In these intertwined essays on art, music, and identity, Aisha Sabatini Sloan, the daughter of African American and Italian American parents, examines the experience of her mixed-race identity. Embracing the far-ranging stimuli of her media-obsessed upbringing, she grasps at news clippings, visual fragments, and lyrics from past and present in order to weave together a world of sense.
Art in all forms guides the author toward understanding concepts like blackness, jazz, mortality, riots, space, time, self, and other without falling prey to the myth that all things must exist within a system of binaries. Recalling her awkward attempts at coolness during her childhood, Sabatini Sloan evokes Thelonious Monk’s stage persona as a metaphor for blackness. Through the conceptual art of Adrian Piper, the author is able to understand what is so quietly menacing about the sharp, clean lines of an art gallery where she works as an assistant. The result is a compelling meditation on identity and representation.
“Aisha Sabatini Sloan is interested in the moments and events when a single lifeline crosses through the concentration points of one’s times. She identifies the echo and images emanating from gesture, from drama, and—open-eyed—speaks to and for many.”—Barbara Cully, author, Desire Reclining
“The Fluency of Light makes a very valuable contribution to the literature of mixed-race identity in America. First of all, the childhood described is sane, happy, and loving. The downbeats and shadows belong to others who endured great difficulty but kept on working. These include Thelonius Monk, Ana Mendieta, Adrian Piper, and others the author encounters on her artistic and intellectual journey. Sabatini Sloan braids the lives of artists she admires with her own adventures and this way illuminates the generation of the eighties, particularly in LA, who came out of the post–Civil Rights period when grown-ups were still idealistic about integration and affirmative action, but carried suspicion around the house. She doesn’t pretend to have any solutions to the entrenched (because entirely visual) nature of racial separation, but the way she keeps going, herself, as a photographer, throughout the story underscores the message that doing art is essential to survival.”—Fanny Howe
“One of the most original, startling memoirs I have seen in the past ten years, Sabatini Sloan’s The Fluency of Light charts an entirely fresh course through the tangled territory of race and class in modern-day America. Each page offers fresh insight, unexpected information, crystal-clear thinking on the current cultural moment—a nation about to turn more brown than white, more mixed than ‘pure.’”—Dinty W. Moore, author, Between Panic & Desire