14 Aug Featured: Tabita Rezaire | Crystal Healer and Cyber Warrior
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Tabita Rezaire is on a techno crusade against the Eurocentric gaze and stigmatizing representations of black and brown bodies. Her French-Guyanese-Danish diasporic lineage informs her work, which interrogates power relations and dominant ideologies in mass media. As a child born on the cusp of the 90s, cyberspace is both her medium of choice and area of interest. Working in video and new media art, Tabita uses the screen as interface and site to disrupt and interrogate the Internet, as well as ponder its decolonialised potential. Tabita has a Master in Artist Moving Image from Central Saint Martins College in London and is a cyber body-politix warrior and crystal healer.
How does your personal history and experience inform the work you make?
Any production is always informed by who’s making the work. You speak from certain places, spaces, times, which shape your perspectives, and these positionalities have to be acknowledged. History and society tend to celebrate what comes from western white cis-heterosexual males, but there are a lot more stories to be heard. I speak from and for my history, my identities and my experiences, the same goes for the work I make.
Afro Cyber Resistance (still)
In another interview you introduce yourself by saying “I’m brown. I’m female. I’m angry”. In what ways are these the three main tenets of your work?
These are not the main tenets of my work but of my identity, which is multiple and fluid. I would rather say now, I am black, female, queer, emotionally exhausted, and angry. Like I said, those identities and feelings inform my work, and my work contributes to my strength, which gives power to our global community. It doesn’t mean that my work is limited to these subjects but it is from where it spawns.
It took me time to articulate and celebrate those energies and I’m starting slowly to turn my mental and emotional distress into meaning and action. It seemed to be easier to be ashamed or reduced to silence, which are actually other consequences of hurtful lies. Celebrating who we are with all our complexities and contradictions is the first step towards emancipation, like Audre Lorde preached: we need to turn silence into language and language into action.
How has your time in Johannesburg influenced your work and ideas?
It did on a very deep level. I’ve always been a woman of colour in the West, so my thinking and feelings were shaped by being part of the French Caribbean Diaspora. Being based in SA now, I realise how deeply we’ve been divided, the relationship between the black Diaspora and the African continent is complex, yet our struggles are somehow similar. We are part of a global community of people of colour and our struggles are part of the same movement. We need to care for each other because no one else is gonna do it for us.
Making work from South Africa, the historical, social, cultural and political context has shifted and broadened up. The notion of privilege took another sense for me, I am very aware of my western privilege, and feel sometimes guilty or part of the issue but it’s very unproductive. What is needed is to use those privileges in a meaningful way.
But the most radical shift in my work is my warrior strategy. I don’t want to spend all my energy convincing people how fucked up they are, I don’t have time for pedagogy anymore. I want to use my time, my resources and energy to strengthen our communities. I want to be on the healing side of the struggle. I feel blessed because I met beautiful souls in Joburg with whom I connect on artistic, spiritual and political levels and it feels great to know you’re part of a community.
Afro Cyber Resistance
Can you tell us more about your term ‘cinemythogeography’ and what role you as artists/filmmaker/meaning-maker play?
Cinemythogeography is a word MALAXA came up with, an artist duo I’m in with Alicia Mersy. It comes from mythogeography, a proactive way of walking, thinking, and engaging with space. It is about exploring the geopolitical dynamics of a place. We added filming as a trigger for interaction with communities, often marginalised. I guess more than anything cinemythogeography is a method. It was born out of a frustration with documentaries, their Eurocentric gaze and stigmatizing representations. Acknowledging that the camera gives you power, it is about admitting those dynamics, altering the inherent exploitation of the subject and questioning the urge to capture, to document. How does it make it anymore real? But as women of colour, it is important for us to add our narratives, our side of the story.
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What interests and appeals to you about the Internet as site, subject and aesthetic reference for your work?
The Internet is an environment with its own power dynamics. For me it is another subject and space of exploration, as a technology, tool, apparatus, dispositive and culture. How, why and who uses it? Who is excluded from it? Who benefits from it?
My work is about techno-geo-body politix, how geographies, histories and technologies affect our bodies, feelings and sense of self, from sexuality, race, gender, mental health, mechanisms of othering, politics of exploitation and domination, and the resulting traumas associated with having any marginalizing markers. So how do technology and the Internet in particular change our relationships to our bodies? How can we use technology as a tool for resistance? Knowing that the technology itself can contribute to the oppressions.
