Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg
08.04 – 17.05.2017
The experience of freedom can be imagined through Afrofuturism. It’s a genre that engages with the black experience, past present and futures. Through this genre Tabitha Rezaire’s ‘Exotic Trade’ explores how blackness can be given new forms of possibility by attempting to curate her own fantasies and bringing them to life.
When entering the gallery, Rezaire’s works have been transformed into the cold interiors of some galaxy traveling vessel. Her works are mounted on fluorescents that bathe the onlooker. We are now in the future that Rezaire has foreseen. It is one where the black female form is not governed by shame. Her works exudes a sexuality unashamedly present. Her black bodies are transformed into Gods. She features images like multi armed beings, lotus flowers, pyramids, water and snakes, images that have spiritual significance within various religious
Like Afrofuturism, her works are very much imbedded in indigenous beliefs found within the continent. Yet Rezaire does not fall into the trap of seeing indigenous beliefs systems as a signal of a premodern past. Instead the use of the spiritual is a symbol of our transcendence as ‘the subjugated’. Her focus is on being the vessel of change. This is much reflected in her works with the recurring images of bodies in Kemitic yoga poses. For Rezaire one’s mind cannot be separated from the body. Through the practice of yoga the body is able to tune the mind in attaining higher levels of conscious. Yet Rezaire aims to also attain a political consciousness.
For her both the ‘political and spiritual’ are both a necessary part of her being. Her images are heavily political in their representation of sexuality, and the unashamedly naked body. Her works are dripping in the erotic. She bares her naked chest, a four armed goddess on water, the mistress of our lust wrapped in a pythons. She transforms herself into prophetic visions of black being. She becomes the woman who says “fuck you, but pay me”. This very same work shows her in a cat suite surrounded by gold but archeological artifacts. The work is headlined with the words “Bitch better have my money”. Yet under them the phrase, “Anti-capitalist chasing the money”.
Rezaire’s work straddles two opposing words. The need for agency and power to become what we can only dream and the realization that this is all just a dream. She is very much aware of the limitations of such representations. The very title of the exhibition reflects this in its name ‘Exotic Trade’. This space ship takes on a another image as we are reminded of the very trade ships that forcibly moved black bodies to be used in labor. Her work is very much aware of the history of the continent. She cannot control how those that see her work would do so to only objectify and fixate on the body exposed. She remarks how the very slave trade routes are where the fiber cables for internet are being laid. She talks about “I came up with the name of her exhibition as an inner joke but I doesn’t think that it is important. I don’t know. The concept of the exotic is something sticky to me. I’ve been exoticized but what I draw is also the exoticized”.
Yet what she also depicts is a the trade of knowledge. Her works strength comes from a need to make connections. She connects ancient knowledge systems to present needs. She connects the practice of gynecology to its historical use of slave woman bodies to further its research through her installation of a pink gynecological chair. She connects the cyber space with the systems of control. The internet “a means of control, conditioning us into global capitalist market, a form of cyber colonialism”. It’s through its wires that we are become disconnected from the real world whilst at the same time we are under surveillance, our online activities kept trace of.
“Nature and the womb are the original technology. The body is not reliable due to it being so disconnected. I aim to re-create the pathways within me. I don’t feel connected, my body is not mine. I am trying to reconnect”. Yet Rezaire sees technology and the body as a means to create new pathways towards the betterment of the self. “I feel that there is so much ore to learn, to connect, to be stimulated and inspired by.” Her method of self-actualization can only happen once we connect. Her work reflects this need through her use of lo-fi videos and collages that seek to remind us that technology is always present. Its presence can be the conduit for the own possibilities and her work seeks show what is possible through the black imagination.