REST: A Transatlantic Reflection

A transatlantic collective of artists, working between the UK and Minneapolis, responds to the idea and practice of rest: as an antidote, a rebellion, and a refusal.

Rest Cover image option 2
1Amoke Kubat’s Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired Chair assembly and build workshop, in partnership with the Women’s Woodshop and the Water Bar, June 2019.

This is a collection of artists’ responses to the idea or notion of rest in these challenging times, during a global pandemic and uprising. We respond to rest as an antidote, a rebellion, and a refusal. 

What does rest look like or feel like? Does rest have relevance during these unprecedented times? These collective responses bring an opportunity to tether an ongoing transatlantic conversation that began in 2017 as a project called REST (as a radical act).1  Exploring and asking questions around embodying a practice of rest. How does rest perform in the space for artists, the gallery, or the public?  What is the political significance of asking for rest in this or any moment? 

Though REST (as a radical act) remains, in exhibition form, unfulfilled, the transatlantic conversation and exploration of these questions have continued, as well as the building of ongoing connections and continued collaborations.2 Central to the discussion is the motif of Amoke Kubat’s Rocking (Re) Evolution Project and the blueprint of Kubat’s Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired Chair.3 The chair was a starting point and anchor for numerous threads that weave together our conversations and work, in its most expanded sense.

— Ego Ahaiwe Sowinski


Rest is not something I often think about.

I have spent the last decade thinking about my next gig, my next contract, my next move.

How I will put food in the table while also giving my son inspiration and a good childhood. Thinking about how to find the time to write the curriculum, schedule the studio time to make the orders, write the grant, fund the project to pay my bills while holding several un-artsy jobs (house cleaning, cement pouring, chiropractic assistant, anything that will pay and work weird hours).

I think about the budget of living while also enriching my son’s life and mine.

My answer has been to make.

I make everything: my curtains, my table, my dishes, my winter hats, gloves, scarves. I taught myself to make and build so that I could fill my needs with the quality items and quality moments I needed for a rich and beautiful life.

My son was unaware we were poor.

My son was full. He had the toys and games he wanted.

And now I am told to rest.

It couldn’t have come at a better time in my life. This is not sarcasm, this is gratitude.

Currently I am in an MFA program that is fully funded. Although we don’t make much money, I do have security, I do have health insurance. I am safe for a year longer. So, I have been told to stay home. My home is full of all the things I’ve made. I eat from the dishes I’ve made. I finally have the time to tend the garden I’ve been planning for the last decade. I can shelter here for an indeterminate length of time. I have my clay, wood, wool. Cotton, leather. I have the ability to spend time in the sun, out in nature, responsibly socially distant and I can rest. The world has given me this moment to stop, think, love, and nurture myself.

Why has it taken a global pandemic to offer me this moment? Why isn’t working 40-60 hours a week paying me enough to put food on my table while paying the mortgage and affording health care? Why couldn’t I do this—live simply or simply live—without a global pandemic?  

— Sayge Carroll


These times: coronavirus, now called COVID-19. The whole world is on lockdown. People are fearful, confused, defiant, and restless. Somebody must have cried out from the wilderness, “What next, God?” Privately, I asked myself, “Is this ‘when hell freezes over’ or ‘when I have the time’?” I am sleepless with such questions. I am concerned but not scared.

Worldwide protests ignited (again) by the brutal, live screened and televised murder of another black man, George Floyd. These times. I live in North Minneapolis. I watched people engage their rage to mobilize and take to the streets. I had seen this before: August, 1965. That was called the Watts Riots. It happened again in 1992, called the Los Angeles Riots. UNRESTS.

Fast forward: I am 69 years old. I am wondering if I have ever known REST. When I was a girl, it was frowned upon to lie down or sleep in the daytime. Idleness had something to do with the devil. Laziness was a sin. Children were scolded with, “What you got to be tired for?” As if tiredness, exhaustion and fatigue were the sole domain of working grownups. Poverty, abuse and oppressions are exhaustive. I didn’t know those words then but I knew what they felt like. It was a hard habit to break. Resting when tired.

I recall an afternoon years ago. My daughters were two and nine years old. I worked and attended college full time. I don’t know how or why, I just laid down on the sofa in broad daylight. Sleeping on anything other than a bed was problematic too. The youngest one came over to me, leaned in and asked, “Are you dead?” A black mother can rest only when she is dead?

Crazy. My body now mandates a daily nap somewhere between 3-6 pm. Sometimes this nap extends to midnight. One, two o’clock and I am back up. Watching. Listening. Praying. Witnessing. Minneapolis. Burn, baby, burn! Fight the powers that be! Black lives matter! We gon be alright!

