On Being Black and Future

October 9, 2020

Ana Beatriz Almeida, Kalunga- série Kalunga (2015). Performance photo, fine art print, 70 x 100 cm. Photo by Luara D.

Allow me to speak louder than my scars / They're just accessories, shouldn't even be here.
Lyrics by Emicida, Pabllo Vittar y Majur in "AmarElo" (2019)

A black future is not an act of revenge!

As a black curator, I position my body as a possibility of language—a vocabulary for speaking about resistance. Carrying traces of its place of "origin," my body leaves a silence that can be seen, a silence assimilated in movement and perceived as dance. Relegated to an ontological exile, I have been continuously forced out of my body; I have been subjected to kidnappings and erasures. However, these histories of aggression and displacement are still mine to embody.

The insistence on making ourselves the future is currently our most pressing social struggle. Imagining a black future is an invitation to be and live together. It entails collaborating with artists, curators, and communities who think from their native and Afro-diasporic experience on the rhythms of oppression that have marked their bodies over five hundred years. Curating for the future also means seeking to resist oblivion, as the belief that we have never existed still pervades among various societies. Because our fight for continuity needs to be celebrated, my place as curator puts me in a position to help narrate these stories of resistance so that we know how to better relate to a diminishing world.

Being a woman, black, and mother is not a theme but a language and the possibility of resistance. This does not make me different. Rather, it makes me willing to understand how essential it is to support and reproduce life. It makes me capable of engaging with a multiplicity of peoples without assuming them my opposites, my alterities.

My work is based on poetic research, and through it, I observe silencing dynamics—colonial technologies and structures or erasure, oblivion, and negation. I look into those structural contours that, through violence, continuously organize the unsighted neo-liberal human disassembly.

The constant dehumanization that our black bodies are subjected to triggers potent responses of resilience. That is why my curatorial practice is, in and of itself, defined by struggle. This fight is my way of taking possession of the future. The method for this is love. I'm talking about radical acts of listening. Dismantling white supremacy is the only route left to take, and it is also one that pursues traces of the future—imagination as a radical act of care. Writing myself into a story that continuously silences and negates bodies like mine, communities like mine entails balancing between intellectual, sensitive, and healing processes. That is why love as a method for curatorship undermines hate, which is the standard way of enacting the current world system.

Through my constant thinking and doing as a curator, I help connect communities by telling the stories of nations stigmatized as tribes, that have and still are subjected to policies of oblivion, denial, and systematic marginalization. Working with African and Afro-descendant communities across the globe is already a form of worldmaking.

The future is for those who live together.

Invited by Joaquim Sanchez to think together on the 10th SIART Biennial in Bolivia (2018), I used this curatorial view to look into silencing structures. As such, I suggested orienting the biennial towards alternative life forms that were already surrounding Bolivia.

Opening ceremony of the 10th SIART Biennial, 2018. Bolivia. Gif by Keyna Eleison.

The number of Afro-Bolivians who work with art is extremely small, especially since Bolivia’s overall black population is only 0.15% of the country's majority indigenous population. Thus, in order to highlight and integrate African modalities of resistance against coloniality within the biennale system, we sought to re-imagine the meanings and forms of art departing from other structures of life.

The name and theme of the biennial came from a project by Colombian filmmaker Diana Rico and her partner Richard Décaillet titled The Origin of the Night (El origen de la noche, 2016–2017). Their work stems from research that gathered a variety of sounds from the archives of indigenous nations in Colombia like the Andoque, Murui, Tatuyo and Barasano, Wayuu, Kogi, and Tubú. These sounds were then activated by traditional indigenous authorities that resulted in an immersive sound installation.

Together with María Belén Saez and Ramon Castillo Inostroza, both curators and educators, we started a conversation on the idea of territory as language. To problematize the question of ​​origin, we took advantage of the fact that the Biennial took place throughout various museums and cultural centers such as Museo Nacional de Arte and Tambo Quirquincho. It also expanded outside the capital’s borders into cities like Cochabamba and Santa Cruz. This process brought me to the region of the Yungas, where large communities of Afro-Bolivians live aquilombados, which is a way of communitarian living common to Afro-descendant communities. In Bolivia, these aquilombados embody a way of life whereby people experience the intertwined relationship between worshiping rituals, musical traditions, and the cultivation of coca leaf.

Landscape of Chipchipa in the Yungas region, Bolivia. Photos taken on research trips, 2018. Photo by Keyna Eleison.

Traveling through the territory, spending time crossing this geography, and meeting the local Afro-Bolivian people allowed me to share and exchange. Some of these people were: Freddy Mamani (architect), Marco Quispe (researcher), Elvira Espejo (artist and curator), Danitza Luna (artist), Juan Angola Maconde (historian), and Sháron Pérez (artist). Going through places and engaging in different conversations granted me the possibility of creating exchanges that continue to grow to this day.  The Biennial was the beginning of my relationship with Bolivia.

It is no secret or novelty that slave abductions have uprooted many royal families from their kingdoms on the African continent. There are many stories told orally, handed down from generation to generation. It is said that a king, from the region today called Congo, had been taken to Bolivia and was recognized by the enslaved. Since then, they have devoted respect to the royal lineage that follows. My meeting with Angélica Larrea and Julio Pinedo, the righteous queen and king of the Afro-Bolivian people, however, is still waiting to happen. More than paying tribute to the king and queen, I tried to meet royalty to develop an exchange on what could be art in its conception, what they saw as art and how they produce it. But I learn that silences and waiting are part of that process. And the wait has been a gift that comes with Saya music—an Afro-Bolivian rhythm that makes me dance and think together with. The name of the dance refers to quicongo nsaya: to work collectively, commanded by singing voices.

Landscape of Chipchipa in the Yungas region, Bolivia. Photos taken on research trips, 2018. Photo by Keyna Eleison.

Based on my embodied knowledge, I use my curatorial practice to ensure that the exercises of discontinuity and extinction do not remain invisible or pass by camouflage. Suffering will not be forgotten and much less romanticized; it is a decisive chapter, but not one written by me. Let the violence be seen and elucidated.

I have stretched my body for an extension of what can be called an exchange. My research helps expand the contours of western cosmogonies and truths. Using the colonial structure itself as a device, the radicalization of my curatorship brings to the fore both Afrocentric and indigenous intellectual perspectives in South America.

What alliances are possible? What new idea of the future can new collaborations between black, indigenous, and mestizos yield? How is enabling resilience amid the highest degrees of violence help us create fissures for other possible futures?

The future is black: dark, full of memory and love.

Keyna Eleison, Curator. Writer, researcher, heiress Griot and shaman, narrator, singer, ancient chronicler. Master in Art History and specialist in Art History and Architecture from PUC - Rio (Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro); Bachelor of Philosophy from UFRJ (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro). Member of the African Heritage Commission for laureation of the Valongo Wharf region as a World Heritage Site (UNESCO). Curator of the 10th. SIART International Biennial, Bolivia.

Currently chronicler of Contemporary& magazine, Professor of the Free Learning Program at Parque Lage School of Visual Arts, Rio de Janeiro and Artistic Director of MAM-Rio with Pablo Lafuente.

Notes for a Horizon-tality: Toward the Possibility of Becoming Together as an Assemblage is a project that responds to our multiple and seemingly multiplying emergencies. Since the growing uncertainty of living in a world in crisis seems to continuously threaten the possibility of the future, this editorial initiative seeks to contribute to the growing scholarship on this topic from the perspective of Latin American contemporary art.