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Say Their Names

we must transform our trauma or we will transmit it

I was angry that I felt pressure to make this new artwork. I did not want it to be beautiful. I did not want to make it compelling, beauty can glamorise evil and be propaganda for consumerism. Beauty can also condone and exonerate, that is not what I wanted to do. I did not want to commodify black suffering as is so often done. I did not want my message co-opted. I did not want to play into that victim narrative.

I was furious that the same Culture that warps blackness would warp this work and it’s intentions. That Culture makes black suffering entertainment, cheapens black female erotic sensuality so that it can excuse or ignore misogynoir, assaults and femicide, it divides on arbitrary tribal lines and judges based on sexuality. That Culture does not see black people as the heroines in their own stories, unless they are sacrificial ‘heroes’ to the peace and prosperity of the privileged few. That Culture relies on blackness as synonymous with inferiority, victimhood, helplessness and weakness.

I have come to realise that that Culture will do that with whatever we put out in the world, so I must make what I must make.

I realise now that some of the anger that I was feeling was the temptation to quieten my own conscience, to turn a blind eye, to self-censor. This work would require getting to know some of the names, witnessing the crimes, and be compelled to respond.

I did need the catharsis. I needed to physically make and mold into reality some of the emotions, thoughts, feelings and knowledge of the injustice we are witnessing. This is the first step. The next is to join with others in the active support, solidarity and pursuit of justice, using what I have, doing what I can, starting where I am.

I wanted to join the dots more explicitly, the ways in which our ways of living perpetuate violence, degrade humanity and separate us from divinity. I wanted to pour out the poison so I could see it, face it and have you face it. With this done I can now start to heal and do the work of helping to bring that healing outside of myself.

I wish my joy did not have a price.

This joy is an act of resistance.

This joy is love.

By love I do not mean the plastic, hollow, empty movie version or merely romantic. I mean the kind of love that is generous, just and truly freeing. It cannot be commodified, commercialised and coopted. It brings out an extraordinary power, resourcefulness and togetherness. This love is when we see ourselves in each other and God in both, which is how I have always understood ubuntu. This love frees us from the fear that separates us. It frees us from the status anxiety that makes us willing to sacrifice our brothers and sisters’ wellbeing for a new phone. This love pre-occupies our time in planting seeds that bear abundant fruit. Seeds like paying attention to people not screens.(irony noted). Seeds like kindness not merely niceness. These bear fruits of being seen, loved and honoured. We may stop craving attention and have the courage to look after each other, not just those nearest but all in our common home.

I have felt that artist can abdicate our role to speak truth to power, for some of the reasons I was angry and scared to make this. Or we give in to cynicism or despair. My hope is that this work will remind us (those with the privilege to have a way of seeing this work) that we have enough and we are more than enough, to give and love and live in generous, life-giving ways. That we must act, with love, come what may.

Love is as love does.

Say their name


Canvases: I thought of these as memorials or monuments that can be moved but essentially can be viewed publicly

A clay mixture: That represents the fragility of the constructed identity which breeds fear

Cobalt blue paint: The colour from the mineral violently extracted in the Congo without enriching its people (and in fact violently harming them) while polluting their rivers, air and forests

Faces: the exaggerated faces which represent the ways in which entertainment contorts the humanity of people so that we can sacrifice them for our comforts and convenience.

Crosses: Both the unsettled relationship with religion and the X used as a signatures by forefathers across Africa, Asia and the Americas in contracts as their land was stolen. They also look like the crosses used to mark graves.

The dots: The ways in which we have to think holistically about how othering perpetuates crimes against our human family to separate us then make us pay the highest prices to belong, for safety and love. The fears exploited are existential but we separate the ‘issues’ ignoring the integral nature of our relationships to each other and to the planet at our literal peril. Also the face markings of many different tribes which are appropriated to weaken their symbolic meanings.

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