“Sensual Excess: Queer Femininity and Brown Jouissance” by Amber Jamilla Musser— Reimagining Black and Brown Sensuality

Musser, Amber Jamilla. “Sensual Excess: Queer Femininity and Brown Jouissance”, (Sexual Cultures), NYU Press, 2018.

Reimagining Black and Brown Sensuality

Amos Lassen

In “Sensual Excess”, Amber Jamilla Musser reimagines black and brown sensuality to develop new modes of knowledge production. She examines the epistemologies of sensuality that emerge from fleshiness. She works against the framing of black and brown bodies as sexualized, objectified, and abject, and offers different ways of thinking with and through sensation and aesthetics. “Each chapter focuses on particular aspects of pornotropic capture that black and brown bodies must always negotiate. Though these technologies differ according to the nature of their encounters with white supremacy, together they add to our understanding of the ways that structures of domination produce violence and work to contain bodies and pleasures within certain legible parameters.”

She then analyzes moments of brown jouissance that exceed these constraints. These breaks illuminate multiple epistemologies of selfhood and sensuality that offer frameworks for “minoritarian knowledge production that is designed to enable one to sit with uncertainty.” Using examinations of installations and performances like “Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party, Kara Walker’s A Subtlety, she unpacks the relationships between racialized sexuality and consumption to interrogate foundational concepts in psychoanalytic theory, critical race studies, feminism, and queer theory.” This then is a project of knowledge production focused on sensing and imagining otherwise, whatever and wherever that might be.

This book, therefore, is a model for how to read, engage, think with, and celebrate black, brown, feminist, queer, and sex-centered art practices. It is a sustained argument for and celebration of the sensual politics of work by artists like Xandra Ibarra, Mickalene Thomas, Nao Bustamante, and Lyle Ashton Harris. The writing centers on the performative space of the encounter with art objects and practices and we then see black and brown life unfolding not only in these artworks but also around and through them. Musser’s uses material detail of these works, their vitality, their philosophical intensities, and their ecstatic and transformative potential. In effect, this is a consideration of various representational strategies employed by artists of color in order to rewrite what they have been forced to accept.