Black Performance on the Outskirts of the Left

A History of the Impossible

248 pages

24 halftones

August, 2017

ISBN: 9781479837038



Add to Cart Available: 7/28/2017

Also available in


American Studies

Part of the Sexual Cultures series


Malik Gaines is Assistant Professor of Performance Studies in New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and a member of the performance group My Barbarian.

All books by Malik Gaines

Articulates the role black theatricality played in the radical energy of the sixties 

Black Performance on the Outskirts of the Left illustrates the black political ideas that radicalized the artistic endeavors of musicians, playwrights, and actors beginning in the 1960s.  These ideas paved the way for imaginative models for social transformation through performance. Using the notion of excess—its transgression, multiplicity, and ambivalence—Malik Gaines considers how performances of that era circulated a black political discourse capable of unsettling commonplace understandings of race, gender, and sexuality. Following the transnational route forged by W.E.B. Du Bois, Josephine Baker, and other modern political actors, from the United States to West Africa, Europe and back, this book considers how artists negotiated at once the local, national, and diasporic frames through which race has been represented. 

Looking broadly at performances found in music, theater, film, and everyday life—from American singer and pianist Nina Simone, Ghanaian playwrights Efua Sutherland and Ama Ata Aidoo, Afro-German actor Günther Kaufmann, to California-based performer Sylvester—Gaines explores how shared signs of racial legacy and resistance politics are articulated with regional distinction. 

Bringing the lens forward through contemporary art performance at the 2015 Venice Biennial, Gaines connects the idea of sixties radicality to today’s interest in that history, explores the aspects of those politics that are lost in translation, and highlights the black expressive strategies that have maintained potent energy. Black Performance on the Outskirts of the Left articulates the role black theatricality played in the radical energy of the sixties, following the evolution of black identity politics to reveal blackness’s ability to transform contemporary social conditions.


  • “Malik Gaines’s artistry and intellection is so important to me that I can scarcely remember a time now when both didn’t influence my own. Black Performance on the Outskirts of the Left is alive with what is essential to Gaines’s way of seeing and thinking: politics, race, sexuality, and the theater of being. An important contribution on any number of levels, including man’s further understanding of man, with and without masks. A wonderful achievement.”

    —Hilton Als, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Criticism and theater critic for the New Yorker

  • “Every reader interested in the sexual and revolutionary politics of black feminist and queer performance needs to read Malik Gaines’s Black Performance on the Outskirts of the Left. This examination of 1960s music, theater, film, and experimental performance scenes is detail-rich, sophisticated, and sharp. One emerges from this text inspired—while we must look to the margins to find these black, queer, and feminist artists who have navigated difficult revolutionary and post-revolutionary waters, in moving toward them we move in the direction that the left needs to go.”

    —Jennifer Doyle, author of Hold It against Me: Difficulty and Emotion in Contemporary Art

  • "Malik Gaines’s position as both a practitioner and a scholar lend a unique depth to this study...[His] text reveals a striking sensitivity to the subtle frequencies on which black performance operates and is an important addition to the expanding black performance studies canon."

    The Journal of American Drama and Theatre

  • "Rhetorically and structurally, this [book] provides a fascinating coda. Histories and theatrical legacies of black not exist solely on the page or in the brick-and-mortar archive but are embodied and reexamined through live performance."

    PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art