From Sami Schalk’s #QuarantineLooks (ongoing) (image courtesy Ford Foundation Gallery; photo by Sam Waldron, Dutcher Photography, @robandsamphoto)

Amid the bleak landscape that has been 2020, finding moments of brightness and pleasure has been an understandable challenge. For Sami Schalk, a Black and disabled writer and professor, navigating the physical and emotional strain of the pandemic has proved particularly challenging. Enter her multi-part project, #QuarantineLooks: Embracing the Fabulously Mundane, soon to be presented as part of the ongoing exhibition Indisposable: Structures of Support After the ADA, now online via the Ford Foundation Gallery.

Begun as a way of combating her own depression, Schalk’s project revels in taking simple yet transformative steps towards feeling good. Cultivating an aesthetic she refers to as the “fabulously mundane,” she began styling herself in glamorous outfits and makeup as a means of tending to her own mental health, while also rejecting the need to perform “looking sick” — a frustrating, ableist expectation often foisted upon disabled folks as a precursor for receiving care or validation. Sharing images of herself on her Instagram and eventually teaming up with photographer Samantha Waldron likewise helped Schalk stay connected with friends and loved ones while living and working in pandemic-induced isolation. 

From Sami Schalk’s #QuarantineLooks (ongoing) (image courtesy Ford Foundation Gallery; photo by Sam Waldron, Dutcher Photography, @robandsamphoto)

Schalk considers her project as one which builds on the work of adrienne maree brown, who coined the term “pleasure activism” as a means of affirming the importance of seeking and experiencing pleasure as a marginalized person, considering the ways in which such acts are often denied or policed. As curators Jessica Cooley and Ann Fox explained to Hyperallergic, the project “is a call to embrace our bodyminds as always already being a site for celebration and radical love. This is especially true for queer, BIPOC, and disabled people whose appearance both in private and public spaces has a long history of being policed or erased by the ongoing violence of eugenic and white supremacist ideology.”

For the exhibition Indisposable, which centers experiences of disability amid the pandemic and struggles for racial justice, Schalk will debut a video essay about her project, followed by a conversation with fellow disability studies scholar Jina B. Kim. 

Participants are encouraged to wear what makes them feel “fabulous” to enjoy a break from the humdrum of the everyday. As Schalk offers,  “I hope participants take away some joy and a deeper understanding of why pleasure politics and pleasure matter so much, especially for multiply marginalized people.”

When: November 18, 1–2pm EST

Where: online, via the Ford Foundation Gallery

See the Ford Foundation Gallery for more info

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Dessane Lopez Cassell

Dessane Lopez Cassell is a New York based editor, writer, and film curator, as well as the former reviews editor at Hyperallergic. You can follow her work here.