Moving towards rupture, resistance, and refusal in Black moving image works : by Jamila Prowse, part of COVID-19 Responses

Moving towards rupture, resistance, and refusal in Black moving image works

For this writing commission Jamila Prowse asks the question – In these isolating, politically rife times how can photography and moving image be used as a source of hope, as a way of collectivising Black communities, as a way to hold each other digitally and create space for both each other and ourselves? Her new essay analyses theories around the rifeness of images of Anti-black violence, situating the creation of images of Black joy and abundance within this context as a way to question how Black artists envision and imagine new potentialities for a world in which Black lives are not only valued but celebrated.

Moving towards rupture, resistance, and refusal in Black moving image works
by Jamila Prowse

On 25th May 2020 a forty-six year-old man by the name of George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis. The graphic video showing the moment Floyd’s life was taken from him was subsequently shared online, sparking a resurgence in public support for the Black Lives Matter movement. What the video reveals is something that is maddening and heartbreaking, but unsurprising to Black communities the world over: what Tina Campt terms the ‘statistical probability of Black death’. The viral quality of the video documenting George Floyd’s murder exposes that Black people are not afforded sanctity in life nor in death. For many, the denial and avoidance of the positioning of Black people throughout the world was brought to a head. Here, along with the racially motivated killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, Riah Milton and countless others during 2020 and beyond, provided stark and undeniable evidence of the devaluing and disposability of Black life. Yet, this is a lived reality which cannot be denied, buried or avoided for Black communities.

Christina Sharpe, creates a ‘conceptual framework for living blackness in the diaspora in the still  unfolding aftermaths of Atlantic chattel slavery’ through her theory of “the wake”. “The wake” holds multiple meanings, but is an overarching acknowledgement that slavery continues to shape and  dictate the structuring of contemporary society. Living through this wake as a Black person, means  to ‘live near death’, always aware of its looming threat. Thus, in the viral sharing of the loss of  another Black life at the hands of the state, the inescapability of premature Black death was once  again made visible. As a mixed-race, light skinned person, who is racially ambiguous, living  through “the wake” does not mean staring death in the face in the same way as it did for my father  or his ancestors. My light skin affords me the privilege of moving through the world without the  continual probability of violence enacted against me. Still, as I sat glued to my screen at the end of  May, I became overwhelmed and debilitated by the complex trauma of seeing daily visual  reminders of the close proximity of my ancestry to death. For my father this proximity was a lived  daily reality, with many of his close family losing their lives prematurely as a result of violence,  poverty and sickness.  

The pain and anger that my father carried with him throughout his life may well have been a  contributing factor to his death in 1998 at the age of forty-four. I was three when my father passed  away, I am now twenty-five, and reckoning with how little has changed in the world since I lost him  dad twenty-two years ago, how much of the atrocities that broke his heart still exist, is a painful  knowledge that is by no means unique to me. How do we reckon with this pain, that was carried by  our ancestors and continues to live unrelentingly on in the world? In Sharpe’s words: ‘What does it  mean to defend the dead? To tend to the Black dead and dying: to tend to the Black person, to  Black people, always living in the push towards our death?’ It is this question that guides the  following essay. If we are to reckon with, to live through, ‘the contemporary conditions of Black life  as it is lived near death’, we have to have routes and methodologies of collective resistance. I am  interested in what Sharpe calls the ‘possibilities for rupture’ which exist within the resistance of  Black communities living expansively, fully and unapologetically. Of the daily resistances and  ruptures which are inherent parts of Black life.  

Towards the end of May my good friend Calum Jacobs suggested that a way to process, to honour,  the collective trauma we were experiencing, would be to surround ourselves with the writing,  thought and art of Black thinkers, artists and academics. I have always been interested in art as a  mode of resistance. Art as a sphere of imagining alternative worlds, of envisioning possible futures.  I am drawn to moving image and artist filmmaking as a site for the imaginings and limitless  potentialities for Black life. No less, in 2020, when moving image presented itself as a resolve of  lingering solace. Underpinning the following thinking, is a consideration of the moving of image: the  tense in which it is viewed, the tense in which it is located. Informed by the thinking of Tina Campt, who notes ‘To me it is crucial to think about futurity through a notion of “tense.” What is the “tense”  of black feminist future?’ Simultaneously, I am preoccupied with Christina Sharpe’s answer to her  own question outlined above: ‘What does it mean to defend the dead?’ ‘It means work. It is work: hard emotional, physical, and intellectual work that demands vigilant attendance to the needs of  the dying, to ease their way, and also to the needs of the living.’  

