Quanda Johnson

Trauerspiel: Subject into Nonbeing

Quanda Johnson deals in trauma. She make things, perform things, presents things that interrogate her own trauma and that of her ancestors. Black women are almost always at the center of trauma, balancing on their shoulders and backs the weight of the sublime, “the beautiful monster” that crushes and molds, pollutes and purifies, turning their existence in the Atlantic world into something both unbearable and born. A new and mystical invention.

Trauerspiel: Subject into Nonbeing (2021) is becoming Johnson’s “dissertative” meditation on trauma. Poetic observation, visual excavation, and performance, it is taken from Simon Gikandi’s Slavery and the Culture of Taste (2011) and speaks to the void in which Black being, particularly Black female ontology often finds itself swallowed. It consists of three distinct components: a short film, Trauerspiel: subject into non-being (2020); a poem excerpt from In Search of Negroland: a different study of the negro race (2016); and artworks from The Ballad of Anthony Crawford: a love letter to america (2017).

In Search of Negroland
Awashed in the New World
by Quanda Johnson

There be dragons…
1441 ; 1550
Stand with our backs to the shore, faces to the surf
Dreaming of pepper, cocoa, cinnamon, sugar…
A highly seasoned miracle of tastes to keep from eating air, eating sand

Food and life devoid of flavor
Like — eating air
Like — eating sand
Eyes searching the horizon
Searching for a boundary
A limit beyond the limits of our world
The too large sea licks us clean of fear, clear of protest
There be dragons
But along with the dragons:
Ivory from the Ivory Coast
Gold from the Gold Coast
Diamonds from the African South
Iron from the Congo
Slaves from the Slave Coast
Glazed cotton from the West of Africa
And spices and women –
Black women with too soft skin
Who smell of cloves and nutmeg and ginger and cocoa and cinnamon and pepper…
Along with the women, in whom we can put our sex without censure
Thanks to our fire power
Wealth and more wealth propel us across the sea,
The sea whose vista mocks us
The sea where the dragons
Threaten to swallow us whole
But we dream on and sail on and if we don’t fall off the edge,
We find Land –
El Dorado with…
Emeralds from Peru
Silver from Mexico
Sugar Sugar Sugar to sweeten our lives
And people?  Thousands of Brown and Black people to bend to our will
To work this new world
This new land
No room in the old world, but in this new,
We can stretch and grow, and work and
Get these new people to work,
Work our new land
We work them as fast as death devours –We be like gods in this new land
Back across the sea
Slaves from the Slave Coast
Inexhaustible heathen
Bring them by the tens of thousands, and if death comes, it comes
We bring more –
More black and brown bodies to cultivate our wealth
To feed our sex and create more wealth
We cross the sea…again…and again
Eating flesh…devouring men
There be dragons
We be dragons
Awashed in the New World
portrait of a man in a circle frame
The Ballad of Anthony Crawford


abstract portrait of a man with bones across face
The Ballad of Anthony Crawford Remix 2


abstract portraits of a man stacked on top of one another
The Ballad of Anthony Crawford Remix 3

Quanda Johnson

Quanda JohnsonQuanda Johnson (she/her/hers), a PhD candidate in Interdisciplinary Theatre Studies at UW-Madison, examines the African diaspora/performance activism. As a Fulbright Scholar (2013-2014), she coalesced Nova Scotia Africadian communities to chronicle their history through her original theatrical concert, Beyond the Veil of the Sorrow Songs. Ms. Johnson’s creative endeavors, including Verisimilitudes: A Journey Through Art Song in Black, Brown, and Tan, champion marginalized voices and gender equity.




Back to top

1 thought on “Quanda Johnson”

  1. Quanda Johnson is a poet artist and performer who is so brilliant and versatile that she defies description. Her performance here is fearless and penetrating and revelatory. All of her work, and this collection in particular, tell the story of a life intimately, and at the same time convey the cumulative history of hundreds of years of abuse, injustice, and exploitation. If there is a suggestion that peace and justice and healing are possible, it is in the artist’s command of language, the fact that someone has lived to tell, and in her voice itself. Quanda Johnson is nothing less than regal, some kind of wise whole priestess, in her representations of truth and survival.

Comments are closed.