I am in love with my bed. It is my happy place. My twin size bed is like a pod. I am a crowder pea. I share my bed with my cat, magazines and stacks of books that I can’t read fast enough. I am distracted by more thoughts. Are all doors locked? Are my shoes and cane easily accessible? I can’t run or scream. What if my car is stolen, used by agitators to harass and terrorize my neighbors? Then set afire. My oldest daughter purchased a machete and megaphones for each of us. My grandbaby has to be a warrior too. She is only nine.

I fantasize about weaponizing my rage.

Deep hurt and sorrow lie beneath, become bullets.

Measuring grits, two cups to a quart of hot bubbling water,

Spooning fish grease and bacon fat into birthday balloons,

Reaching for that Dollar Tree lighter that becomes a flame thrower,

“You gon get lit with fire THIS time, okay okay!”

Black cast iron skillets in graduated sizes deployed like serial killers,

And filling socks with coins, cans, potatoes, or broken glass.

Pound by pound

Strike and stab

Blow by blow

When blood flows

It ain’t gonna be mine.

Do I need a gun?

George Floyd’s death has changed the world into transformative collective actions. Rest in peace and power, New Ancestor. WE, whose BLACK LIVES MATTER, ain’t sleeping on this. We are watching out for each other. We are protecting each other. We are taking turns, sleeping and RESTING, resisting, and rising up.

— Amoke Kubat


Working from a place  of UN/REST: 

A Meditation 

REST felt like it was in our reach.
UN/REST is present.
REST felt like it was in our reach.
UN/REST is present.
REST felt like it was in our reach.


Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrest.
Rest, Rest, Rest,
Rest, Rest, Rest, Rest, Rest.

Rest, Rest, Rest,
Rest, Rest, Rest, Rest, Rest.

Un/rest, Un/rest, Un/rest,
Un/rest, Un/rest, Un/rest.

Rest, Rest, Rest,
Rest, Rest, Rest, Rest, Rest.

Un/rest, Un/rest, Un/rest,
Un/rest, Un/rest, Un/rest.

Un/rest, Un/rest, Un/rest,
Un/rest, Un/rest, Un/rest.

Un/rest, Un/rest, Un/rest,
Un/rest, Un/rest, Un/rest.

Un/rest, Un/rest, Un/rest,
Un/rest, Un/rest, Un/rest.

Rest, Rest, Rest, Rest, Rest.
Un/rest, Rest, Un/rest, Rest,
Rest, Rest, Rest, Rest, Rest.
Un/rest, Un/rest, Un/rest, Un/rest.

Un/rest, Rest, Un/rest, Rest. 
Un/rest, Rest, Un/rest, Rest.
Un/rest, Rest, Un/rest, Rest.
Un/rest, Rest, Un/rest, Rest.

Un/rest, Rest, Un/rest, Rest,
Un/rest, Un/rest, Un/rest, Un/rest.

UN/REST was present.
REST is in our reach.

Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrest.
Rest, Rest, Rest, Rest, Rest.
Rest, Rest, Rest, Rest.
Rest, Rest, Rest.
Rest, Rest.
Rest.
Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrest.

— Ego Ahaiwe Sowinski


— Rehana Zaman


Rest…

Analog time. The first few weeks of this “new normal” brought a tidal wave of information, both useful, incorrect and panic-inducing. The technology was at times overwhelming.

Analog time. Oscillating between fear, despair, a lack of focus and ennui.

Analog time: Grateful for human connections, in the absence of physical touch. Connections mediated by technology. It wasn’t until a week or so ago that I was able to be in the socially distant and physical company of friends.

Analog time: Grief and grieving for those lost to the pandemic and the resonances of past losses.

Analog time: Early on I decided that each day I would take a prolonged moment away from the worldwide web and the laptop in an attempt to restore and maintain mental wellness. 

Analog time: Meditation, the washing up, overdue housework, naps and exercise in the form of cycling. 

Analog time: Doing. Absolutely. Nothing.

Analog time: Music and its ever-present sustaining qualities. Friends and I have shared an abundance of music and sounds. 

Analog time: Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Fantasy” (Shelter DJ mix).