What follows are a series of encounters I had with Black moving image works between May and  August 2020. I had these encounters at home, via the 11-inch screen of my laptop, a tiny portal  which cannot contain the expansiveness of the artworks I came into contact with. What are these  moving image works moving towards? How is moving image situated in relation to futurity? How  does it think us out, away from, and beyond the present moment? 

Some notes on location before I begin… (after Jemma Desai) 

I attempted to transfix this research and essay in slowness. For me, slowness offers a potential  resistance to the oppressive and restrictive structures of capitalism. I think of the words of Anne  Boyer, cited by Lola Olufemi in episode 94 of the Surviving Society podcast: when asked what the  biggest impediment was to writing, Boyer responded capitalism. We must recognise that capitalism  places us in a position of continual precarity, of a need to survive, and thus instrumentalise our  thinking and creativity in order to do so. When approaching my writing bursary with GRAIN, I was  given a fairly open ended and flexible term within which to research and produce a work, yet the  continual instability of being a freelancer means that I must position conflicting projects within rigid  timelines so as to make ends meet. If I were to let myself, slowness would be my natural state of  existing, as due to my mental illness fast-paced and continuous productivity is not available to me.  Still, it is difficult to unlearn the pace of capitalism which has conditioned us to whir at 100 miles an  hour. This essay then, did not entirely honour slowness in the way I might hope, but certainly sat at  an adjunct to slow and gradual learning and thinking, with many of the roots and threads being  located over a period of lockdown between March to August 2020.  

The following writing is informed by, read through and indebted to the work of Black feminist  scholars: namely Tina Campt, Christina Sharpe, Audre Lorde, Saidiya Hartman, Lola Olufemi, Gail  Lewis, Rabz Lansiquot and Imani Robinson. Their continually expansive, resistant thinking paves  the way for so many of us to better know ourselves and the world around us. I must acknowledge,  too, that as a white passing/racially ambiguous mixed-race person my understanding will only ever  reach so far. My vision and my perspective is shrouded in the privilege colourism and coming from  a predominantly white background affords me. In relation to location, my position as an art curator  and writer has been made possible in part due to the relative ease my light-skin brings when  working within institutional spaces. If I am obedient, if I am quiet, I am leveraged a greater mobility  within white institutional spaces than if my blackness were more explicitly readable. It is important  to acknowledge this perspective and privilege as a pretext to an essay which considers and locates  an exploration of Black multiplicity, possibility and futurity. Yet, it is also not enough to acknowledge  or admit to one’s privilege, we must put in the continual work to dismantle the privilege which  enables us to move through the world with greater ease. I am not interested in being passive, quiet  or palpable for a white institutional setting, and I will continue to vocalise my resistance to the  oppressive forces which structure our sector. 

This essay is written in dialogue with, and largely because of Calum Jacobs, through both  conversations we’ve shared, research he’s made me aware of, and the support he has extended to  me. Thank you Calum for your friendship and generous spirit, I understand myself more fully  through speaking with you.  


Through May and June 2020 Instagram became galvanised with resource and knowledge sharing around the Black Lives Matter movement. Across my feed, people posted fundraisers, reading lists,  useful information around knowing your rights when protesting. Then on June 2nd the whole of the  social media platform went dark, as droves of people posted black squares in order to demonstrate  their alliance and support of Black lives. The Black Lives Matter hashtag became swamped with  these black squares, obscuring useful and at times life saving information (particularly for those out in the streets protesting across the globe). A sea of black squares became a simple and ineffectual  way for people to signal their politics; obscuring their daily actions in one fell swoop of  performance. Within this, many of us watched as people we had grown up with, who at their best  had never before vocalised a condemnation of racism, and at their worst had perpetuated racist  and oppressive actions, were compelled to post a black square or be publicly deemed a racist.  Simultaneously, institutions and businesses across the world with track records of  underrepresentation, marginalisation and oppression took the opportunity to obscure their internal  structures with this meaningless performative act.  

Blackout Tuesday, as it came to be known, was catalysed by two black women Jamila Thomas and  Brianna Agyemang through #TheShowMustBePaused, an initiative to ask the music industry to  stop their work for a day to recognise how much they are indebted to and built off the backs of  Black artists. For Jamila and Brianna, both of whom work in the music industry, the day also  acknowledged the need for Black workers to be able to take time with their families and  communities, to rest, to grieve, away from the relentless demands of their jobs. At the same time,  non-Black members could take the time to reflect on their position and culpability in the racist  structuring of the industry, educate themselves and strategise ways to support the movement.  Somewhere along the way the meaning and intention of this became obscured, as did the roots of  the day being founded by Jamila and Brianna, in an act which reveals the dangers of social media  in simplifying the context of wider movements.  

I have always been sceptical of the mechanisms of social media. There has been well documented  condemnation of Facebook following the Cambridge Analytica scandal of 2018, in which millions of  Facebook users’ personal data was leaked and harvested without their consent, predominantly to  be used for political advertising. Instagram, meanwhile, has remained somewhat unscathed  despite being bought by Facebook back in 2012. The commodification of people’s lives, with a shift  from marketing objects to branding and selling lifestyles, has only been intensified through social  media. This shift is perhaps most apparent on Instagram where branded posts and content can  lead to “influencers” making an income directly from what they choose to post day to day. On such  an explicitly commercial platform, it becomes convoluted to argue for the radical and political  organising aspects of social media. Yet, it cannot be denied that Instagram has simultaneously  provided a site for people to come together around shared issues, galvanise support for  movements, and build meaningful, wide-reaching communities. The platform has also given  agency and sources of income generation to people and communities who might otherwise have  less access to stability. Creative paths, which have historically been largely dominated by people  from privileged backgrounds with financial safety nets, are opened up to people from a range of  backgrounds who have a tool at their fingertips through which to generate a lucrative income to  support their art. Either way, we are no longer at a point where we can deny the influence and  power of an app which as of 2020 has 26.9 million users worldwide. Acknowledging this influence,  as well as the integral part the platform has played in organising around the Black Lives Matter  movement, what possibilities exist to rupture its commercial and marketable foundations? 

Kai Isaiah Jamal is one such person who is toeing the line between utilising the benefits of social  media to fuel their creativity and positioning the app as a force for activism and social change. A  poet, writer and model, Kai’s Instagram feed combines activism, poetry, performance and fashion  shoots, often fusing all these modes together to catalyse one collective goal of ensuring their voice  is heard. On 27th May 2020, two days after the murder of George Floyd, Kai shared a visual poem  on their feed entitled ‘TAKE UR FOOT OFF MY NECK’ as response to Floyd’s death. Centre screen, braids long down their chest, Kai sits framed by powerful visual references of Black culture  and resistance. A photograph of Colin Kaepernick taking a knee, the NFL quarterback who  famously refused to stand for the national anthem in 2016 in protest of racism and police brutality.  Initially sitting during the anthem, Kaepernick and his teammates later took to kneeling, viewing this  as a respectful gesture and form of peaceful protest. Liz Johnson Artur’s 1991 photograph of a  church in Elephant and Castle, a black and white image depicting the congregation in holy attire,  knelt in prayer. Boris Gardiner’s 1974 hit Every N*gger Is a Star, plays over the video. A clip from  Kahlil Joseph’s 2012 short film Until the Quiet Comes (made for Flying Lotus’ fourth studio album of the same name), which depicts a young Black man who is shot dead but in an act of blissful  resurrection continues to dance down the street in slow motion, with passersby framed in still.  Images that are ubiquitous in the Black cultural oeuvre, images of explicit resistance and refusal of  the extrajudicial murder of Black people, images not of marginality or apology, but that denote the  unrelenting power and unmoving agency of Black communities.

