When life imitates art, people often think of museum selfies or posing next to a famous statue. But more often, these two parallel each other. Daniel B. Coleman Chávez’s works are no exception.
Chávez is a black, transgender artist, activist, scholar and pedagogue whose work crosses countries, disciplines and causes. They will debut “El Umbral: A Psychological-Spiritual Performance Encounter with the Demons Transition(s) – Wresting the In-Betweens” on campus.
Consortium for Faculty Diversity Postdoctoral Fellow Elías Krell is bringing Chávez to campus for their course “Race, Anti/Colonialisms, and Queering Music Performance.” They explained, “El Umbral is a new work being premiered at Vassar so I can’t speak to its content but the artist’s oeuvre speaks to issues of de/colonization, and race, class, gender/sexuality vis-à-vis the former, and engages performance as means of theorizing, understanding and embodying the intersections of power and resistance.”
Chávez was born in San Jose, CA and is currently a PhD candidate at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. They have been involved with black, queer and LatinX-American communities around the world.
According to Krell, “Daniel works in a medium and disciplinary field that are interdisciplinary at their core, so their work has myriad in-roads for students with a wide variety of interests, especially those interested in social justice of any form.”
Interdisciplinary Arts Coordinator Tom Pacio echoed the importance of this broad appeal. “I believe that Vassar is a campus that thrives on bringing experts in their fields to share their knowledge with our community.”
Krell worked with Pacio to bring Chávez to campus through the CAAD Initiative. “Working with Tom Pacio has been wonderful, as with his assistant Sofia Benitez,” wrote Krell. “I applied for the funds to support this course which has a practical component (students perform, create sound pieces and visual art).”
The grant helped Krell hire a research assistant and bring in six speakers. They explained, “The guest artists directly contribute to the pedagogical aims of the course in helping us theorize and perform the intersections of anti/ colonialisms, queer politics and identities, music and performance.”
Bringing in new voices is crucial to CAAD’s mission. According to Pacio, “I think CAAD allows the opportunity for students, faculty and members of the local community to challenge and stretch the boundaries of education in creative ways.”
Pacio continued, “This visit is specifically rewarding as it is the big public event for the guest artist series for this course.”
Pacio has spent the year organizing events, speakers and classes that relate to sound, CAAD’s 2015-2016 theme. Chávez’s visit fits nicely into the theme, especially because Krell’s class centers on music. Pacio explained, “As it is a live performance that will contain sound, and in the context of a class that focuses in part of music performance, I believe the connection to sound will be clear to everyone who attends.”
According to Post-Baccalaureate Fellow of the LGBTQ and Women’s Centers Dallas Robinson ’14, classes like Krell’s and artists like Chávez give much-needed exposure to identity groups on campus. “Creating space on campus for outside artists and creators to share their work is a large strength of Vassar’s. Specifically, making it possible for LGBTQ+ artists of color to create and display work on this campus is powerful and impactful,” she said.
Robinson continued, “The importance of representation in hosting people with various identities is inspiring and engages the Vassar community in acknowledging minds beyond campus. I am excited for Daniel Chavez’s performance at the college, it has been incredible to see Black transmen interacting with Vassar communities through movement art and performance.”