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Extraterrestrial Explorations

Performance artist Christopher Paul recasts the queer Black experience.

 
Christopher Paul (Photo by Frank Xavier)

Christopher Paul is an up-and-coming performance artist based in Houston. At only 27, his work has been featured in numerous publications, and he’s worked with leading performance artists nationwide. His art, be it wearable or performative, has been described as “meditative,” “Afro-futurist,” and even “extraterrestrial.” He will be featured in a September 19 event at the Eldorado Ballroom that will showcase his unique vision informed by his Black queer perspective.

Paul always knew he wanted to create art, but he wasn’t sure what form that should take. He was initially accepted as a fashion-design student at Central Saint Martins in London, one of the most prestigious art schools worldwide. (Famous alumni include John Galliano, Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, and Zac Posen.) But Paul quickly found out the tuition was unaffordable, so he went with his next choice—the University of Houston, which also allowed him to be closer to home.

While at UH, Paul found his calling. First, he began studying studio art and sculpture, something he hadn’t considered before. “I love sculpture more than fashion,” he says. “With fashion, you have to water down ideas in order to make them sellable. With sculpture, you can put everything you want to say into [your creations]. I learned how to express myself through sculpture.”

Paul then began to focus on Black speculative theory to explore the different ways that Black people exist outside of the terrestrial framework. “How do we in the Black community view ourselves—outside of the way the world views us? Black people have been left out. They haven’t been looked at as human beings. So if we have been left out of humanity, what exists outside of that? What have we done that transcends the human body?”

Christopher Paul performing in his art installation Earth Seed at the Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans (Photo courtesy)

These ideas motivated Paul to accept a residency at Rice University under the mentorship of performance artist Viktor le. Givens. He’s also worked alongside Jacolby Satterwhite, a contemporary queer artist known for his immersive installations and his work in pop culture and in music videos, such as with Solange Knowles on her album When I Get Home. At the UH Blaffer Art Museum, Paul teamed up with sound artist Mo Nikole to produce Transmigration Through the Void to No Place, which was unlike anything he had performed before. Because he wanted to show how Black people have been ignored, he avoided looking at the audience. “Black people perform for lots of reasons—to be entertainers, to make money. But more often than not, it is in white spaces that we haven’t had the right to be in. So I performed away from the audience,” he explains. “There was nothing in front of me when I performed. Everyone was looking at my back. It’s freeing.”

Now Paul has been invited to participate in the first annual Summer Studio Stages Residency at Project Row Houses (PRH). An integral part of the Houston arts landscape for 30 years, PRH encompasses five city blocks in Houston’s historic Third Ward, one of the city’s oldest African-American neighborhoods. The site’s 39 small houses and other structures (including the historic Eldorado Ballroom) serve as a home base to a variety of community-enriching art programs and neighborhood development activities, according to the PRH website.

While visual art is nothing new to PRH, this staged event at the newly restored Eldorado Ballroom will be. Paul and a few other local artists will showcase their work over three days in September. Each artist will perform for 30 minutes before speaking with the audience for another 30 minutes. There will be music, a reception, and lots of community engagement. The event is free and open to the public.

Christopher Paul (Photo by Frank Xavier)

Unlike his disengaged performance at the Blaffer event, Paul plans to actively engage with his Eldorado Ballroom audience. “There is a camaraderie that is unspoken within the Black queer culture,” he notes.

“Every Black artist comes into a sense of who they are through their work. How do I, as a queer Black man, fit within the framework of society? A lot of my work initially dealt with the stereotypes of my culture. It got to a point where I felt as though my work was “trauma porn” for other people. I wanted to know what exists beyond this. There has been so much joy that we, as Black people, have created by coming together within the terror of our dystopian realities. That is what I want my art to convey.”

Follow Paul’s work on ​​instagram @christopherpaulstudio. For more on Project Row Houses, visit projectrowhouses.org.

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David Brasher

David Brasher received his Masters degree in English from the University of Louisiana. He has contributed to national publications such as Instinct Magazine and Buzzfeed as well as local publications in Nashville. He moved to Houston in 2022 and spends his free time watching CNN and listening to true crime podcasts.
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