‘TAKE UR FOOT OFF MY NECK’, video (still) by Kai Isaiah Jamal, 2020

Beginning with a small pause, Kai then launches into a three and a half minute poem, building up  from that first image of Colin Kaepernick taking a knee. Gaining speed and velocity as the poem  progresses, Kai embodies and channels the anger and grief of their community, of the grief of  another Black life lost and the impossibility in knowing just how devalued your life is to society.  There is a relentlessness as Kai lists the unchallenged actions of the police: “They just pull up on a  blue badge/They just pull up/They just pull up and pull out and fire and stomp and step on necks/ And turn off body cams/And search bodies that are already dead” as Kai builds pace,  demonstrating the unrelenting violence and abuses of power Black people are subject to. Different  visual references and contexts of a knee are drawn out, from Colin Kaepernick’s knee of defiance  and resistance, to an officer’s knee as a weapon and the question of whether this is the same knee  that the white man prays from, through to the shrouding contemplation of “I wonder what it is to be  big enough of a God to kneel”. A knee expands into multiple meanings, a visual signifier for  violence, resistance, prayer and power, but always coming back to this consideration of the  antithetical difference between a Black man kneeling in peaceful and honourable protest,  compared to a white man kneeling as an abuse of power, subjugation and wilful dismissal of a  Black man’s right to life. In a symbolic act of taking their own knee, in words as opposed to actions,  Kai kneels in eulogy, holding commune and space to honour the dead, while simultaneously  building protest and resistance into that honour.  

What does it mean, then, to come across a visual and aural poem such as Kai’s when scrolling  aimlessly through a social media feed? What did it mean to come across this post two days after  George Floyd’s murder, when social media was flooded with graphic images of his death? Though  Kai alludes to and references the violence and death enacted against Black communities, they do  not explicitly or graphically show or depict this violence. I often return to Christina Sharpe’s  question, of ‘What does it mean to defend the dead?’ Does it mean to circulate images of their  death, in an act of galvanising awareness? No. The very act of sharing the moment when a Black  person loses their life, once again signifies how little sanctity and respect is afforded to Black  people in life or death. Kai’s poem contributes a visual musing on the collective mourning a  community finds themselves in, without further negating the sanctity of Black life. This visualisation,  which does not refuse or deny Black death, instead finds other languages and visual cues through  which to defend the dead.  

Kai’s poem begins with a listing of some of the comments that appear under their Instagram  photos: “Someone writes under my Instagram photo, take your foot off my neck/Someone else  says, you are stepping on our necks/Somebody else says our necks are breaking, fire emoji, fire  emoji.” And it is this rendering of violence and death as casual that Kai ultimately refuses,  indicating that these allusions and references to violent acts which appear indifferently on our  digital platforms are not casual at all. For as Kai muses “I wonder if there is ever a beautiful Black  body that is not disposable.” ‘TAKE UR FOOT OFF MY NECK’ builds rupture into the casual stream of images and allusions to Black death, and refuses this reality as normalised or everyday,  in doing so Kai provides a language and methodology for protesting and rupturing the positioning  of their life as expendable.  

Rhea Dillon, in her 2019 film The Name I Call Myself, comes to images of Black resistance through  the modality of celebration (when in situ, the work exists as a dual screen installation which  includes a scent in the space). A depiction and celebration of the LGBTQ+ Black community in the  UK, with cameos of familiar artistic pioneers (including Kai and Evan Ifekoya, whom I will come to  shortly), the film sits as Rhea’s love letter to QTBIPOC. Opening on a slowed frame of a child’s  legs running (which is returned to and re-interpreted through different framed perspectives  throughout the film) positions the movement of the work into a forward motion, moving into new 

expansive spaces and potentials for envisioning queerness and Blackness on screen. That same  scene seems to act as a marker throughout the film, signalling a clear spacing out or splitting of the  film into several chapters, each creating a paralleled and interlinked consideration of Black Queer  life.

