A Mouth Is Always Muzzled

Six Dissidents, Five Continents, and the Art of Resistance

A meditation in the spirit of John Berger and bell hooks on art as protest, contemplation, and beauty in politically perilous times

“Natalie Hopkinson has an established reputation as one of the most sophisticated commentators on contemporary black culture.”
—Mark Anthony Neal, author of New Black Man

As people consider how to respond to a resurgence of racist, xenophobic populism, A Mouth Is Always Muzzled tells an extraordinary story of the ways art brings hope in perilous times. Weaving disparate topics from sugar and British colonialism to attacks on free speech and Facebook activism and traveling a jagged path across the Americas, Africa, India, and Europe, Natalie Hopkinson, former culture writer for the Washington Post and The Root, argues that art is where the future is negotiated.

Part post-colonial manifesto, part history of the British Caribbean, part exploration of art in the modern world, A Mouth Is Always Muzzled is a dazzling analysis of the insistent role of art in contemporary politics and life. In crafted, well-honed prose, Hopkinson knits narratives of culture warriors: painter Bernadette Persaud, poet Ruel Johnson, historian Walter Rodney, novelist John Berger, and provocative African American artist Kara Walker, whose homage to the sugar trade Sugar Sphinx electrified American audiences. A Mouth Is Always Muzzled is a moving meditation documenting the artistic legacy generated in response to white supremacy, brutality, domination, and oppression. In the tradition of Paul Gilroy, it is a cri de coeur for the significance of politically bold—even dangerous—art to all people and nations.

Praise

“In Guyana, artists in the resistance movement are the keepers of the culture, the music, paintings, and poetry that can be a powerful source of healing from the generational trauma inflicted by slavery and racism. The same is true in this country. Or at least it should be.”
—Courtland Milloy, Washington Post columnist
A Mouth Is Always Muzzled is an inspired meditation on a land situated at the crossroads of empires and profiteers, still struggling to escape the legacy of its colonial past. Tracing the complex interplay of history and the present, Hopkinson portrays a culture both marred by domination and driven by stubborn luminaries who continue to perform ‘the unfinished work of liberation.’”
—Russell Rickford, associate professor of history, Cornell University, and author of We Are an African People: Independent Education, Black Power, and the Radical Imagination
“Powered by masterful writing and storytelling, A Mouth Is Always Muzzled is an instant classic that grapples with the essential questions for artists and all societies that profess to be democratic.”
—Sheryll Cashin, author of Loving: Interracial Intimacy and the Threat to White Supremacy
A Mouth Is Always Muzzled brings the art and politics of little-known Guyana into contemporary view. Natalie Hopkinson is breaking down national and artistic barriers. From John Berger to Kara Walker, Bernadette Persaud to Ruel Johnson and Walter Rodney, the aesthetic and resistant goals are familiar to all of us, even when the cultural context is not.”
—Lucy R. Lippard, author of Mixed Blessings: New Art in a Multicultural America
“This book places Guyana back in the news. For a country that has one of the world’s highest suicide rates, Hopkinson brings hope, insight, and reflection to the land of her roots. A Mouth Is Always Muzzled is a book of politics and culture. It’s a ‘lotus’ of a book, finding beauty beyond conflicts and differences. Hopkinson navigates history with a journalist’s eye. Her comments about the life and death of historian and activist Walter Rodney will make one weep for the black genius that was killed opposing exploitation and the heavy air of oppression. Hopkinson reminds the reader to sleep with one eye open. The stories coming out of Guyana are a reminder that borders and boundaries are obsolete. Hopkinson also provides us with a passport to our memories.”
—E. Ethelbert Miller, writer, literary activist, and 2016 recipient of the AWP George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature