Black (social) life is (in) a state of emergency, a life of dying, a living in death and crisis and perishing. It is to be overdetermined, from without, by and in space and time. It is to be accumulated. It is to be accumulated and ‘be’ in a Hold and be held by its darkness; no light or flash can render visible. It is to disappear even in stints of (hyper)visibility. It is to have all of this marked in and carried by your body.
We must love Black people. As Fred says,1 Moten, Fred. Poetry reading: https://youtu.be/7SpV6xYQ8yg we must love them in “absolutely anabiological” ways as subjects and objects worthy of defence, of being seen, shone, in their bareness, contradiction and complexity, & in monochrome, or bustling with color, or not. We must love Black people. (Watching them move, dance, this or that way, loving themselves fully and intensely).
Joburg based photographer Musa N. Nxumalo’s solo exhibition, We Are Running Out Of Hashtags!, raises an alarm about the perils of inactive-activism that is keyboard-bound, and unproductive sociality. So we move on, one hashtag after the other, as one body falls by the wayside, towards a zone of / stasis of “wilful amnesiacs”, as Papa Ramps2Rampolokeng, Lesego. 2008. Staffriding The Frontline. From Chimurenga’s ‘Chronic’ Journal accuses us of. I think it’s good that we are running out of hashtags, fatally crashing, wrecking and possibly thinking from the ruins, as a productive space. I don’t know if Musa would agree.
Isn’t it true that (some?) categorization/s are unproductive and dichotomous, or worse? Maybe we would arrive at something if we’d permit ourselves one exception; in a 1984 essay, “Fire and Ice”, by Peter Wollen3Wollen, Peter. 1984. Fire and Ice. in ‘The Cinematic: Documents of Contemporary Art’, a triptych ensemble of questions are attached to three genres of photography. We learn that documentary photograph[y] would ask: “Is anything going to happen to end or to interrupt this?”; news photograph[y] would imply: “what was it like just before and what’s the result going to be?”; art photograph[y] would suggest: “how did it come to be like this or has it always been the same?”
Beaumont Newhall, Moving Pictures//1937: “Our ways of looking change; the photograph not only documents a subject but records the vision of a person and a period.”4Newhall, Beaumont. 1937. Moving Pictures. in ‘The Cinematic: Documents of Contemporary Art’
Thomas Skodbo, in his Nan Goldin: The Other Side – photography and gender identity5Skodbo, Thomas. 2007. Nan Goldin: The Other Side – photography and gender identity., argues that “originally, black-and-white was preferred for ‘Art photography’ [. . .] argument was that it set the works apart from everyday life and thus elevated them to the realm of Art – perhaps somewhat like the grisaille of a Carracci painting denotes beings of a ‘higher’ level.”
to consent not to be a single being.
In Musa’s show, monochrome images of still subjects are contrasted with images of moving subjects in still images. (Still subjects hang on flags that could possibly blow with the wind). You see, in Story of O.J., after 4:44, aptly described by art writer Percy Mabandu6Mabandu, Percy. 2020. Text in We Are Running Out Of Hashtags! [Exhibition Portfolio]. as pictorial displays of “embodied black boyhood as it fades into manhood”, we see a different adherence to (strictures of?) technique; rigidly formal and balanced portraiture with “participants”7Instead of “subjects”. As briefly mentioned by writer Kholeka Shange in Sixosh’ abathakathi: Ukuthwebula and the photographic image. (in the Zanele Muholi sense) occupying the middle line. Musa rebels against these strict compositional demands; this deviation drives us towards a “snapshot aesthetic”8Chalfen, Richard. 1987. Snapshot Versions of Life. Also, In a 1996 interview, Goldin said of snapshots: “People take them out of love, and they take them to remember—people, places, and times. They’re about creating a history by recording a history. And that’s exactly what my work is about.”, a stylistic territory suitable for participants in motion, with bodies distributed all over the photographs, heads cut off & spilling over, which is to say beyond, the frame, arbitrarily.
We could think about ‘vulnerability’ in multiple ways; Percy Mabandu deploys it to suggest that we interrogate, with the help of this show, “how we identify, classify and often fail to see” (emphasis mine) it, and, through Raymond Patterson, goes on to code it as “invisibl[e]”. To be vulnerable, or allow one to be vulnerable, could be read as thus: to be attentive to what Spillers9Spillers, Hortense. 1987. ‘Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book calls “the power of “yes” to the “female” within”, as a condition of possibility for a negation of what she flags as “males-in-crisis”. To be vulnerable, which is to say, to be subjected to open vulnerability, is to be a thing that anything could be done to by anyone. It is to be a thing of the world.
SO WE BEGIN at the beginning. So we (must) acknowledge that the problem resides not in the question of hashtags (whether we should be concerned if they run out or not), but is internal to civil society. It is the thing that haunts Black (social) life. If they run out, oh well. But Musa is not really invested in this (hence I feel a disconnect between the explanatory gestures, i.e the alarmist title of the show, and the actual body of work). I’m drawn to the very sensitive framing of the static Black bodies in the ‘first’ set of photographs, which is juxtaposed with the mobile and jovial and often electric energy of the second set of images. It is the juxtaposition of Black actual lives with Black social life. And we are running out of both.