The Name I Call Myself, video (still) by Rhea Dillon, 2019

In the first chapter, we come on to a dual screen, of what appears to be a funeral scene. People  dressed in black and held in collective mourning (or celebration) of a life. Two figures, paused in  movement, close to the ground, proceed to shift and turn into motion while the camera pans  ethereally round them as if floating from above. The figures are akin to spirits, and as they move in  slowed motion the scene recalls the resurrection of Kahlil Joseph’s Until the Quiet Comes (which,  as mentioned earlier, appears in Kai’s visual essay). For Rhea, this opening scene is a recognition  of the death of a former self, while also acknowledging all the siblings whose lives have been lost  as a result of gender-based violence (notably, with the average death of a trans Black person being  30-35 both in the States and the UK). Rhea finds a language through which to honour the dead, to  celebrate the lives of members of the LGBTQ+ community which have been lost, while also  indicating the continual transformation which comes when one embraces the entirety of  themselves. A mourning and a coming home all at once — or in the word of Rhea ‘A death to the  multitude of deaths one has to do to “come out” to oneself and to others.’

The Name I Call Myself, video (still) by Rhea Dillon, 2019

Next, we move through everyday moments of holding commune and ritual: a parent and child  doing yoga, meditating, resting, connected in clasped hands, friends sat around talking, laughing  and smoking, playing music and dancing together, looking through polaroid photos of a shared life.  Cross generational and imbued with a contemplative light, the everyday is sifted through the lens  of the extraordinary. Considerations of how we come together are extended in the third section, in  which we move from a couple in the back of a cab, tenderly holding hands, with lingering glances  at each other’s faces, to a person in the mirror getting dressed, drawing outlines of abs on their  torso and a moustache, close-ups to their tattoos with declarations of resistance ACAB andYour  Silence Will Not Protect You. Hymns books clasped in hands during a church service sit adjacent  to a club night with dancers vogueing. Two formations of places of worship are held in parallel, as  we consider where we come to worship and where our faith lies: be that in God, in partnership, in  community, in faith in ourselves or in love.

The Name I Call Myself, video (still) by Rhea Dillon, 2019

The final scene appears as a beauty pageant, a single chair situated in the centre of a stage, red  velvet curtains and a spotlight framing a central figure. Successively people take centre stage,  dressed in celebration and pride, all unified under a white satin sash reading Zami. Zami, as with  other references throughout the film (such as Your Silence Will Not Protect You) is an allusion to  Black feminist writer, poet and activist Audre Lorde, and their Autobiography Zami: A New Spelling  of My Name in which Lorde writes that “Zami” is “a Carriacou name for women who work together  as friends and lovers”. Collectivity, friendship and love, tie the people in Rhea’s film together, and  collectively they exist in joy and expansiveness. I want to return to the scene between the beauty  pageant, and scenes of worship and faith, in which we open on a London escalator. A figure  cascades down the escalator, with the camera focused in on their crown of braids, before walking  on to a platform and finally on to a tube. There is an instant familiarity of this scene for anyone  who’s made London their home, the everydayness of a repeated journey, and the uniformity of the  tunnels threading the city together underground. Here, the meaning of Rhea’s film seems to  become clear, an underpinning recognition of the city as home. There is a conflict when thinking  about how to take ownership and comfort in a locality which is so harsh, which ejects us and  questions our belonging at every turn. The Name I Call Myself refuses to give weight or even  acknowledgement to the question of whether we belong. It doesn’t validate the question of Where  are you from? with an answer. Instead, Rhea’s film refuses to debate or call into question the  validity of the lives of the people it honours: it is pure celebration, pure joy and pure elation, of a  community that resists by loving, living and sharing expansively and freely without restriction or  inhibition.

