My work is about creating platforms, specifically digital, for people to acknowledge that offering talents from a nonnormative outlook is to be made alien. By utilizing spaces such as NewHive and Tumblr, I am able to create digital healing centers and expressions centered around the themes of surveillance, the othered body, queerness, and black existence without relating directly to concepts of whiteness. Our exchange (Kemi’s and mine) is about love and respect for one another, a desperate desire to make the work we find vital, and is about the fatigue we feel within the outdated parameters presented to us. Through digital and social media platforms, I am able to construct communities which riff off of energies from others who feel this way.
In 2017 I was invited by Julia Greenway to have my second solo show, at Interstitial Gallery in Seattle. She mentioned it would be attached to a residency at the University of Washington, and while I was immediately on board, the idea of offering my knowledge to graduate students while having never completed a degree at an institution for higher learning was thrilling—in both senses of the word.
But, in stepped Kemi by way of email detailing the concept of the residency program she directs, The Black Embodiments Studio. BES is a critical arts writing residency that connects contemporary artists, curators, and writers within and beyond the academy to explore investigations of blackness; it is a capsule in time, an opportunity to reach out as your most dignified self in experimentation and transparency. My corresponding exhibition hinged upon Kemi’s intentions of enlivening her students with progressive work from unrepresented voices made bold, and this pushed me to create from a place where I was allowed to be my own pupil and professor. Kemi silently challenged me to turn art into lecture and coddled me with reassurances the entire way. Through Kemi’s encouragement, it was made clear that this experience was not a moment of self-aggrandizement by way of a validating academic platform. It was, in reality, a heart-to-heart—an expansion on the conversations being had online by all like-minded individuals and myself, an ethereal body the dialogue could be guided by.
It was the beginning of our collaboration in a more intentional context, but by virtue of our individual pursuits for truth as we knew and sought to define it, our work has always been in harmony. While Kemi’s medium as an academic allows her to manipulate language and bind us to her spells, as an artist, I supply the herbs and chicken bones to our cauldron. Double, double, toil and trouble was written with us in mind, and we’ve shared cryptic anecdotes to our antidotes that confirm the sincerity of our partnership. Our collaboration in these pages is a snapshot of such a witches’ brew. It is inspired by selected visuals from virtual scrapbooks of online content, created by Kemi and others (such as Xaq Koal, an internet friend and digital curator), that reflect my own victories, fears, moments of intimacy, and shitposts. These images, paired with Kemi’s musings and motivated by a shared appreciation for a troll’s tone, together birth the Ouroboros those reading this publication are now bearing witness to.
One of the only frameworks we have for understanding blackness in the US is in relation to whiteness. It is perceived as the opposite of whiteness, the inverse of whiteness, the absence of whiteness, as antagonistic to whiteness. When you are a person who is marked by blackness, a whole host of subtle and explicit expectations accompany this framework. Namely, there is a certain kind of intellectual demand that black people be the ones who labor to reveal this very relation of black to white, that we must be the ones who continually map out the ways that whiteness is the violent, structuring condition of our everyday lives. This demand is accompanied by an equally pervasive demand that we take on the labor of generating culture (music, art, writing, sports, leftist political movements, etc.) in a white supremacist landscape that has always profited off of our bodies.
In short, we are tasked with not only challenging the sovereign domain of whiteness but providing alternative visions to it: it becomes our work to produce conceptual content, including online conversations, that push white people forward in the understanding of how whiteness and white supremacy operate/function/survive/thrive. It should go without saying that many of us are tired of this work. Not only tired of the expectation that it is our work to do (it isn’t) but tired of the ways that our creative output is seemingly endlessly framed as always or inherently doing this work—whether we say it is or not.
Some of us are done with it. Some of us are not working for or toward any conversation, revelation, or re-visioning of the “default” (white supremacy in digital drag). We instead craft closed networks, maybe better understood as networks of closed intelligibility, that are made for and in conversation with the systems of desire that accumulate amongst black and black queer people.
These are often diffuse online networks of images, texts, sounds, feelings, and environments where sight lines and horizon points are undeniably black. This does not mean that only black people can access them—it means that they do not extend outward to white nodes or reference points. They do not explicitly converse with whiteness except in that they provide black people access to ways of thinking, feeling, and being that are certainly required to survive whiteness. This thinking beyond does in fact take some work, though. The networks of images, texts, sounds, feelings, and environments serve (must serve?) a kind of pedagogical function: they help us to understand how and where to desire beyond, not to overdetermine desire but to provide support structures for living amidst yet remaining critically skeptical of white supremacy’s structuring of everyday life.
Sometimes this is, of course, desire for another person (but remember that desire is itself a network and does not always accumulate in single or stable end points). Other times it is desire on behalf of another person (e.g., that Kanye will return to his black-ass self). It is a desire for the self and the self’s own well-being, which must be fortified from the very impulse to always pose oneself in relation to whiteness (learning to do simple things like feeling where our bodies are thus becomes necessary). This desire for a blacklife as the only life is basically like learning how to feel some type of way (blk ppl will understand). It is learning how to see, hear, and feel way black. The way to black. Even if it lasts only as long as the time it takes to scroll through a feed before you have to look up again and there you are, everywhere and nowhere.