I am quite confident that even as the oceans boil, and the hurricanes beat violently against our once safe shores, and the air sweats with the heat of impending doom, and our fists protest the denial of climate justice, that there is a path to take that has nothing to do with victory or defeat: a place we do not yet know the coordinates to; a question we do not yet know how to ask. The point of the departed arrow is not merely to pierce the bullseye and carry the trophy: the point of the arrow is to sing the wind and remake the world in the brevity of flight. There are things we must do, sayings we must say, thoughts we must think, that look nothing like the images of success that have so thoroughly possessed our visions of justice.
May this new decade be remembered as the decade of the strange path, of the third way, of the broken binary, of the traversal disruption, the kairotic moment, the posthuman movement for emancipation, the gift of disorientation that opened up new places of power, and of slow limbs. May this decade bring more than just solutions, more than just a future - may it bring words we don't know yet, and temporalities we have not yet inhabited. May we be slower than speed could calculate, and swifter than the pull of the gravity of words can incarcerate. And may we be visited so thoroughly, and met in wild places so overwhelmingly, that we are left undone. Ready for composting. Ready for the impossible.
Bayo Akomolafe (PhD), Teacher/Host
W H A T I S T H I S C O U R S E A B O U T ?
In the opening weeks of the year 2020, the world ended again: a mushroom cloud pierced through the sky with a brilliance that outshone a thousand suns. Unlike the devastating nuclear explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, this mushroom cloud was of an epidemiological variety. Nevertheless, it roared in its monstrous irruption, shooting out pulsating ripples of energy that creased the fabric of spacetime in their passing. And like the explosions that broke time and created the irradiated bodies of the ‘Hibakusha’ (atomic bomb survivors) 75 years ago, the novel coronavirus pandemic reconfigured everything. Airports shut down; nation-states urged lockdowns; the wildfires of protest sprouted in once tame places; the confident onward march of progress was halted. In the cloud’s fierce unfurling, we were left undone, our bodies inflected, our presumptions of stability unsettled, our regimes of visuality broken.
The material accusations of this pandemic explosion turned many of us into fugitives, criminal bearers of contraband questions, ironic bodies with bomb pulses ticking in our cells: we found ourselves incapable of returning to the normal, unable to fit neatly into the room along with the other furniture pieces of modern arrangements. Unable to keep walking forward.
Where do monsters and fugitives go when they are chased and accused by the surface? Where do they go when the flatness of the human has already purged the world of its bumps and grooves and sacred places? They descend to the underworld. They go through the cracks of their broken landscapes. They stitch their scandalous bodies with the darkness of the fissures. They take on new shapes.
They make sanctuary.
We Will Dance with Mountains: Let us Make Sanctuary is a hybrid course (online and offline practices), collective research inquiry, and cartographic project emerging on the heels of cataclysmic endings and strange inflections.
This course is ceremonial inquiry, collective sense-making, and prophetic exile. It is about unlearning mastery, becoming fugitive, and slowing down in times of urgency. It is a response to the questions that electrify our troubled skies:
“Where do we go when there’s no path forward? Where do we go when there is no hope? Where do we go when even justice feels threatening to our necks and our lives? Where do we go when we can't breathe? Where do we go when victory and salvation are huge risks to take? What might it mean to make sanctuary in these times?”
Weaving rich stories, African indigenous wisdoms, myth, critical theories and feminisms together to form an embroidered fabric of invitation and radical hospitality, the course seeks to substantiate a politics of becoming-animal that I feel is a powerful response to the impasses of our time.
This course has an ambitious goal: to break open the chalice of credentialed research and assemble a large trans-local agora of fugitive researchers, an underground action inquiry whose aim is to create a lively and breathing postactivism methodology for “making sanctuary”. Our shared research will be led by grandmothers, grandfathers, misfits, failures, ne’er-do-wells, overachievers, exhausted veteran activists who have relocated to hopelessness, not-quite-humans, young people, black bodies, white bodies, ancestral bodies, cyborgian citizens, and everyone between – especially those who sense through their brokenness that the way we respond to our crisis is the crisis. Sanctuary is no place for the completely whole. It is hospitality extended to the broken, those whose very bodies are corporeal prayers for the new and the unthought.
Tied to Bayo Akomolafe’s concept of “making sanctuary”, the longing of the course is to constellate these fugitives, gather all our materials and data points, and construct an approach/aesthetic that might help us move beyond the stuckness of our justice paradigms, the exhaustion of leftist politics and electoral dynamics, the self-referentiality of cancel culture, the limitations of intersectional theory and representationalism, the failure of catch-up imperatives that the so-called Global South depends on, our unyielding dependence on nation-states, and our imaginations coterminous with the status quo.
