Gabrielle Civil

2016 Creative Capital as an Artist “On the Radar"


Photo credit: Dennie Eagleson

Photo credit: Dennie Eagleson

"Enjoy. Enjoy? Enjoy!” Perhaps this is Gabrielle Civil’s calculus for performance art, though I suspect that accuses her praxis of being too pat. Instead, Swallow the Fish discloses that the “Enjoy?”—that doubt, her sense that she’s maybe said or done the wrong thing—is catalyst and outcome. Thus, this remarkable book is a monograph and manual, a catalog and travelogue rendered as a progress of generative failures. An intimate showcase for Civil’s fierce eros, mordant humor, and intellectual appetites, Swallow the Fish is also a vital record of how a black woman moves through spaces where desire and aversion make equally rough contact. So, enjoy! But enjoy(?), too. —DOUGLAS KEARNEY, Mess and Mess and

This book paints a beautiful Black woman sky of possibilities. This book makes me want to perform/it makes me want to write-to holla-to hold it close. I love this book!
— SHARON BRIDGFORTH, Writer/Performing Artist

This book is so meticulous and so absorbing, I am in awe. It is declamation, reflection, proposal, documentation, blueprint. Gabrielle Civil is revealed as an artist perfectly poised to speak to how race, gender and sexuality enact embodied performativity. She writes and performs herself into history in ferociously intelligent and relentlessly personal ways. And I’ve never read such a perfect articulation of the turbulence of performing – the way that externalizing the possibility and conflicts of one’s body leaves you open and vulnerable to the quagmire of interpretation, misunderstanding and projection. How the specificity of identity mixes with desire to confound, comfort or disrupt public space. As with so many things that I love, I want everyone to read this book.
— MIGUEL GUTIERREZ, Performance Maker


As a black feminist performance artist, poet/writer, and community arts activist, I am passionate about art, identity, creative practice, and social change. With dynamism and verve, I have welcomed diverse audiences at universities, conferences, libraries, museums, and community centers. My artist talks, performance-lectures, and workshops tackle art & activism, black women’s creative expression, embodying justice, artful questions, body love, multicultural education, and experiments in joy. I have also facilitated book club conversations about my own book Swallow the Fish and juicy books by other authors. The aim of my work is to open up space.

Gabrielle Civil is a black feminist performance artist, originally from Detroit, MI.  She has premiered almost fifty original performance art works around the world including a year-long investigation as a Fulbright Fellow in Mexico and a trilogy after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Recent performances include “Q&A” (Chicago), “a ritual of nest and flight” (Toronto); and “…hewn and forged….” (Salt Lake City). Since May 2014, she has been performing “Say My Name (an action for 270 abducted Nigerian girls)” as an act of embodied remembering. Her art writing has appeared in The Third RailArt21Small Axe, and Obsidian. Her essays and translations have appeared in Something on PaperAster(ix), and Two Lines. Her memoir in performance art Swallow the Fish was named by Entropy a "Best Non-Fiction Book of 2017.” Her forthcoming book Experiments in Joy will engage race, performance, and collaboration. She earned her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from New York University and is currently Laura C. Harris Scholar-in- Residence in Women’s & Gender Studies at Denison University.