If retribution was what the youts wanted
not one brick would remain on the city’s skyline.
We are over such theatrics – for now.
We browse through the catalogue of anarchy,
underline moments in history, and conclude
that everybody wants to go home.
Caleb Femi (Excerpt from the poem ‘Gentle Youth’)
On this page is a selection of artworks from 2013-2023. They are about the body and its environment. And about being a body with another body. They are about the spaces where community gathers or where people are alone: streets, shops, churches, parks, rooms.
Ruth Wilson Gilmore wrote ‘by mixing our labour with the earth, we change the external world, and thereby our own nature’. It’s a hopeful position to take. It’s not saying this is going to be easy. It’s saying we can do this together. We can build connections, and make what people want and need. There will always be conflict of some kind, differences in needs and desires. To me, the task is to get to where we want to be, not to fight over differences (a simplification, yes).
These artworks investigate how bodies oscillate within spaces – public, personal, social, political, experiential – and how this builds worlds of the imagination that are psychically, emotionally and materially connected and constructed. The images here have the indent of bodies even if the body is not always present. Equally, some of the environments look and feel like backdrops. So what then is the relationship between the observable body and space?
In their collaboration Judith Butler and Athena Athanasiou discuss ideas concerning the body in public space. Social beings are sustained and buffered by social and cultural life. Butler notes ‘we do not simply move ourselves, but are ourselves moved by what is outside us, by others, but also by whatever “outside” resides in us’ and ‘the point…is to move forward, awkwardly, with others, in a movement that demands both courage and critical practices, a form of relating to new norms and to others that does not “settle” into a new regime’. These bodies are moving, coming into contact with each other, and with social spaces and practices, and (potentially) forming/forcing new ways of being.
To use a different example, KRS-ONE situates his relationship to the external world as: ‘we saw the Bronx not according to the environment, but according to who we were in it’. As I understand his meaning, he is talking about ‘we’, and seeing the world, the environment, as external but part of the ‘we’. It isn’t about the underinvestment, disrepair of buildings or how the community is left to deal with issues, but about the power and potential of being people, together.
In his book Dignity or Death, Norman Ajari builds a compelling case for Black libratory expression and politics. He conceptualises ‘ethical conflicts’ rather than ‘ethics’ in building a freedom from the ‘old patterns’: the old can not be repaired, it must be transformed – how can people begin to do this?
Both Ajari and Jimi Famuwera discuss the importance of the Church as a radical space. Famuwera also discusses the importance of shops as places of culture and gathering. I’m not trying to be irreverent or clever in placing bodies in relation to places of worship. I’m trying to create an imaginative space where bodies may seem incongruent. They are apart from their environment but a part of it.