Without diminishing “the previous” or bypassing the tensions and gifts of present attempts to resist oppression and hold power to account (for instance, identity politics), we want to glimpse exquisite new worlds, new senses, new im/possibilities, different ways of wanting, longing and being together. The point is to get at a new idea – to cry for a vision together. To move beyond critique (without dismissing critique’s foundational place) and sit at the jaw of a black hole, a portal to other worlds. To fall apart/together. Such an undertaking – not to be confused with any effort to build utopias or save ourselves – requires rich theoretical work.
The course will include lectures/talks by Bayo Akomolafe, open discussions, exercises, one-on-one encounters, side events by partner organizations, and the ongoing prolificity of a research inquiry.
meet 'Bakhita': the heart of the course
In 1996, while renovating Mercedes Guimarães’s newly acquired home in the port area of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, hired construction workers dug up several bones. They thought these were the calcified remains of cats and dogs, but Mercedes felt otherwise. “Guimarães joined the worker in the backyard to see the bones. She dug through the dirt with her hands and unearthed teeth.” Guimarães, a 60-something Brazilian woman of Spanish and Portuguese heritage, told a reporter that she “looked at the teeth and immediately knew that they weren’t from a cat or dog. They were from humans” (From The Daily Beast).
She found not just one, but several human bones, belonging to at least 26 Africans, including children. As she would later discover, her home was built on top of an old cemetery where African slaves, weak and sickly from the grueling Atlantic crossing, were interred, their corpses squeezed together for lack of space. Mercedes wanted to remember them, to respect the almost 5 million slaves that disembarked in Brazil, and the 1.9 million that got off the ships in Rio. She created the free-to-visit Instituto Memória e Pesquisa Pretos Novos (Institute for the Memorial and Research of the New Blacks - IPN) – a partner of this course. It remains Rio’s only slavery museum.
One of those persons interred beneath Mercedes’s home was identified by archaeologists as a 20-25-year-old woman, whom the researchers would give the name ‘Bakhita’ after the famed Sudanese slave-turned Catholic saint. Bakhita’s unveiling in 1996 would prefigure the unearthing of a major slave port, the Valongo Wharf, in 2011, where hundreds of thousands of African bones were crushed along with discarded broken furniture and glassware in a mass burial ground of human and nonhuman bodies.
During a memorable speaking tour of Rio and São Paulo early this year, 2020, just before the pandemic exploded, I visited Mercedes and her husband, Petrucio, at the Museum. Mercedes told me stories about Bakhita and what she thinks of the mysterious woman found beneath her home. Mercedes strongly felt that the earth is opening her many mouths in many locations, and that bones are being unveiled everywhere beneath the oblivious flatness of modern progress. I agreed with her, stating that perhaps our work is to fall into those cracks. After our conversation, I went alone to sit by the open sore in the ground, the opening that unveiled other imperatives I had not known. The opening that was Bakhita.
There is a need for fugitive study that goes beyond the limitations of calling out power, whether it be patriarchy, racism, anthropocentrism, sexism, or ableism. There is a need for an approach that understands the agonistic forces that impinge upon bodies, and which restores the self as a current within a larger force field of agency. We need an edge of departure that heeds Bakhita’s invitation to come down beneath the surface. To wade in the water.
The research dimension of this course is named The Bakhita Project. It is my way of honouring this unearthed woman in the deep. Bakhita is a spectral figure central to my theoretical formulations of blackness as excess (which supplements, instead of abandons, Blackness as identity politics).
dates, times and course team
For three months, nine sessions, from October 18 to January 31, 2021 we'll join each other for live video sessions. (Those without video or internet access can join us by phone.) All sessions are recorded and temporarily available for participants.
There will be limited spaces for some people to speak one-on-one with Bayo in a deep listening session of your own design.
The sessions are 3 hours.
Live Sessions are held on the following Sundays at 8am PDT (San Francisco) | 11am EDT (New York) | 4pm BST (London) | 8:30 pm IST (India) | 2am AEDT Monday (Australia) | Please note that daylight savings in your time zone (8:30pm IST India is the anchor time).
Dates: October 18 | November 1 | November 15 | November 29 | December 6 | December 13 | January 10 | January 24 | January 31
T E A M
A E R I N D U N F O R D
Course Support and Well-being (Water)
Aerin Dunford is a writer, upcycling artist, urban farmer, experienced facilitator and yoga instructor. She is the Chief Basketweaver of The Emergence Network, and co-holds the vision for a growing movement in postactivism around the world.
