Welcome GSF Postdoc Chaunesti Webb

Headshot of light African American woman with a black top

Introducing Chaunesti Webb, the Gender, Sexuality & Feminist (GSF) Studies department postdoctoral associate for the year 2022-23. Self-described “artist-scholar-educator” Chaunesti has come back home. After earning her Ph.D. in Performance Studies at Northwestern University, she has returned to Durham, where she was born and raised.

Chaunesti credits her beloved family, community, and city for shaping her into the artist and scholar she is today. Coming from a family that supported her interest in the arts, she fell in love with theater by the seventh grade. And as the granddaughter of educators and organizers and a Black woman who grew up in a city with a “rich cultural tradition” and a “history of black innovation,” her scholarship is informed by the desire to make sense of the beautiful complexity of Black liberation projects.

Still excited by the work she produced in graduate school about Black women’s impact on Black performance traditions and the avant-garde performance canon in the US, Chaunesti is working on developing a manuscript from her dissertation project “Surreal Black Beauty: Risk, Difficulty, and Alterity in Contemporary Black Feminist Performance.” She asserts that her dissertation “aims to address absences in Black aesthetic discourse regarding theorizations of alternative Black performance aesthetics by investigating how Black female artists theorize and manifest risk and alterity to reimagine identity, forms of belonging, and care in contemporary Black life.” Performance and Black feminist theories are the principal analytical frameworks that anchor her project in which she argues “that contemporary performance by Black women performers that is experimental, emergent, conceptual, and challenges categorization, troubles conventional notions of the Black female body within the visual field and invite alternative responses to contemporary Black life lived in the wake.” Toward this aim, she engages with the work of artists such as Solange, Okwui Okpokwasili, and T.J. Dedeaux-Norris. She analyzes how they use their bodies to assert autonomy, claim space, and “renegotiate boundaries.”

Chaunesti not only studies how Black women challenge boundaries but does so herself. While she recognizes that producing scholarship can often be a lonely endeavor, as a scholar, she embraces community just as she does as an artist. She believes that GSF, especially under the leadership of Jennifer Nash, is a wonderful place to perform dynamic scholarship and collaboration. She participated in the inaugural Black Feminist Theory Summer Institute at Duke this summer, for a weeklong conversation with leading scholars in the field. She is working on developing a “Black Creativity Summer Lab/Institute” where students, scholars, and artists will gather and use Black feminist theory “to examine how embodied aesthetic performance can be a method of analyzing Blackness, gender, and sexuality.”

This work is also a part of her effort to re-acclimate with Durham. She says, “So much of the work that I feel like I'm engaged in right now is trying to find a new relationship to the city having been gone for seven years… I’m curious now to see how this space, this institution, this department, these people, this 2022-Durham will inform the next iterations of my work.”