Claiming WCMA : Escapades In Forbidding Spaces

photograph by ARTHUR D. EVANS

photograph by ARTHUR D. EVANS

Museums are increasingly becoming interesting spaces to me. I'm intrigued, by how spaces shape our lives - how they address us, spur us, constrict us and elevate us. Museums and Art Galleries draw me in, because as curated spaces, they are carefully designed to tell visual narratives. 

Who belongs here? Whose history are we highlighting? Why are some faces cast in stone and not others? Why are some bodies to be remembered but not others?  

Claiming WCMA is a redemptive piece in self-portraiture, a sequel of sorts to Walking in WCMA. Claiming WCMA is born out of a historical lineage that never ceases to amaze me. Only 45 years ago, a body like mine - black, female and African - would not have been comfortable in this space. Fascinations of hierarchies in gender and race would have guarded against my intrusion.  A body like mine was the antonym and antithesis of the ideal white, male and Euro-American body. 

If Walking in WCMA was mournful, then let Claiming WCMA be celebratory. The bottom line, the starkest truth is this: despite their dark history, black, female, African women are making progressive strides. They are challenging the stereotypes that once suffocated them. The examples are myriad, and best of all, they are all around me. 

Irene, my mum, began a school in an informal settlement that is transforming the lives of hundreds of people. Lydia, my friend from church and primary school, is running a blog on women in business and finance, and contributing as a columnist to True Love Magazine. Dhvani, another friend from high school, is celebrating her Afro-Asian heritage through a fashion blog. Vicky, with whom I went to primary school, just started her own line of make-up brushes. Jordana, my bestfriend and schoolmate from high school, just successfully ventured into the intimates industry. Ciku, a former workmate, just published her first novel, Of Goats and Poisoned Oranges. Joan is a fast-rising high-end chef and culinary artist that is serving delicacies to Kenya's creme de la creme!

These women, are taking over spaces - be it in business, fashion, design, authorship, culinary arts and education - that would, not too long ago, have been outside their turf. 

The black, African woman redeems herself (for herself) by creating and by claiming new unchartered territory. 

Claiming WCMA is an exercise in claiming and re-curating a space in which I have never been at home. By intruding this space that tells little of my rich history, I am inspired to venture into new spaces that have been, by fascinations of gender and race, kept outside of my reach. I am all too aware, that oppression works by erasure. And so, I will not allow myself, my history nor my experiences to be erased. Instead, I will memorialize my existence in this space through self-portraiture. I juxtapose myself against various works of art in order to collapse our existence into one. Additionally I have chosen to fade these pictures - the shadows acknowledge that a body like mine was once abject. But the bursts of colour acknowledge that a yellow daffodil has burst out of a rock and began to bloom.

Would it offend you to take to great lengths to curve the wide contours of my nose or to capture the boisterous fullness of my lips?

Would it offend you to take to great lengths to curve the wide contours of my nose or to capture the boisterous fullness of my lips?

I will not be another piece of furniture. On display. To be ignored.  Like dead pieces of mortal wood. Silenced, functional, a means to an end. I will not.

I will not be another piece of furniture. On display. To be ignored.  Like dead pieces of mortal wood. Silenced, functional, a means to an end. I will not.

1960's style photography. You could search the world, but you would never find a picture of a student with a body like mine, owning this space in the 1960's.

1960's style photography. You could search the world, but you would never find a picture of a student with a body like mine, owning this space in the 1960's.

You wouldn't find one like this either.

You wouldn't find one like this either.

Pieces from Egypt displayed in the Global North.  An appropriation or not? A taking either way.

Pieces from Egypt displayed in the Global North.  An appropriation or not? A taking either way.

15 decades ago, I might have been part of their family. I might have breastfed her children and picked his cotton. Only, I would never have made it to the family portrait. 

15 decades ago, I might have been part of their family. I might have breastfed her children and picked his cotton. Only, I would never have made it to the family portrait. 

What did it take to have your face framed in gold? And hung up for the world to see? Why are some bodies memorialized and some not? 

What did it take to have your face framed in gold? And hung up for the world to see? Why are some bodies memorialized and some not? 

But out of the shadows, the black, African woman is rising. 

The daffodil...the yellow daffodil, has burst out of a rock and began to bloom.

So go forth black, African woman. The world remains for your taking! Only you can stop you now! 

Intrude, reclaim, create and curate. Sparkle, shine, beam, radiate! Only you can stop you now!

Tabitha.