It brings me great, deep-rooted-joy to announce that the good people at Sandberg Instituut (Amsterdam) were excited about my pitch for a new temporary program and as of right now, I’m the director of the course Blacker Blackness. With this four-semester-course that will start in September 2021, we’ll focus on imagination as a method to decolonize, uncode and liberate representations of Blackness in art and design. Our research question for this four semester program is: “What are the questions you ask, your way of archiving, your use of existing archives and/or your selection of art when you center the interior lives, memories, connecting identities and lived experiences of Black people?” The main tutors are Ola Hassanain, Zawdie Sandvliet and yours truly. We’re excited to work with guest lecturers such as Books&Rhymes, Jennifer Tosch, dr. Charl Landvreugd, dr. Guno Jones, Richard Kofi and Mark Ponte.
– Monday February 22, from 20h-21h (Amsterdam time): Ola Hassanain and I are hosting a digital talk about the first two semesters of the program. If you’d like to attend, please send an e-mail to email@example.com so we can send you the ZOOM-link.
– Monday March 8 from 20h-21h (Amsterdam time): The last four guest lecturers will be announced during our digital presentation. During this session, we’ll also talk more about the third and fourth semester of the program.
– Thursday April 1: The deadline to register online. You can register by clicking here.
The four semesters
The Blacker Blackness course will analyze and develop research and artistic practices rooted in Black-centered imaginations. We’ll study and create artistic representations of Afro-European communities whose presence can be traced from the 15th century until today. While focusing on the interior lives, joys, refusals and everydayness of these Afrodiasporic communities, we’ll use imagination as a (re)centering tool.
The first semester of this two- year masters programme focuses on Afro-Europeans in the 16th, 17th and 18th century. What could artistic representations of their presence be if we centered, researched and imagined their interior lives and various forms of what Amal Alhaag and Barby Asante call “Black Togetherness”? In the following semester we’ll (re)read three novels: Segu by Maryse Conde, Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih and After the Dance: A Walk Through Carnival in Jacmel, Haity by Edwidge Danticat. From these works we’ll imagine and create uncoded representations of Afrodiasporic spiritualities as forms of hope and survival, the impacts of being uprooted and the social as well as the interior lives of enslaved people.
Next to writing the thesis, the second yearthird semester starts with researching how practices of decolonization, imagination, rejection and refusal -all of them amplified by technology in general and social media in particular- impacted not just the presence and art by but also positions of power of Black people. Our final semester focussesfocuses on final works and the social and political impact of sculptures, statues and other art pieces in public spaces.
Each semester is scheduled to close with a public event where the students present the storylines, collection of images and research questions they worked on.
The Blacker Blackness course requires a two year investment in decolonial, anti-racist, hype-free artistic representations of Blackness. The Temporary Programme welcomes students interested in literature and visual art by decolonial Afro-European, Afro-Caribbean and Africontinental writers, as well as those in dire need to picture and discuss Blackness in ways that aren’t solely linked to trauma, injustice or so-called street culture.
For updates, please follow @blackerblackness on Instagram and/or make sure to follow lazeefuik.com.
Her agreeing hhhmm sounded hollow, almost fading. She discretely rushed it past my point towards hers. “Sure. I mean, yes. Of course…” She cupped her drink the way one holds their breath right before uttering a word that completely dismisses the understanding they claim to have. One last sip, for emphasis. “But, the most important thing is that this city finally gets its first statue of a Black person!” Her exclamation point presented itself as an empty glass firmly planted on the table under her now crossed arms and my air piano-playing fingers. Undistracted from the Monk tune I was tapping, I informed her that, in the process of decolonizing, one doesn’t unpack justice in one single peel. To say it doesn’t matter who sculpts a statue that represents Blackness is to claim that it’s not important who tells our stories. It also suggests, and perhaps this troubles me most, that if white artists portray Blackness in their work they no longer have to burden themselves with the moral obligation to not just make space… but perhaps, and ever so silent, sometimes leave the room altogether.
I was reminded of this and many similar conversations about statues in Dutch public spaces when my Instagram and Twitter timelines buzzed with the news about Bristol’s latest monument. On the same spot where, days earlier, the image of a colonial terrorist was snatched off its pedestal there was now a towering image of a Black woman. When this first came to my attention, I hoped the new statue was the work of the Black British artist Thomas J. Price. Before I clicked on the post that would reveal the image of the statue, I took a moment. I took one of those “please, pleaaase…”-soaked moments where, before you open that e-mail or rip the wrapping paper, you hope that a dense enough manifestation of your desires will somehow affect what you’re about to see. I hoped for Price because I longed for the freedom he grants the realities he monumentalizes, I longed for a liberation from the gaze of artists whose imagination of our strength limits itself to the spectacle of our resistance. I wanted to see a woman who, if only for a split second, didn’t have to heavy her bones with the need to convince someone of what she already knows.
As I enlarged the image between my fingers I figured that this wasn’t the work of Price. Which, for me, would have been fine if the magnitude of the momentum, the impact of having the image of Black Lives Matter-activist Jen Reid replace that of a colonial terrorist, was at least held by the hands of a Black sculptor. It needed to have been a Black sculptor. The attention that is now given to a white artist, whose understanding of our liberation movement is limited to the calculation of how it can serve him, would have moved mountains for Black British artists.
Those who consider the claiming of space a “Survival of the fittest”-type of issue, will probably claim that this is simply a matter of whoever comes first, is first. Simple as that. In situations like this, I personally care nuffin’ about being first. It’s easy to be first when the only thing at risk is the relevance of your portfolio and when you don’t have to worry about the financial and material means to pull off a stunt like this.
A decolonial appreciation for and solidarity with Black people would have never resulted in the vulgar hijacking that took place. I hope more of us take the time to unpack what this moment meant and what future attempts like this will mean. What it means when white artists centre their work around Black people fighting for liberation. What it means when white artists document a pain, an exhaustion, a refusal, a rejection or a demand they will never fully understand and take these images to further carve out their names. What it means when white photographers at the Black Lives Matter protests continue to argue with Black people who don’t want their picture taken. What it means when white artists consider the memorialization of an important moment in the histories of Blackness and proclaim that it will be their honour to be The First to do this.
And I truly hope that the analyses of what we unpack create spaces for (re)imaginations that centre decolonial Black artists who craft images that are reflections and not interpretations of us. We owe this to ourselves, to who we know we are. And yes, we owe this to artists like Thomas J. Price who, in very clear terms, speak out against colonial hijackings ánd, to not add to our burdens, urge Black artists to not answer opportunism with haste.
(This picture is an example of Thomas J. Price’s work. I borrowed the image above from his Instagram.)