In Detail: Words from Pelenakeke (Keke) Brown / by Ahilapalapa Rands


“My art practice is grounded within the Samoan concept of the vā or 'in-between space.' Vā centers spatial relationships as a way to understand and move in the world. In my art practice, this translates to interrogating relationships, how we relate to ourselves, each other and the larger world. This can be between humans but also includes within structures of power and other ephemera. I am fascinated with the in-between space in which we spatially relate with each other and how our in-between spaces inform the way we move in the world. As an afakasi Samoan, disabled, queer artist I straddle many in-between identities which can shift and change depending in the time and space I am in. My work whether it be through hair, the medical file or technology and Samoan tatau (tattoo) is looking at the connections between the self and the outside world and the relational grounding that occurs in this in-between vā (space). My practice is multi-disciplinary and includes drawing, writing and movement.

 This year I have been selected as the curator for the Artists of Color Council Movement Research at Judson Church Spring 2019 season and I have selected Rodney Bell, Caroline Garcia and Kaina Quenga and Anthony Aiu to present work responding to the theme ‘body sovereignty.’ Body sovereignty is being in charge of how we live in relationship with our body & in charge of how our body is in relationship with the world. This curatorial work traverses borders, is across time zones & the moana to investigate the mana and relationship between all the different sovereign bodies of the curated artists involved. Sovereignty has many legal & historical connotations & is often used in reference to fanua (land) independence. It is fitting then that each of the artists, all from the Pacific will be using their voice and personal practice to explore their personal body sovereignty. With a mix of bodies including disabled and queer identified artists I wanted to include and honor all these different sovereign artists and bodies.


'Excavātion' is a personal exploration of my 145-page medical record and the previously untold stories surrounding my birth, specifically centering my mother’s experience as she navigated the medical system, as a brown, immigrant, (and for a time, undocumented) non-English speaking young woman. Through this fragmented document made up of my delivery record, patient notes, inter-departmental letters and letters to outside care providers I am investigating the medical institution and many of its shortcomings, such as racism and lack of autonomy for people of color and how this impacts our care. Medical complications, disability, and infant mortality impact significantly more women of Color than Caucasian women and I wish to use my personal story to springboard a conversation around medical racism in today’s society. 

I envision this work to be interdisciplinary, using text (both sourced directly from my file and inspired by it), visuals (created in response to the source material as well as the file itself), and movement developed in the studio using somatic techniques such as authentic movement. To develop this work, I have begun to compile a reading list of texts, art, and theory from mostly other disabled artists of color whose work also explores institutions, the body, and the disabled experience such as the artists June Jordan and Mia Mingus as well as the work of Doreen Garner whose practice references medical histories.

New work that I am exploring what does an accessible space look like to work and investigate in? I would like to work with other crips through technology to create work together. I would also like to speak with other crips about their medical file and experiences navigating the medical industry. This work would look like letters, recorded conversations, drawings created via technology and in-person meetings and even movement. What does it look like to move in the world, in our own way and navigate the system(s) that we must each operate in? What are the conversations that we have that can't have in other spaces? What does a comfortable, open space to move, look like? This work would begin as a series of provocations that I would investigate and explore during a residency period, hopefully April/May this year.”

Words: Pelenakeke (Keke) Brown

Images: From a new work-in-progress Excavātion developed while at Denniston Hill (performance residency June 2018)

For more information on Pelenakeke (Keke) Brown please click here.