tap into the power of poetic gestures.
Making the actual piece was the most self-agitating part in the process. It was laborious in its layered construction. Moving from my spirit to my head to my body—that is, from a divine gift to thinking through to the work of my hands—was an embodied and integrative experience that solidified my commitment to the work. The work—of liberation, of acolhimento, of belonging for all. Checking in with my communities of accountability along the way affirmed this exponentially. In this sense, the piece is a co-creation from a communal process in a world constantly aimed at stunting and intercepting our collective agency. It confirmed for me that embodying what we sense spiritually and what we engage intellectually is a pedagogy that is essential for liberation. Indeed, this was a reclamation of space internally and externally. It was both a cleansing and an uplifting I felt viscerally. Installing the piece around my neighborhood and around the city allowed me to reclaim public space for the prophetic liberation so that we can collectively and creatively respond to the call of overcoming numbness and inaction in the wake of various pandemics and fascist escalations that we have witnessed across the world and the US in these past two years.”
Indeed, RJ’s performance as a tactic of witness and agitation not only blocked roads, reconfigured the flow of life in an affluent neighborhood in California but also created a semiotic shock through a poetic intervention that allows theological education to live, breathe and take root mientras la sombra y el sueño, between the shadows of the now and the dreams of tomorrow.
Dr. Yohana Junker is Assistant Professor of Art, Religion, and Culture at Claremont School of Theology and is a Louisville Institute Postdoctoral Scholar. Her research probes the intersections among the fields of art history, eco-criticism, and decolonial studies, with special attention to contemporary Indigenous and diasporic art practices. In her writing, art, and activism, she explores the human capacity to imagine and retrieve generative ways of being even in the face of impossibility. She also investigates the ways artists create poetic spaces that allow viewers to come together, to reclaim agency and restore a sense of purpose, a thirst for justice, and a desire for transformation. Her artwork is central to her scholarship and activism.
RJ Lucchesi is a pastor, theologian, and entrepreneur. He holds a Master of Divinity & Master of Theological Studies from Claremont School of Theology. Alongside co-conspirators, RJ is a founder of Liberation Rising, a 501(c)(4) committed to developing a collective consciousness of liberation via theological and political education, while partnering with front-line individuals, communities, and organizations in the spirit of mutual aid. RJ lives in California with his wife and best friend Andrea, and their rescue dog Neo.
- Darryl W. Stephens, “What is Trauma? What is a Trauma-Informed Approach?” in Trauma Informed Pedagogies, RSN American Academy of Religion Spotlight on Teaching, March 2021, p. 10.
- Laura E. Pérez, Eros and Ideologies: Writings on Art, Spirituality, and the Decolonial (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019), 1.
- Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement (Chico, CA: AK Press, 2020), 2.
- Gloria Anzaldúa, The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader, AnaLouise Keating, ed. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009), 304.
- See Pérez, Eros and Ideologies, xv and Ailton Krenak, Ideias pra Adiar o Fim do Mundo (São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2019), 47.
- See Gumbs, Undrowned, 110