Interseminars Spotlight: Nathalie Sofia Martinez

Nathalie Sofia Martinez (Anthropology) is a member of the 23–24 graduate cohort for “Improvise and Intervene,” the second Interseminars project funded by the Mellon Foundation. She shares some insights about her experiences with Interseminars below—in a creative format following the spirit of the project’s theme.

How has your understanding of “improvisational practice” evolved over the course of this fellowship so far?

[FALL 2022]


/verb/ a type of performance practiced by dancers, musicians, and other creative performers; a mode of survival used by marginalized communities to navigate, negotiate, and resist within different social, political, and linguistic contexts

/noun/ a performance spontaneously created in the moment without prior preparation or practice.

Before Summer 2023, my thoughts of improvisation centered on stories de mi comunidad and my experiences. I thought about the improvisations of jazz musicians I attempted to emulate as a teenager; codeswitching between Spanish, English, and Spanglish whether I was in class at UNLV or at La Pulga in North Las Vegas (AKA Broadacres Marketplace); and the migration stories of family and community members collectively navigating and crossing surveilled border regions. Since then, my engagement and practices throughout the Interseminars fellowship have pushed me to continue thinking beyond the conventional grammars that frame “improvisational practice.” Thinking with and in dialogue with creatives Tara Aisha Willis and Damon Locks, specifically, brought me to think about the rigor of improvisation and the “critical intimacies” found within collectives such as the Black Monument Ensemble. Particularly now as we continue to co-witness ongoing evisceration, violence, and dispossession, my reflections on the stakes of improvisation have only been strengthened. It is a strategy being put to the test daily. As an interdisciplinary collective, Interseminars has been a space for me to experience the embodied and relational work of improvisation and continues to be one where we continue to collectively build knowledge and affective reflections.

[SPRING 2024]

Im-pro-vi-sa-tion (a definition in expansion)

/verb/ an embodied and intrapersonal practice of moving and breathing through a new yet familiar pattern that is felt at cellular levels

/noun/ a set of motions that have the potential and force for political and social transformation

/affect/ an impulse and pull towards an expression that stems from within; a response to a call simultaneously from within and outside ones’ self

How has the Interseminars Initiative impacted the way you approach your research?

The Interseminars initiative has empowered me to give myself permission to break from the conventional frames of “research.” Collaborating among dancers, geographers, gamers, and artists has shown me how it is that we each uniquely process and communicate our experiences and knowledge. It has widened and affirmed my understanding of research as going beyond the “peer-reviewed” and “academic” journals that have for too long limited the scope “knowledge” and who gets to be included in the process of knowledge production as an “expert” or “intellectual.” These include Berta Cáceres, bell hooks, Steven Salaita, Esperanza Martínez, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, and George Jackson to name a few. These individuals and our collective dialogues have re-affirmed my responsibility to the projects and collectives I am in relation with and learn from. Beyond thinking more interdisciplinarily across community-based research methods, performance studies, and queer studies, I have also pivoted towards the critical shifts that are shaping our conjunctural moment. These improvisations and interventions are practices that have and will continue to shape and motivate my research practices.

Can you describe a group interaction or activity from Interseminars that has been particularly memorable?

A group activity that has been particularly memorable for me was the first day we met one another and came together as a collective in May 2023. The conveners invited us to bring an item that represented our research and our motivations to come to graduate studies. It was our first practice of storytelling and sharing with each other. It was a space of vulnerable revisiting, retelling, and renewing ourselves to the foundations of our “whys,” particularly as students who identify with historically marginalized groups. Since then, we have had several moments of vulnerability. Whether it was through moments of critical individual reflection or collective moments of circle keeping in the grass, these moments of vulnerability have served as moments of self-discovery and moments of collective tension. Vulnerability in collective work is difficult, however, this experience has taught me that part of the work of building meaningful projects in relationality and in care with one another is doing this necessarily, rigorous affective labor.

How will you bring interdisciplinary collaboration into the next phase of your graduate school experience?

As I enter my third year as a PhD student in Anthropology, interdisciplinary collaboration for me will take a necessarily “undisciplined” form. Interdisciplinary collaboration extends beyond the institutional “disciplined” spaces. Given the community-driven and -guided nature of the Q’anjob’al [Maya] language reclamation projects and activist projects que acompaño and collaborate with, I am fully aware that the need for Interdisciplinarity as a means for creative and non-traditional thought is critical to the path towards liberation. Coming from Interseminars, I find myself much more confident in these political and social commitments as well as my intentions to bring my affective and full self into the work. I am indebted to the fellows, conveners, and guests we have had throughout this fellowship. They are part of my creative and intellectual genealogy. They are within my daily commitments.

A daily commitment to this conjuncture and think anti-disciplinarily (Hall 2010 & Rana 2023-24).

A daily commitment to laugh and find humor in the traditions of disciplines (Roy 2023-24).

A daily commitment to fugitivity and my affective body (Velásquez-Estrada 2023-24).

A daily commitment to surrender to play and creativity (Rasheed 2024).

A daily commitment to my body and life’s sweet joys (Bowie 2023-24).

A daily commitment to art woven through my intimate self and communities (Willis & Locks 2023).

A daily commitment to the people I bring with me and learn from (Kashani 2023-24).

A daily commitment to imagine and speculate other futurities (Fields 2023-24).

A daily commitment to intervene walls and spaces (Moscoso 2023-24).

A daily commitment to land, water, and territory (Barker 2024).

A daily commitment to collectively build and create freedom: “freedom is a place,” (Abing 2023-24 & Gilmore 2022).

A daily commitment the power of storytelling and Black feminist praxis (Watkins 2023-24).

A daily commitment to the art of representation & collaboration (Obanubi 2023-24).

A daily commitment to radical thought and reading insurgently (Rodriguez 2023).

A daily commitment to multimodal unconventionalism (Gonzalez 2023-24).

A daily commitment to show up and do the work relentlessly and “dangerously,” (Morris 2023).

A daily commitment to challenge the grammars that define “the discipline,” (Martinez 2024).