— Ain Bailey


Rest and Liberation in COVID-19

Many black people have been conditioned to believe that resting, sleeping, thinking in the peace and quiet of our homes is unacceptable, even criminal. As slaves and as descendents of slaves, we were told that rest after the dawn of a new morning until the dusk of nightfall was a form of theft. Today it is not unlike it was the past. In our communities, we valorize phrases like, “Everyday I’m hustling,” “on the grind,” and “keepin’ it movin’”. We work and hustle, and strive and compete with other people all day everyday, until we collapse with exhaustion—but not before feeding our starved souls with unhealthy food, unhealthy media, and toxic forms of relating to our human and nonhuman relatives. In this way, we do the dirty work of racial capitalism.

On December 19, 1964, American anti-apartheid activist, farm labor organizer and pro-democracy rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer gave a speech detailing the labor exploitation of Black Mississippians. She explained, “But some of the things I’ve got to say today may be a little sickening. People have said year after year, ‘Those people in Mississippi can’t think.’ But after we would work ten and eleven hours a day for three lousy dollars and couldn’t sleep we couldn’t do anything else but think.” She concluded this speech with the infamous phrase: “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

I think Fannie Lou understood that rest was a precondition for liberation. When we rest, we undo the work of racial capitalism.  Far too many people of color believe that we are lazy and undeserving when we take time to slow down, breathe deeply and slowly and do nothing at all. We will do anything to avoid falling into the stereotypes produced by racism. We fear that if we slow down then our families and communities will fall apart. Consequently, our relationship to work becomes a fear-based compulsion, driving us to mental, emotional and physical dis-ease. Work is no longer a free choice that brings happiness to ourselves and others; rather it makes us all suffer. And on top of all of this, we refuse to rest. And some of us, a great, great many, simply cannot rest. Before COVID, we couldn’t even fall asleep because our minds and spirits were sick and tired.

COVID-19 works as an unforgiving paradox for those of us who have been forced to stay in our own homes, alone with our family members, pets, lovers, and friends, and nothing to do but rest. Some of us stay home with reduced income, we stay home with our technology, we stay home with our minds and habits, energies, interests and inclinations. What choices do we make when we have nowhere to go? What do we eat?  What stories do we allow to flow into our consciousness? Over the last six weeks since the Covid-19 self-quarantine, I have read or listened to Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky, Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, and The Way of Tenderness by Earthlyn Manuel. In my time between grading papers and teaching, I take long walks through Prospect Park and have spent time revisiting an art form I learned in middle school: dip pen calligraphy. Each of these activities have required quiet, or sometimes the ocean bowls of singing bell artist Karma Moffett. This environment led to rest. Long, leisurely naps complemented by honey-sweetened black tea upon awakening. This black woman has lived alone, sometimes peacefully, sometimes overcome by fear, frustration, anger and anxiety, especially when consuming news through mass media who, in their own way, narrated how the world responded to the novel virus. 

But this black woman has also joyously rested. Even as black people die from this disease of COVID, die prematurely as we all ways do in this antiblack world, even more of us have been presented with a challenge: how to make rest and the practices of slowing down an integral part of our lives, a force for transformation and liberation rather than continued suffering. 

— Zenzele Isoke


This article is part of the series by guest editor Christina Schmid

Endnotes
  1. Artists Ego Ahaiwe Sowinski and Rehana Zaman, developed an exhibition/project proposal called REST (as a radical act). An invitation was extended to Minneapolis-based artists Sayge Carroll, Amoke Kubat and Keegan Xavi to participate in an exhibition at a Birmingham (UK) gallery; the exhibition never took place.

  2. Sayge Carroll, Zenzele Isoke and Ego Ahaiwe Sowinski are currently developing a project titled Afro-Feminist Sound, Touch, and Speculation in Brixton, UK and North Minneapolis: A Transatlantic Collaboration.

  3. Amoke Kubat’s (founder of YO MAMA Housing CooperativeSick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired Chair was born from the ancestral whispering of civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer and Amoke’s desire to create a rocking chair for overworked and under-resourced women, to have space and a place to sit, to rest, to contemplate. She worked ROLU to create a blueprint.

Author
 Ain Bailey, Sayge Carroll, Zenzele Isoke, Amoke Kubat, Ego Ahaiwe Sowinski, and Rehana Zaman

Ain Bailey is a sound artist and DJ. She facilitates workshops considering the role of sound in the formation of identity and recently held a residency at the ICA, London.  Exhibitions in 2019 included “The Range” at Eastside Projects, Birmingham; “RE:Respite” at Transmission Gallery, Glasgow, Scotland, and “And We’ll Always Be A Disco In The Glow Of Love”, a solo show at Cubitt Gallery, London. Last year, Bailey was commissioned by Supernormal and Jupiter festivals to create and…   read more