I have been thinking about the world being in a state of darkness, feelings of hopelessness, anger and pain during global outrage, and the perhaps futile purpose of art during times of insurgency.
Nolan Oswald Dennis’s words came to mind, talking about Aporia III (2016), a square-prism column blanket with rays of light running parallel along its top and bottom sides:
“I was attracted to inverting the relationship between light and dark. So, for me the question of light became a question of darkness and I thought of darkness as a basic state; darkness as a state of peace and therefore light as a disruption and I thought of the minimum amount of light you would need in order to know that the darkness is over. I think the tension between the position of darkness as a promise; light as something to praise, points to a kind of ambiguity that pervades any notion of development.”
What if darkness is peace and light is the disruption? Dark and light become the reversal of what they are commonly known to represent, light, a piercing pain, puncturing peace. It is light that interrupts, robs us of solace and comfort, holding its violence in reserve. Perhaps there’s an explanation from Teju Cole: darkness is not empty. It is information at rest. According to Dennis, this darkness exists as black consciousness. Darkness is a communal space, interconnected, interlinked and intertwined. Darkness is an endless cosmic abyss of ‘radical empathy and radical entropy, a tactic of black entanglement’ ― and light is something that disturbs its concord.
Black Liberation Zodiac (2017) is a constellation of elements: video, prisms, drawings, and symbols spanning across time and cultures, pursuing a non-linear narrative. Civil rights movements collide with the cosmos to create a political science fiction and a radical program for land occupation (as written in the stars). Dennis maps liberation movements based on star patterns and constellation charts using astrology as a functional system where star-signs exist as iconography used in black liberation languages around the world. A systematic approach combines politics and science where blackness meets wonder and dreams in many possible worlds.
Gazing beyond Dennis’ Black Liberation Zodiac and the cosmic abyss lies one of the oceans where worlds within worlds collapse within a bottomless pit in the sea. Electronic colonialism displays itself through ‘the world is ending’ Afro-futurist Y2K aesthetics. The decolonial spiritual interweb is a constellation of moving images at the bottom of the ocean.
‘The West actually needs new spaces to conquer. When they do not exist, they must be created. Enter cyberspace’
Tabita Rezaire’s video essay Deep Down Tidal (2017) describes one of the main ways in which colonialism maintains hegemony over the rest of the world through the internet acting as a server for digital colonisation of the mind. The west establishes dominance over the internet and many countries in the global south become electronically colonised by being force-fed eurocentric knowledge through globalisation legitimised by modernity and ‘technological advancement’. The data travels via submarine fiber optic cables underwater, which are responsible for carrying phone calls, websites, emails, emojis, memes and videos across waters. The optic cables vein the same routes established by colonists. ‘Same paths, same stories, same pains. Our waters need healing, as they carry trauma. Water is a technology; water is a communication interface’. Technology is read alongside spirituality and married by memes.
Rezaire’s work reminds us that healing is a very necessary process as part of the decolonisation of knowledge structures and systems. As the personal is political, decolonisation is also often spiritual. Her videos are a technological-psychological-spiritual introspection on the political way we take in the world in line with our personhood. Healing waters, healing systems and healing ourselves: to heal is to decolonise.
The failure of imagination in this fallacy of a Rainbow Nation
Bogosi Sekhukhuni’s ‘Simunye Summit 2010’ (meaning ‘we are one’ summit) creates a South African science fiction hxstory in KWAAL world (loosely translated on the streets as ‘jealous’), located in a parallel universes next to ours that is decades ahead of our reality:
‘Advances in biological and geological subtle energy systems, as well as Bantu mathematics and philosophies, contributed to the development of high technologies that have attracted the awe of many.’
It is a world where Mandela passed away in the 1980s and Biko is rescued by time-travelling freedom fighters, liberating the chosen ones from the Apartheid Matrix and its Overlords. A new Matrix was put in place called Rainbowcore or The Republic of South Africa, selling the idea of false unity and illusions of socio-political, economic and spiritual freedom. Works such as Dream Diary 1 emphasize a nightmarish, fatigued and distorted reality of a rainbow nation making use of tv adverts on SABC 1, 2 and 3 of the early democratic era.
Sekhukhuni is a part of CUSS GROUP, a site that looks like a post-internet pop-up advert page. CUSS is aware of the exclusionary nature of institutional spaces and challenges this by having exhibited work online, in shops and from the boot of a car.
Kumnyama la/It’s dark here (2017) explores the intersectional unresolved issues within the rainbow nation such as the housing crisis and climate change. The work examines the corrupt and neoliberal forces behind the (failure of) political imagination and izinyokas (‘snakes’, whom the government has criminalised for protesting the system) to highlight the fact that compromising for the sake of transition upholds a colonial present. ‘Tactics and technologies of military urbanism are used to both persuade and coerce restive populations.’ This is quite obvious today in the cases of police brutality and violence against the most marginalised communities by SANDF.
Sekhukhuni, Rezaire and Dennis are similar in that they use politics comparatively to the organic spiritual world by ways of African philosophies and science to communicate a black political scientific imagination. It seems as if their works traverse different dimensions yet intersect in a realm of the universe.
Considering the thread of connectivity that follows these artists’ work, it isn’t surprising that Rezaire, Dennis and Sekhukhuni have a collective together called NTU. NTU exposes the other worlds that we have not been told of as a result of colonial erasure and indoctrination.
‘NTU is a therapeutic practice rejecting binary imperial reality, and affirming entangled cosmological systems of reality emerging from an African high technology.
NTU seeks to disseminate an awareness of African sciences and technologies. Interested in technologies of epistemic liberation and cultures of scientific enquiry, the group seeks to claim agency as advanced technological beings, consciously resisting co-option – internalised or imposed – from white, reptilian, heteronormative patriarchal imperial power structures.’
Pictured on NTU’s webpage is ‘I participate, therefore I am’ remixing a term from Western philosopher Réne Descartes, ‘I think, therefore I am’, putting forward a mode of thought that values participation of people of colour to speak themselves into existence free from a colonial internet presence. Community over individualism, and Bantu philosophy over western epistemology.
Argentinian semiotician Walter Mignolo terms ‘decolonial options’ as invoking many worlds and acknowledging that not one world exists as a parallel to decolonisation, and that there is not one answer but rather multiple ways of finding an entry point so one may adapt in order to think about decoloniality, eliminating the tendency to pretend that Western European modes of thinking are universal. Sekhukhuni, Rezaire, and Dennis’ practices offer multiple entry points into what Mogobe Ramose would term an African Philosophy, ‘I doubt, therefore African Philosophy exists’.
Art, just like science and the law, is a means to uncover the truth, and this is the purpose of art in times of insurgency. It is what exists alongside dreams and provides a space for feeling, reminding us that other worlds are indeed possible. After light, it is a comforting thought that we may, once again, seek solace in a radically empathetic force: darkness is inevitable.