The internet is a space that is moved and navigated by the other; marginalized people, women, queer kids, immigrants, etc. At least, this is what I’ve always believed. With the flow of discourse and art that exists on the internet amongst people of colour, women, and queer folk, we are steadily securing cyber space as not only a place of refuge but as a space of revolutionary action.
Tabita Rezaire is an artist who has fully reclaimed the internet as her own; using it as both her pallet and her canvas, to deconstruct, unlearn, reclaim. I got the chance to talk to the Guyanese Danish artist about being a cyber-artist, the mysterious thing that is Diaspora, and using the internet as a tool of resistance.
Your body of work is very distinctive and lively but also I feel like, with a lot of art that is graphic-based and cyber based, people never know what to describe your work as or how to describe? How would you, talking to a viewer, describe your work?
I think of my work as documentaries but not like traditional TV prime time documentaries. I’m not into the creepy voice over and neither am I trying to represent anyone nor give anyone a voice. I chose a subject, or an area of research and dig for information, most often deconstructing knowledge available and reframing dominant narratives. I’m not buying into grand linear narratives; I’m more comfortable with fragmented narration and contradiction. Most of my work addresses the authoritative voice that is so problematic in mainstream media channels.
I am particularly into geo-body-politics – how geographies and histories have shaped our perception and continue to do so, like basically understanding how white supremacist capitalist hetero normative societies marginalize certain bodies. It’s about cultural resistance and dissent towards Western hegemony. Confronting knowledge, confronting images and its power. Questioning history, who wrote it? Why? Why I am learning this and not this? How come we are made to believe this over this?
Who’s trying to fuck with us?
Cyber-based art, movements, etc. require, (or a lot of us looking from the outside think it requires), a lot of you having to put yourself in front of the camera or web cam… Sorta like you are sealing yourself and your being into the internet. What does that consist of? Is there any power in being able to do that?
Cyber based art do not require you to put yourself online. It is like with any other medium, painting, and photography or video you can choose to do self-portrait or make autobiographical works. So it wouldn’t be fair to limit Internet art practices to this. There is a strong history of hacktivism, political criticism, and community-based work but the rise of social networks put to the front self-promotion games.
What it is really about is politics of representation. Who gets to be seen, heard, exposed by who and why? The Internet has changed the game because the entry barrier is less hierarchical, (don’t get me wrong only 40% of the world is connected to the internet, the digital divide is real and the internet is far less democratic than one would like to think!).
Cyber space created a platform for non-conforming, excluded, alienated identities to exist and gave exposure to marginalised bodies. Exposing yourself online as a social, political, gesture is about healing the injuries of exclusion, it’s about confronting Eurocentric standards of beauty, gender conformity, and the conspicuous absence of diversity in traditional media.
We need to see diversity out there, trans, poc, disabled, spirituals, queer, kinks, alien, mental ills, all shapes, all shades, tastes, in betweens and beyond. It’s urgent. It’s important. It’s necessary.
And not like we’re a fucking costume, trend or accessory.
I used to be very reluctant to put myself online, not wanting to be objectified, fetishized or giving out the look at me vibe. But it’s about claiming space, it’s about controlling your own objectification, it’s about self-love, and about disseminating empowering and diversified narratives and images of brown people out there.
So, if I can contribute to this, no shame in da self celebration game!
In your work, you bring to light the various ways that people in the Diaspora have cultivated these unique bonds with technology, (see: internet), and how we are slowly making the Internet a place for the “othered”…a place for us. Has your relationship with technology always been present, way before you started making art? If so, how did it cultivate/where does it stem from?
You know black people are not seen as tech savvy, when you think of IT skills most people imagine the IBM white dude, the fat belly geek or the outsourced Indian dude paid 80% less.
Once again it’s about confronting stereotypes and de-stigmatizing brown bodies and their agencies. The Internet is the Wild Wide West. It reproduces, reinforces old systems of exploitation and misrepresentation. Cyber-racial-politics is 4 real.
Google is fucking with us. Wikipedia is fucking with us. For example if you search black male body on google image, you’ll find mostly half naked super built men and the option to refine your search to sexy black man pops up… while you search white male body they all have their shirt on! Casually Google keeps eroticising and oversexualising the black male body. Talking about erasure on google image: when searching dreadlocks it’s mostly white people wearing dreads! Those are just examples but the erasure of pocs narratives and experiences is heavy online.
Controlling information is power, disseminating information is power, but too many of us forget that producing information is a responsibility! So I guess I’m trying to contribute to the decolonization of cyber space. If we don’t do it, no one is gonna do it for us!
Concerning my relationship with technology, I grew up privileged enough to have Internet at home in the mid-90’s. But in my work, it came up recently; actually I used to be like ‘analogue girl in a digital world’, shooting only in super 8. But it was too much of a mission, so I surrendered to technology.
Using the Internet as a tool of resistance and to create our own spaces is something that is quickly catching on amongst artists and writers of colour. How would you describe your idea of taking up space or creating space in the art world?
It is amazing to see all those blogs, zine, curatorial projects and communities popping up and focusing on works by us for us. There is such an asymmetry in terms of representation and opportunities in art institutions, discourses and in the art world in general that we really need this. I went through my MA in London and got THE lecture on ‘third world cinema’. LOL
I think creating our spaces is very important, though I’m still trying to figure out how radical to be about it! I’m struggling with this at the moment. What does it means for a brown artist to give a talk to a white audience in a white institution, to be that brown voice used for quota or political respectability, like we need at least a woc in every panel discussions!
It is the same old question: where do you have more power, from within a system that you may despise, (or more accurately that may despise you), or on the margin but you’re hustling hard. And from within is it about being acknowledged and recognized by those who are seen to represent power? Or is it about using those platforms to infiltrate and burst the bubble? Or it’s about eating a part of the cake, but doesn’t it reproduce dependency? Where is the money coming from? Who owned shit? Who gives funding? Who buys art?
Institutionalized whiteness, internalized whiteness as correctness.
It’s not about being a sell-out VS a real radical, but these are important questions to consider, which spaces are you using and why? I’m not too sure yet…
We need our own spaces and we also need more solidarity among ourselves because we have issues of trust within our own communities. We’ve been told that the white man knows better. That is following us big time. In art and culture it’s very deep. It goes back to the history books that have been written for us, the colonialy of power, the hierarchy of knowledge, culture and shit. We’re living it, live stream.
Where do you see yourself and your art going in the next year? What do you want to do next?
Well, I’m gonna keep unlearning of lot of stuff and try to be less angry about it all and just slowly grow and heal. Try to surround myself with good energies also. We all have our own journey, so I’m not too fussy about where I want to be or what I want to achieve in the next year. Though, if I could pay my rent with the stuff I’m doing, that would be cool.
I’m working on some cool projects so I just want to keep going. Currently making a holographic apology on the behalf of the western world, starting an online space dedicated to black masculinities as well as a tech company that will launch with a forum for POCs in the deep web. It is about creating safe spaces online, although there is no such thing on the Internet but anything is better that Google and FB making $$$ on our backs, let’s get away from that narratives for a change.
I don’t know what I’m gonna do next. I would really like to have a space IRL though and make shit happen. So, if anyone out there wanna give me a building in Johannesburg, holla me!
POWER TO US ALL <3
Words by Fabiola Ching