On Adrian Piper's radical pedagogy of transgression and the importance of soul and funk music in the African American struggle for emancipation.
From 1982 to 1984, Adrian Piper staged a number of audience-interactive performances in universities or museum settings, under the title Funk Lessons. Using the didactic format of a "lesson" (including characteristic paraphernalia such as blackboards), Piper endeavored to teach the basic moves of funk dance to a mostly white, college-educated audience. Filmed by Sam Samore in 1983, one of the piece's more successful iterations lives on as a videotape, and in Piper's own written reflections, "Notes on Funk."
Considering Piper's broader conceptual-political practice and her long-standing interest in dance, Elvan Zabunyan reveals how Funk Lessons troubles conceptions of knowledge and pedagogy rooted in white, "high culture" through their subtle mimetic subversion. The study foregrounds the key political significance of funk and soul music as the soundtrack of the civil rights movement. By teaching to transgress essentialist categories of race and class through knowledge embodied in dance and music, Funk Lessons opens up new paths for sensory identification and self-transcendence.
Elvan Zabunyan is a contemporary art historian, art critic and professor at University of Rennes. She works across issues of race and feminism, as well as on the political and cultural history of the United States in relationship to artistic practices since the 1960s. She is the author of Black is A Color: A History of African American Contemporary Art (winner of the 2005 SAES/AFEA research prize), and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha–Berlekey–1968 (2013). She co-edited a special issue for the journal Slaveries and Post-Slaveries and the anthology Constellations subjectives: pour une histoire féministe de l'art (both 2020) and Decolonizing Colonial Heritage: New Agendas, Actors and Practices in and beyond Europe (2022).