The Name I Call Myself, video (still) by Rhea Dillon, 2019

If Rhea’s The Name I Call Myself celebrates the everyday, Evan Ifekoya’s 2019 contoured thoughts hones in on one everyday ritual in particular: rest. Thinking through rest as a methodology for resistance is well versed in Black feminist thought. I think of Audre Lorde’s declaration that Self  Care is Self Preservation. Yet, in a sociopolitical context which has depoliticised rest and self-care,  rebranding it as a capitalist, wealthy and white beauty industry of face masks and expensive  beauty products, it is all the more necessary to attend to the radical underpinnings of rest. Evan  feels out these radical underpinnings slowly and attentively. Evan’s arm, their hand and wrist  visible, submerged in water, facing downwards and focused in on closely by the camera, but with  space around in which you can see ripples of water spreading outwards. A triptych, Evan’s arm  central, with different perspectives of the water and surrounding natural space of rocks and plants  visible. In the next shot, Evan’s hands and the natural scene have swapped sides, now both arms  are visible and instead of being fully submerged, float slightly on top of the water. We get a sense  of being held and carried by water and nature. Then we come on to a wider shot of Evan’s neck  and head above the water, their shoulders submerged, eyes closed and head tilted back in  meditation or rest. The scene is imposed on a wider shot of the water, in a collaged effect.

contoured thoughts, video (still) by Evan Ifekoya, 2019

Across the four minute and 40 second film, these cyclical visual motifs recur, repeated scenes with  slight shifts in perspective and framing. Each shot is left for an extended time, expanding out,  space to breathe. As the viewer, time slows, we are held statically in a vacuum of time stretching  out Ad Infinitum. Halfway through the film there is a shift: Evan is submerged in water once again,  but now their eyes are fixed, wide open, staring straight into the camera. Only their head is visible  above the water. Colourful flowers are arranged behind Evan’s head, vibrant light blues, purples  and reds. The directness of Evan’s gaze and the sharp blast of colour in the natural scene, creates  a stark disruption within the overriding stillness of the film. Evan’s gaze contains a heightened  awareness, a vision. They are awake. They are acknowledging our presence. They are claiming  their agency within this contemplative space. The music shifts, too, from a meditative repeating  gong sound, to a repetitive bass creeping in, taking up increased aural space. We come on to a  scene of flowing waterfalls, calm, and yet the juxtaposition to the previous stillness creates a  rupture within the scene. After such still, the change is palpable, it is an activating, a rebirth, a  reawakening.

contoured thoughts, video (still) by Evan Ifekoya, 2019

Watching Evan’s film, I became aware of how much of a rarity it is to sit at a screen, and not be  moving at an accelerated pace, clicking through, always consuming more. contoured thoughts acknowledges the sanctity of rest, how radical it is to take a moment to pause, to be still, in a world  that demands you are continually switched on, constantly moving. Rest as a radical act becomes  more intensified when it is situated in relation to Blackness, for being Black can translate into a  need to always be aware, to always be hyper vigilant, in a world that deems you disposable. It is  this attendance to rest, as a radical Black methodology, which has become obscured in  contemporary society, and it is this which Evan compels us to get back to. Slowing down in this  way ruptures capitalist time, which necessitates our value as the level of productive labour we  enact as bodies. To rest, to stop, is to resist the oppressive forces which render an “unproductive”  body invaluable, and which necessitate the inevitability of premature Black death. Rest resists the  devaluing of the Black body, by pausing to care for it, to look after it, to invest in its longevity and  capacity for life.  

Rupture, then, can also be the opening out of new temporalities. Temporalities which do not attend  to the linear moving of time between past/present/future. In Languid Hand’s 2019 film Towards A  Black Testimony: Prayer/Protest/Peace, these temporal distinctions are exploded. The film  combines a performative speech written and performed by Imani Robinson, with archival footage  edited by Rabz Lansiquot (both of whom make up Languid Hands) and a sound mix by Felix  Taylor, remixing jazz drummer and composer Max Roach’s song Prayer, Protest, Peace, which  features jazz vocalist Abbey Lincoln. Time is undefined, and moves seamlessly between the  contemporary and the historical, such as in scenes which interlace archival footage from the March  on Washington (1963) and Ferguson unrest (2014). In this exploding of temporal distinctions,  Languid Hands attend to how little has changed between these sociopolitical contexts. How the  urgent need to get into the streets, to protest and resist the positioning of Black life as expendable,  is still as necessary today as it was half a century ago. But this recognition is not defeatist, rather  there is an acknowledgement of the many manifestations of intergenerational resistance which exist in the world. From church congregations, to weddings, to marching in the streets, Black  communities unify in refusal of the expendability of Black life.