I’m interested in the Internet for its possibilities, not yet realised. For now I want to understand how it is used against us, how it is part of a scheme to control and dominate black and brown bodies at the benefit of a white supremacist economy. As much as our bodies do, the Internet needs healing.
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In what ways does your work extend beyond the screen and cyberspace?
Mostly in fights and frustrating arguments, trying to have conversations about systemic oppressions and institutionalized racism, homophobia, transphobia, fatphobia, ableism, islamophobia and other shaming we’re perpetuating because we’ve learned to fear differences. Like how the language we use is embedded in this sick matrix of oppressions but I realize it is not very productive, and not worth the emotional violence.
So besides being a full time angry black woman, I try to contribute to decolonial knowledge. IRL I’m doing some academic research to ‘rationalise’ my emotions and give talks, lead workshops about what matters to me. Basically I share my political and spiritual journey.
SHE WHO LEARN SHOULD TEACH
SHE WHO TEACH SHOULD LEARN
I joined the afro-feminist collective MWASI in Paris, a political group of black women doing such important work. Now I know that when I go home I can find some nurturing energies. It’s important to know you’re not on your own.
I’m training to become a Kemetic Yoga (African yoga from Ancient Egypt) teacher. It has helped me a great deal to ease my headspace, so I want to give back that strength and aid my peers to nurture their physical, mental and spiritual health.
I also want to start a strip night for non-conforming bodies and genders or anyone who feel would benefit from a safe place to be proudly vulnerable outside of the exploitative male gaze. I’ve always wanted to strip, I think there is a great power in allowing yourself to be naked (literally or not), to loving your body and claiming its existence, its survival.
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Sorry for real (still)
As a self-proclaimed ‘digital activist’, how do you mediate your agenda as artist/activist whilst simultaneously allowing space for viewers to form their own readings of your work?
I don’t really think about this. Even if my work has a decolonial agenda, you’ll get what you can from it depending on your positionalities. Anyhow, there is always space to project your own anxieties into the works.
Sorry for real (still)
Power to yall
The screen functions prominently in your work both literally and conceptually. Can you please tell us more about this?
It’s an obsession, whatever forms it takes, TVs, cinemas, phones, computers, cameras. Screens produce and/or allow us to consume images, which create and validate narratives/ideas/information/truth/data/ideologies. A screen is a politically motivated device. It is POWER. As they fashion desires, aspirations, and dictates behaviours, they are also causing so much pain and violence.
The violence of representation is too real, how images vehicle a certain idea of you. If you’re not represented you’re invisible and it’s as if you don’t exist. Images give value, that is why stereotypical representations are dangerous, because we build ourselves in response to often paralyzing representations. And respectability politics is killing our vibes. It’s important to keep a critical relationship with the screens we interact or produce with.
Screens are apparatus, from which information is disseminated, accessed, processed, recycled, now copy and pasted onto our brains and bodies and back to the same screens. Screens are used to control people-data resulting in global scale propaganda and disinformation. We’re the recipients of some ill-crafted ideology.
Looking at how POCs (people of colour) are represented in the media … mostly dead these days. This is psychological violence operated through the screen. How can scrolling through people looking like us being slaughtered result in anything beside traumatic exhaustion. It is a necessity to produce countering images, empowering and therapeutic images. We have to reclaim that screen power for our decolonial struggles.
IMAGES OF US FOR US FROM US
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Screenshot love from Tabita’s Tumblr
Can you talk us through a few examples of recent work and explain how they engage with, critique or subvert historically hegemonic representations and ideologies?
I can’t really say how it does, nor if it does at all. The only thing I can say is that it aims at trying.
How does irony figure in your work?
I guess sometimes irony makes certain things easier to express and digest. I think it is about allowing yourself some distance with difficult realities, a kind of shell to hide into. I have the tendency to hide behind theory, like Darkmatter ‘I write theory to make my feelings seem more legitimate’. Irony has a similar function; it allows you to be heard.
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And lastly, what are you looking at, listening to, reading and watching right now?
I’m looking at holistic healing practices, got myself into meditation and crystal healing, trying to manage my anger better and improve my skills in self-care. Listening to Dej Loaf’s mixtape on repeat. I just got myself three books last week: Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin, The Wretched of the Screen by Hito Steyerl and I AM YOUR SISTER, collected and unpublished writings of Audre Lorde that I just finished. It gave me so much power. I encourage anyone who hasn’t yet to watch the Strolling and Flâner series by Cecile Emeke.
POWER TO YA’LL
Screenshot love from Tabita’s Tumblr