O W O L A B I W I L L I A M
C O P E L A N D
Aesthetics Coalition Designer (Fire)
Owólabi William Copeland is a Detroit MC, poet, and cultural organizer. He is a divorced father of 1, an Orisha priest of Sango, and a grass roots organizer with a passion for bringing the liberation lessons of Detroit to global audiences. He is passionate about making soundtracks of resistance that touch mind, body, and spirit and organizing cultural exchanges to connect community artists.
Find his music here.
K A R E N L E U
Research Coordinator Principal and Administrator (Air)
Karen Leu likes spreadsheets and questions and stands by the incontrovertible fact that Taiwan has the best food in the world. She hates extreme wealth inequality, reactivity, and writing her own bios.
ethical considerations and frames
You are likely to meet persons on this course who do not subscribe to your thesis of social justice, who will not share practices that you consider to be well-established around gender and race, who may not see eye-to-eye, and who have different ideas that may be troubling to yours. You may believe that those persons’ beliefs reflect a domination or colonizing way of thinking, and you may or may not be right, or there may be a way of understanding that is beyond right and wrong. In any case, we invite you to make this meeting a site of research that allows for questions and unknown outcomes.
We hope that our community can collectively cultivate a space that holds many more questions than answers. A space that is tender, interesting and interested, charged, haunted, new yet ancient, exhausted yet fertile. This course may be called racist (or some other kind of ‘-ist’) by some and it may be labeled as "bypassing" by others, but perhaps there are other possibilities beyond these binaries as well.
We Will Dance with Mountains is not Euro-Americo-centric, but multi-perspectival and aspirationally decolonial. We want to lift up important cultural perspectives beyond those heavily shaped by European colonialism and US American imperialism. Our explorations will draw from happenings from different places in the world without dismissing the specificities of local concerns and places of power. We believe that engagement with these issues and social realities are important and we invite participants to embrace this engagement.
The organizing and research teams are also committed to our own learning journey and want to stay open to all that we don’t know and can never know. The tensions between some of the theses and research goals of the course: between a politics of visibility and imperceptibility, identitarian and molecular, are acknowledged – not treated as binary tensions but overlapping and supplementary possibilities. To this end, we do not dismiss identity politics, but seek to work within that space.
We wish to create plenty of room for divergent narratives to sit, perhaps uncomfortably, next to one another, while also insisting on a basic level of mutual respect. We also want to question the centrality of some of these narratives, including those that seek comfort in humanity’s oneness or that hold our different social identities as fixed, rigid objects. We want to lift up a complex, ever-changing, entangled world that contains multitudes. We encourage people to find their own ways of relating to what’s offered in ways that serve their journey. This may or may not mean agreeing with this body of work or continuing with the course.
Each session is framed as a provocative question, a reading of multiple theses and insights, exercises and conversation, prayer and silence and dance and performance – none of these things (nor the things that Bayo says) are to be understood as “Truth”; that would be a demotion! We invite disagreement with, and healthy challenges, to Bayo’s teachings. We distinguish a healthy challenge from an unhealthy attack in this way: the goal (conscious or unconscious) of a healthy challenge is to make all parties stronger, whereas the goal of an unhealthy attack is to take down or destroy. We deeply value participants’ emotional security and well-being and at the same time, we cannot promise safety.
Sanctuary in no way refers to a sense of safety. The community of participants will hold many differences in worldviews, politics, belief systems and backgrounds. If it’s important to you to be in spaces where you can trust that people will share the same political analysis or worldview, this is not the right place for you.
We Will Dance with Mountains is designed to be a highly experimental un/learning journey. The outcomes of this convergence are unknown and emergent.
In creating this container, we are consciously opening to the fugitive and the trickster, to the provocative, the unexpected, and the rogue – even with our longings to practice sanctuary-making (in the specific senses Bayo is using the concept).
Those of us on the organizing team imagine that the community of participants in this course will espouse many different cosmologies, worldviews, political opinions, cultural backgrounds, and so on. This may mean that tensions arise. These tensions can lead to new insights, possibilities, and connections; it can also lead to conflict, fragmentation, and even trauma. We ask that you try to hold these tensions generatively and experience them as potential places of growth.
We have developed a set of community guidelines to support us throughout We Will Dance With Mountains. See here for more information.
While each person is responsible for his/her/their personal experience, we also invite an awareness of our entanglements and our impacts on each other and the larger whole from the outset. We invoke the spirits of mutual care. Our intention is to create a context in which we can continually practice cultivating curiosity and skillful means within the complexity of our unfolding relationships. The organizing team also recognizes the importance of offering minimum, elegant structures to support the community in navigating challenges, conflicts and emotional difficulties that may arise from this experience.