Towards A Black Testimony: Prayer/Protest/Peace, video (still), by Languid Hands, 2019

The text, spoken by Imani, seamlessly combines the words of Black people transposing between  past/present/future. Exploring dying declarations, many of the words were spoken by Black people  who either anticipated their own deaths or died soon after speaking them. What does it mean then,  to have these words live on, taking on new meaning when spoken through Imani? Certainly, there  is an acknowledgement of the push and pull of living through “the wake” continually aware of one’s  proximity to death. Yet, in another, stronger sense, there is the eternality of these words, which  exist outside of time, speaking to multiple generations simultaneously. The Black Chorus, as  evoked by writers such as Saidiya Hartman, and by Imani here, immortalises Black voices in  collective resistance. Languid Hands engage in mourning, while honouring the resistance of these  Black testimonies which reverberate into the past, present and future all at once, refusing to be  forgotten. 

If we are to understand the discursive, visual and aural practice that Languid Hand’s film is  engaged in, we must think through the interplay between speech, sound and image. As Imani  speaks the words of Fred Hampton “I believe I’m going to be able to die high off the people” a shot  is framed from within a car looking outwards, at what seems to be a police official shining a  flashlight across the scene. The light takes over and fills the entire shot, lingering as this passing  through and over of light. As Fred Hampton continues through Imani, “I believe that I will be able to  die a revolutionary in the international revolutionary proletarian struggle and I hope that each one  of you will be able to die in the international proletarian revolutionary struggle or you’ll be able to  live in it.” The light subsides, and the wider picture comes back into view, the camera pans out and  around to people stood by a car with headlights blazing on, their arms raised in surrender. For a  moment the sound drops out altogether, as the camera pans further round to see protestors  walking, before a drums comes in distorted and gradual. The collective testimony carries the  images, or do the images carry the words, or does Abbey Lincoln’s distorted scream/singing carry  both, or do indeed, all three carry us, the viewer, the listener? We are so used to these linear/ straight/eurocentric storytelling practices which distinguish isolated elements to make up a whole,  but here they are whole and moving through and forward and backwards and sideways, all at  once. We are in the past/present/future simultaneously and nothing is linear or straight. All is  cyclical. All moves in waves and reverberations and echoes sliding in and out and through it all at  once and on forever.  

Languid Hands film takes all the anger, pain and grief, felt by Black communities, and re-situates it  as a tool for dismantling the positioning of Blackness as marginal or subjugated. Expansive scenes  of a wedding, of people dancing in the streets, held in commune, at church services and baptisms,  

while Imani draws upon Audre Lorde’s words on the potentialities of anger. “I have suckled at the  wolves’ nip of anger and I have used it for illumination, laughter, protection, fire in places where  there was no light.” Towards A Black Testimony: Prayer/Protest/Peace takes this light and makes it  universal, translates into the homes of people across the world, and opens out a new radical  imagining of a future which is within reach. Where time folds in on itself, this expanding of light  touches the present, past and future simultaneously. For we are not separated by generations, our  worlds are not so distinct and linear, and as we walk in our resistance we walk alongside our  ancestors in their resistance as well.  

Let me return again, to attend to slowness once more, because in some ways it seems to linger, to  unify each of these works. There is a slowness in Kai’s opening pause as they take a breath before  speaking, in the repeated running of three Black children across Rhea’s screen, in Evan’s elapsed, slowed and paused frames, in Languid Hands repeated, ruptured, glitches of archival footage.  Towards the end of Towards A Black Testimony: Prayer/Protest/Peace Abbey Lincoln’s scream  singing drops out. The silence is palpable after the reverberating echoes of her screams. The  screen turns black, Imani’s voice is no longer audible, and all we hear are the faint undertones of  the archival audio of Muhlaysia Booker addressing a crowd of supporters. The Black chorus  continues on, extending across time and generations. But we are held, as with each film, in a moment of deep reflection and pause. For Tina Campt, slowness isn’t simply an indication of a  change in temporality, slowness is attentiveness. Campt writes, ‘Quiet registers sonically, as a level  of intensity that requires focused attention.’ Here, in this slowness, in this quiet, is the site where  the true potential for rupture sits. Slowness, as Campt marks it, as ‘an ethics of care’, as a  methodology ‘to take care of what is overlooked’. Campt compels us to use slowness as ‘a  framework for understanding Black life’, as ‘slowing down Blackness’, for it is in this slowing down  that we can find the possibility for disturbing the fast-paced, careless positioning of Black life as  expendable. It is here that we can understand that Blackness does not sit in close proximity to  death, it exists beyond our linear understanding of time, as eternal, as always moving, shifting  between past, present and future.  

