Gender, Violence, Visual Activism

The first workshop for the Gender, Violence, Visual Activism project
took place on the 23rd to the 27th of November 2014 in Cape Town,
South Africa. The workshop was funded by the Volkswagen Foundation
Post-Doctoral Fellowship program: “Humanities in Sub-Saharan Africa
and North Africa” Workshop Grant. There were 10 participants from
South Africa, two from Kenya, and two from Germany. The workshop was
organised around questions of violence and the ways in which violence
is enacted, experienced, conceptualized and resisted in the various locations in which those involved in the project are working


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7 Statements on Violence – K. Macharia

living marks

  1. If violence is enacted on the human, what should we call the thing that happens to those considered “not fully human”: the slave, the black, the African?[1]
  2. A list of thinkers: Frantz Fanon, Hortense Spillers, Sylvia Wynter, Katherine McKittrick, Octavia Butler, Samuel Delany, Rinaldo Walcott, Christina Sharpe, Saidiya Hartman, Alexander Weheliye, Fred Moten, Amina Mama, Wambui Mwangi. Let it never be said that names were not mentioned. Let it never be asked, “where were the black thinkers?”
  3. Audre Lorde tells us there is no space for guilt—guilt saps energy. She teaches us that guilt is dishonest. She tells us to think with anger. Along with James Baldwin, she teaches us that we cannot afford the false comfort of sentimentality.[2]
  4. We must learn how to mourn those considered unmournable. We must learn to grieve for those not considered human. To do that, we must unlearn grief and mourning. We must recalibrate our practices and feelings.[3]
  5. Katherine McKittrick reminds me: before taxonomy, there was the ledger. If, for some, a post-identity, post-essentialist world offers the best hope, for others, for bodies marked as black, a post-identity, uhumaning world marks the entry into a present that might be described, variously, as modernity, colonial modernity, capitalism, racial capitalism. To see the ledger as a point of entry into an ongoing present means that we must re-think the history of neoliberalism as the entry of market forces into every sphere of human life. The market has always been the black’s entry point into the modern world.[4]
  6. We cannot afford to be abstract: Gaza, Ferguson, Mandera, the ever-expanding geographies of violence. Michael Brown, Gift Makau, Rekia Boyd, a growing list of names. The many unnamed, the disposable we call poor, unemployed, illegal. The geographies written over by settler colonialism: the U.S., Canada, South Africa, Australia. The geographies written over by development and gentrification: the growl of life-obliterating bulldozers.[5]
  7. And, finally, we have art. Let me conclude with Ursula Le Guin’s words:

I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality.[6]

[1] Alexander Weheliye, Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014); Hortense Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” Diacritics 17.2 (1987): 65.81; Sylvia Wynter, “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation—An Argument,” CR: The New Centennial Review 3.3 (2003): 257-337; Fred Moten, “The Case of Blackness,” Criticism 50.2 (2008): 177-218.

[2] Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Boston: Crossing Press, 1984). See especially, “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism,” “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action,” and “The Master’s Tools will never Dismantle the Master’s House.”

[3] Here, though very indebted to Judith Butler’s work on grievability, I would push against it with Saidiya Hartman’s Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997). Hartman describes how black affect is used to produce white pleasure.

[4] Katherine McKittrick, “Plantation Futures,” Small Axe 17.3(2013): 1-15; “Mathematics Black Life,” The Black Scholar 44.2 (2014): 16-28. More broadly, the concept of fungibility is indispensable for thinking about colonial modernity.

[5] This attention to space and life and death is deeply indebted to Katherine McKittrick, Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006); Christina Sharpe, Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post-Slavery Subjects (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010); and Dionne Brand, A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes on Belonging (Vintage Canada, 2002). This in addition to other thinkers on space, including Michel de Certeau, Jack Halberstam, Sara Ahmed, Houston Baker, Gayatri Gopinath, Cherríe Moraga, Gloria Anzaldua, and Luce Irigaray.


**Image by Daniel Mark Nel