Black Cyborgs

Interview: TMC Collective

by Rianna Jade Parker 

The three-year project led by Autograph ABP, The Missing Chapter, saw its second chapter open in January to a crowd of merry Londoners escaping the cold and spilling onto every floor of Rivington Place. The exhibition showcased the visual work of eight different artists using mediums ranging from photography to Illustration with the intention of furthering the narrative of migration and a Black presence in 19th century UK. Rianna Jade Parker caught up with one of the collective members, Kariima Ali, to discuss her contributing photography series Black Cyborgs, the research and process behind her practice.

Rianna Jade Parker: How did you join The Missing Chapter collective?

Kariima: The collective making was a product of Autograph ABP’s Black Chronicles show but I first heard of the collective through friends and knew Adelaide Bannerman was behind it so I emailed her about joining and she said “sure!” From September, we met weekly on Thursday evenings to either have a session with the artist who acted as mentors to us or spend time in the archives at Autograph where we used the materials in the archives as references for our own work. We could use any medium we wanted, we had resources and the help we needed.

RJP: What did you find in archives that really stuck with you?

Kariima: The portraits of the African Choir were amazing! There was one particular portrait of a woman whose name was unknown and she became the first point of departure for my series. The African Choir, made up of South African singers, would meet around Shoreditch during the years they were in Britain (1891-1893) and were dressed up in what was deemed authentic or stereotypically African. My thoughts were, “Wow, even back then to ‘look Black or African’ was to be dressed up with their ideas of Blackness even though it was not true or in line with how they had already presented themselves.” And these thoughts tied in a lot with the sessions on Blackface we did as a collective.

RJP: Once your ideas began to take shape why did you choose photography as a medium?

Kariima: Making a photographic portrait series was new for me because I rarely take pictures of people. I’ve always been shy about asking people to model for me – I’ve always felt like I couldn’t. When I went to Somalia in the summer of 2014 the plan was for me to change the direction of my photography, I actually wanted to take photographs of people but no-one would let me. At first I didn’t mind because I really didn’t know how to take pictures of Somalia without re-creating National Geographic and but then I would notice all of the white men walking around with their cameras and snapping without anyone’s consent and without protest.

I came back to London wanting to do Black portraitures but not in the same way we were used to seeing. How can I do this in a way that means something more? The Missing Chapter Collective showcase was the chance for me to do that. I was introduced to the work of Omar Victor Diop during one of our weekly meetings and it was his Project Diaspora series of recreating historical figures and the portraits of the African Choir that helped shaped Black Cyborgs. I knew I was going to reimagine the archives in some way so to stylize I used Sheed-Baati my mum had brought back from Somalia and each model mirrored a pose from the African Choir.

RJP: What are Black Cyborgs?

Kariima: One of my favourite essays is by Joy James, ‘Trayvon Martin and the Black Cyborgs’, where she talks about the social death of Blackness and the future space to be liberated in a world we create ourselves. I want that future where we have moved beyond the ways that anti-blackness has been predicated on us as socially dead beings. That is being a Black Cyborg.

Find out more about the TMC Collective Showcase.

Photographs courtesy of the Artist: Black Cyborg 1, Kariima Ali (2015)

The Missing Chapter – TMC Collective Showcase was a free exhibition running from 15-30 January 2016 atRivington Place, London UK

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Rianna Jade Parker is a reader before anything else and a writer who writes for other readers. Her curatorial, artistic and social practices are as informed by Stuart Hall, bell hooks and James Baldwin as they are by Biggie and Lil Kim. When she is not frying platanos in coconut oil she is busy hitting life’s snooze button.

This feature was commissioned and edited by MD’s Editor-at-large Lola Okolosie. To pitch an article, review or feature please contact her at lola@mediadiversified.org

 

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