One such structure is the WWDWM Care Team. The Care Team is a group of volunteers – and fellow participants in the course – dedicated to providing care and protecting this community in its intention to come together and create an experimental space. Care Team members are experienced in supporting conflicts and people experiencing strong emotions, especially in cross-cultural contexts. Care Team members are available to provide some emotional support and conflict support and will also moderate and respond to any concerning remarks within the community forum.
We Will Dance With Mountains is not a safe space, but we aspire to support one another and co-create a container (albeit a broken one) where we can all take risks together.
frequently asked questions
Live Main Sessions are held on the following Sundays at 8am PDT (San Francisco) | 11am EDT (New York) | 4pm BST (London) | 8:30 pm IST (India) | 2am AEDT Monday (Australia)
October 18 | November 1 | November 15 | November 29 | December 6 | December 13 | January 10 | January 24 | January 31
The live sessions are held via ZOOM, a video conferencing platform. You can participate via the Zoom program or application using a computer, tablet or cell phone. You can also call in via phone using one of many international dial-in numbers.
The course content including session recordings, readings, and any additional materials will be available on the website. We will also be creating a Mighty Networks platform for all course participants to serve as an optional place where participants can connect, dialogue, and share content with one another.
No. We would like to retain for ourselves some agency in determining those we feel are a right fit for this exploration. We have taken pains to identify those we feel are “called” to explore and research with us. Please take your time to acquaint yourself with these criteria. Potentially, this course applies to people of all races, bodily orientations, persuasions, faiths and ages. However, it is our suspicion that this course is likely to benefit those who feel politically homeless in these times, whose curiosities overwhelm their convictions, and who are capable of and willing to work with others within multiple formats (including agora conversations, provocative lecture-style/village talks by Bayo Akomolafe, experience-based exercises, research clusters and more). Additionally, we will hope for a culturally, cosmologically and geographically diverse class from around the world. We may not always be successful at making useful selections: like you, we are limited, embodied and situated. Our efforts are modest. But we will listen deeply and prayerfully, hoping that this moment - bigger than our boundaries and selection algorithms – will call those it seeks.
Live sessions are three hours long, at least twice a month. Between those sessions you might join a small group call or research meeting, and you may choose to participate in the online discussion (on Mighty Networks). In the past, we've had participants show up quite actively and gain immense insight. Others have participated in less active ways and still enjoyed the experience. We look to you to decide how much engagement will create the experience you desire. If you commit to the course and find yourself taken away by unforeseen circumstances, we do provide recordings of each session.
In the spirit of full disclosures, and in alignment with my own emergent (and imperfect) practices of living 'in the small and in the gift', I want to share that the costs of this course will go into paying for its setup, maintenance, and ongoing support. It will also go into supporting me and my extensive family of many mothers, sisters, children, and wife. This course is a creative and honest expression of my motivational and physical needs – a way I am privileged to open space for the otherwise while being sustained in the time-consuming work that it entails.
No. As a recovering academic, I am acutely aware of the way certain modes of learning exert such a claim on our attention, that we forget there are other ways of learning. Certificates, diplomas, and whatnot are aspects of a larger political-economic order that privileges a few to the exclusion of many, and grants access to abundance only by colonizing and occluding other paradigms of learning and well-being.
Regarding the curriculum, we run a fluid-structured learning format that is responsive to the emergent, spontaneous needs of participants. Instead of a cold curriculum that is about progression through topics, we have a compass of inquiries and shared adventures – a foretaste of which registered participants are furnished with. However, if you find you are only able to decide about participation based on the availability of the 'compass', do visit my website where a contact form is available.
R E F U N D S / W I T H D R A W A L P O L I C Y
Short of your personal displeasure with the content of the course and other unique cases (which we will consider deliberately if they arise) there are few occasions upon which we might easily provide refunds.
There’s an inescapable simultaneity involved with all the actors on this course: by offering this platform, we do not only ‘touch’ you, you touch us – and other participants. It’s a mutual infection. You will come to shape the course simply by showing up, just as much as the course will shape and mark you inexorably. As such, if something does happen along the way – precluding you from continuing our relationship – understand that you cannot be replaced.
So while we have no strict ‘no-refund’ policy as other online courses do, we invite you to consider that the energies you’d have brought with you, as well as the seat you’d occupy (often to the exclusion of other potential participants) represent real stakes.
We reserve the responsibility of turning down requests for refunds.
R E M O V A L P O L I C Y
In the interest of protecting this fragile and amorphous community and its intentions in coming together, we reserve the responsibility of removing individuals from the course who are disrupting the process in a way we deem destructive. Any decision to do so will be made very thoughtfully and with great reservation.