UIC Museum Studies alum Devin Malone reflects on the importance of self-care, what it means to care for your community, and the complex relationship between self-care and capital. Developed and organized by the 2017 Exhibition Practices class in the UIC Museum and Exhibition Studies program, Make Room re-situates self-care and collective healing as a fundamental component of resistance.
The introductory text of Make Room situates self-care as a collective, anti-capitalist practice. It is easy to dismiss this assertion as millennial mumbo-jumbo, especially considering persistent journalistic efforts to chide this generation for its frivolity. It requires considerably more effort to unpack what it means to care for one’s community—an inseparable facet of the elusive “self”—in times of struggle. Understanding the importance of self-care requires an honest look at the world we live in, and how for many of us, “times of struggle” can last generations. As a fat, Black, non-binary queer person, there are numerous threads through which I can trace a lineage of struggle. The marking of my body does not cease when I enter art institutions, but is instead amplified by these sites where an emphasis is placed on aesthetic value—a concept that has historically and intentionally excluded bodies and lived experiences like mine.
So, yes, self-care matters here.
The Mexican Healthcare Plan
Still, the relationship between self-care and capital is complex. Self-care becomes one of few options when healthcare is most accessible to those with access to capital. The other day I ran across a meme shared by a friend that read, “The Mexican Healthcare Plan.” Below the heading, Vicks VapoRub, 7-Up, soup, and a veladora (candle) featuring the Virgin Mary formed a grid of images. The meme was shared by a non-Mexican Black man, which revealed to me a sort of familiarity with inaccessibility that has long been commonplace in Black and Brown communities especially. Undergirding the sharing of the meme was a shared visual language of medical disenfranchisement.
"The Waiting Room Teen Apprentice," part of
Simone Leigh: The Waiting Room, 2016. Courtesy of New Museum, New York.
In 2016, Simone Leigh: Waiting Room at the New Museum in New York City presented a similar familiarity. Leigh drew inspiration from the death of Esmin Green, a Black woman who, after 24 hours waiting in a psychiatric emergency room in Kings County Hospital, was found dead on the floor. While official reports of Green’s death would cite the cause as a pulmonary embolism, murder by medical neglect would be more sufficient. Though Esmin Green’s life was much more than that, the circumstances of her death provide a tragic and all too common example of the destruction of a body deemed disposable. Her story is one that reiterates the importance of care. Individualism and commodification have distorted the collective aims of self-care, and the dismissal of self-care as self-indulgent triviality is consistent with the white supremacist, patriarchal, and capitalist patterns of mockery the marginalized face when we have the audacity to survive despite these systems.
To care for your body is to care for my body, and to do that is to believe in a future.