Sami Schalk, #QuarantineLooks: Embracing the Fabulously Mundane, 2020 C-print, Courtesy of Sam Waldron/Dutcher Photography 24 x 36 inches each
Sami Schalk, Becoming a Pleasure Artist: Pleasure is the Point, 2022 C-print, Courtesy of Sam Waldron/Dutcher Photography 24 x 16 inches each
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Sami Schalk (b. 1986) (she/hers) is a pleasure artist and an associate professor of Gender & Women’s Studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison who celebrates and centers pleasure as a tactic for healing and liberation. Her scholarship focuses on disability, race, and gender in contemporary American literature and culture. Schalk’s newest book, Black Disability Politics (Duke UP 2022) focuses on disability politics in Black activism in the post-Civil Rights era.
How does disability create knowledge essential to surviving a global pandemic? One answer: joy. As an act of pleasure activism and self-care during the pandemic lockdown, Schalk began posting images of herself on social media with sparkly new hairstyles, outfits, and facemasks. The act of dressing up to handle ordinary tasks such as walking the dog or taking out the trash sparked delight and connection with strangers and friends. In her words, “joy begets joy begets joy.”
Photographs from Sami Schalk’s #QuarantineLooks: Embracing the Fabulously Mundane (2020) and her boudoir series Becoming a Pleasure Artist: Pleasure is the Point (2022) insist on joyful visibility for her fat, Black, queer, femme body. They likewise challenge what depression looks like and interrogate what it means to look well or unwell. Melding the politics of both public and private space, Schalk asserts that wherever there is pleasure there is power. Here, pleasure activism is underscored as a tactic for care and resistance.
For Chapter 2 of Indisposable: Structures of Support After the ADA, Schalk created a video essay based on her original “lewks” entitled #QuarantineLooks: Embracing the Fabulously Mundane. During the chapter, Schalk and scholar Jina Kim discussed the importance of pleasure activism and modeled several different looks of their own. They also invited audience members to share ideas about what brings them joy during pandemic, and to show off their own fabulous fashion choices. Comic artist MK Czerwiec live-illustrated the event, adding to the exuberance of the occasion.