Intimate Justice in the Stolen Moment seeks to view Black womanhood as delicate – as temporal and intimate – as weightless.
Fragility, tenderness and softness are conjured in Ayana V Jackson’s latest solo exhibition at Gallery MOMO in Johannesburg. Jackson’s new work acknowledges a self-realization of the weight of gravity, both metaphorically and physically, fixed upon the bodies and subjectivities of black women. As if to deny the very physics that control time and space, these works take pleasure in seeing this body being allowed to be light, allowed to lose herself in unspoken tales and rapture often denied to nonwhite bodies.
Jackson deliberately uses classic tropes to highlight this injustice while also providing glimpses of women in bondage claiming freedom by stealing moments of pleasure and tenderness.
In Jackson’s interrogation of the stereotype of the strong and angry black woman, she explores how these tropes are rooted, and justified by the legacy of enslavement. Her existence is inextricably linked to a laboured body that history has thoroughly documented to have endured centuries of physical and psychological humiliations. This has left little to wonder as to why her fragility and innocence are often stolen with her need for protection readily forgotten. The effects of this can be seen in the common association that bondage, coercive reproduction, enforced child neglect, and disrupted family dynamics have assumed as a definitive truth of the Black woman’s experience in the 15th to 19th Century America(s).
As a result many Black American women, like all people who carry the legacy of abuse and bondage in their blood, have also inherited its primary repercussions; strong defense mechanisms and extreme inner strength. Jackson writes:
While I am not only proud, but thankful for this inheritance, I nevertheless continue to battle personally with the contradictions within what it means to inhabit a Black woman’s body. I am certain that strength and endurance are part of our legacy, but I am just as convinced that it is not the entirety of our experience. Even within captivity there must have been stolen moments of reprieve, pleasure, self-nurturing sensuality, fragility and love. Therefore, this must also be coded within my DNA.
Regardless of definitive proof or documentation of this truth, I feel compelled to remind and be reminded because as I scan my own subjectivity I encounter as much powerlessness as power and I yearn to be protected as much as I am secure in my self-sufficiency – likewise my sensuality is as passive as it can be self-determined.
Intimate Justice in the Stolen Moment expounds upon Ayana V Jackson’s continued exploration of Black womanhood through memory play and historical reenactment. Jackson brings a fresh departure from her past projects both formally and conceptually; visualised as a ‘mise en abyme’ – the experience of infinitely reproducing oneself within oneself – Jackson shifts this model of reproduction into a practice of invention. Here the artist takes up this impulse of inventing, rather than reproducing, images of the black woman’s body, her own form; we are presented then with the stolen moments of Jackson’s love for her own body and history, a black women’s body and history.