What these works speak to, are not concerns around representational politics. Representation is  not enough, for all it does is invites the underrepresented into environments which will only serve to  oppress and marginalise them further. More representation does not dismantle the oppressive  forces that exist. Instead, these moving image artworks devise a language and methodology of  rupture: breaking the restrictions that attempt to hold them statically. None of these works are  representational. They do not attempt to reform the mould, they disregard the mould altogether.  They build anew from the ground up, an ecosystem which is a sanctum, is refuge, is outside and  beyond the mould that restricts us, that attempts to hold and bind us in place, that necessitates our  death. Finally, I return to the words of Campt once again and her consideration of tense. If moving  image is moving, what is it moving towards? Campt proposes a grammar of Black feminist futurity  which ‘moves beyond a simple definition of the future tense as what will be in the future’. ‘Black  feminist futurity is a performance of a future that hasn’t yet happened but must’ and here is where  these moving image works sit, what they are moving towards — the envisioning and enacting of a  future that hasn’t yet happened but must. A future in which the inevitability of Black death has been  dismantled, not just in contemporary life, but throughout time. For the future that these artists  speak to is now, as it is past and present. Linear time is exploded, and the radical imagining of a  future in which we are all free, in which our ancestors are free, our descendants are free and we  are free simultaneously. Because as Lola Olufemi reminds us, in our radical imaginings we must  ‘ask for everything’ and in their artistic radical imaginings, this is exactly what Kai, Rhea, Evan and  Languid Hands do.  

Works Cited 

Campt, Tina, Listening to Images (Duke University Press, 2017) 

Campt, Tina, The Slow Lives of Still Moving Images [Lecture], (Nottingham Contemporary, 2020), [Accessed 7th October 2020] 

Olufemi, Lola, Feminism Interrupted: Disrupting Power, (Pluto Press, 2020)  

Olufemi, Lola E094 The Surviving Society Alternative to Woman’s Hour: Lola Olufemi [Podcast],  (Surviving Society, July 28 2020) 

Sharpe, Christina, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being, (Durham and London: Duke University  Press, 2016)

About the Writer
Jamila Prowse seeks to interrogate and dismantle the colonialist, racist and ableist structuring of the art sector through filmmaking, curation, writing, and collective organising. Her practice is engaged in collaborating with art workers, as an antithetical method to the alienation of being a BIPOC working within, alongside and adjacent to white institutional settings. Presently, her ongoing research Can We Surv[thr]ive Here? considers the potentials and limitations of institutional work for Black, non-black People of Colour, and disabled artists and art workers, and is informed by Jamila’s own experiences of being a mixed-race curator with lifelong mental illness. As a member of the working group Hypericum: A Code of Practice, initiated by Obsidian Coast, Jamila will contribute to a collectively produced, ever evolving code of practice for feminist, antiracist, anticolonial and environmentally sustainable arts organising.

In 2020 Jamila is the recipient of the GRAIN writing bursary, is Guest Editor of Photoworks Annual 26 and is curating and hosting an upcoming podcast series for Lighthouse. Jamila has curated exhibitions for Peckham 24 (London), 1-1 (Basel), Lighthouse (Brighton) and Brighton Photo Fringe, hosted public programmes for Fabrica Gallery (Brighton), Photofusion (London), Deptford X (London), University of Brighton and Brighton Photo Fringe and written for Dazed, Art Work Magazine and Photoworks. For more information on upcoming work and past projects visit her website.

Photo Credit:  ‘TAKE UR FOOT OFF MY NECK’ video (still) by Kai Isaiah Jamal

Copyright 2016 GRAIN.