'...opacity is not the lack of light, because there is opacity in the light. Opacity is the reason of every light'. Édouard Glissant
Independent curator, Gcotyelwa Mashiqa, presents Black Luminosity, a group exhibition delving into the visual representations of Black, its aesthetic language and its connotations.
What is it about Black that communicates the presence, dignity, and elegance, as well as the futurity, inherent in its being and appearance? In the context of this exhibition, 'Black' refers to the dark, opaque surface of the artworks, as well as the contingent connotations of visibility and racial bias. The opacity or Blackness of each artwork becomes a site of critique; to unmask methodologies and modes of production that generate paths of knowledge and 'authoritative forms of visuality which function to refuse Blackness itself.' 1 As an exhibition, Black Luminosity becomes a space of refusal; a rejection of the narratives and terms given to us2, deconstructing the clichés and stereotypes associated with the pigment and formation of Black. In addition, Blackness as a praxis of refusal operates not as utopic nor autonomous–not pessimistic nor futuristic–but implements the concept of 'negation' as a tool that is generative.3
What Black Luminosity asks of viewers is to immerse themselves in the darkest parts.
To understand what is being communicated by each of the artists included in this exhibition, is to engage that which has not been visually represented. Imagination is a necessary tool in deciphering the supposed invisible areas of an image; consequently, self-examination is equally important in decoding the associations and undertones of Blackness.
In photography, the technicalities of underexposure/overexposure–areas in an image that are either very bright, or too dark–leads to an image that does not replicate reality. Instead, through imagination, they make visible certain worlds and narratives that are not detectable to the human eye. Using this understanding of photographic practice more broadly in the varied modalities of this exhibition, the darkest, most underexposed areas become the optical unconscious of the artwork.
Here, the blurry, under/overexposed areas of an image offer a chance to not only rely on sight but engage the viewer in its multi-sensorial reading.
In this exhibition, the optical unconscious is present in the minute details, often hidden or invisible at first glance. Black Luminosity aims to reveal the unseen. By placing artworks in dialogue, a peculiar openness is revealed, complicating our understanding and assumption of seeing. The exhibition encourages viewers to be cognisant of these rigid and racially prejudiced modes of reading, facilitating a deeper engagement with the artworks through and beyond the socio-political context of the artists. This reminds us that a work of art is created within and around a set of agendas that are constantly in motion.
Black Luminosity is a site for seeing and un-seeing; learning and un-learning; recognising non-western systems of understanding; uncoding and liberating representations of Blackness; its aim to open up new potential associations.
1 Campt, Tina. (2019). 'Black visuality and the practice of refusal.' Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory.
Press release courtesy SMAC Gallery.