Kosisochukwu Nnebe | Tilt / Shift














KOSISOCHUKWU NNEBE


A RELATIONSHIP IN THREE PARTS

i. reclaiming black identity through the black image


“Black art is a redefinition and reclamation of the Black image and Black identity by Black individuals. It is inherently political, as it counters predetermined images and stereotypes, and repositions us in the political discourse.”

My voice wavered slightly as I spoke, stumbling on certain words, wrists flailing as I attempted to emphasize with my body what I was unable to capture and convey in words. It was the fall of 2013, and I was 20 at the time – brimming at once with self-confidence and insecurity as I shared my recent discovery of the Black Arts Movement with a group of artists, activists and academics who were likely already familiar with the movement, but indulged me nonetheless. Learning about the Black Arts Movement and the Harlem Renaissance before it, evoked a similar sensation to watching videos of Malcolm X speaking for the first time, asking “what made you hate yourself?” The ability of a portrait to communicate confidence and the recovery of a seemingly lost identity through the slight angle of a hat or direct, insistent eye contact with the viewer felt like a call to action for a young Black girl from Gatineau, Quebec.





































I took to it with reverence, painting portraits of others as representations of the woman I had always wanted to see myself as. Layer upon layer of watercolours became visual traces of a depth and nuance of spirit in the women I painted into existence, and, by extension, myself; floors and fingers stained with oil pastel and paint became both artifact and archive of this moment of self-creation. I painted and painted, until one day I realized that the woman I had visualized myself as–the one I was ardently attempting to fix onto paper using whatever medium was available to me–was a figment, not of my own imagination, but of the white imaginary.





















































































ii. searching for a radical black female subjectivity

In 2015, a friend sent me a PDF version of bell hooks’ “Black Looks.” I read it cover to cover, printing out a copy at my school library, highlighting and dog-earing passages to re-read, and then transcribing them in my best handwriting into a notebook I carried with me everywhere. Circled, underlined and bracketed over and over again was the term ‘radical Black female subjectivity’ which hooks frequently describes, but never quite defines. It is at once “the process by which we move from seeing ourselves as objects to acting as subjects” and that which allows us to move beyond the legacy of ontological Blackness – the Blackness that whiteness created. For a young, Black woman artist, it was a blueprint for moving away from the discourse of “good v. bad” representations which fix Blackness in relation to whiteness, towards a discourse that pushes for transgressive and challenging images of Blackness.

Rather than use others as a proxy for my own visuality, my body and self-image became the battlegrounds on which I wrangled with the realities of projected identities and the possibilities of self-actualization. It was hooks’ writings that also led to my interest in feminist standpoint theory; her re-imagination of marginality as a site of resistance, a space for creation and liberation, shifted my focus away from the centre and towards that which I already had and knew. And so, in this search for a radical Black female subjectivity, I found the seemingly boundless potential for new and otherwise possibilities – through self-portraiture, I could access new ways of understanding myself that were rooted in the marginal space of difference and inwards defining.















































It wasn’t until an art opening in Guelph in the fall of 2018, that the frailty of this exercise became apparent. A simple, “But you don’t look like a slave in that photo; you look elegant and dignified,” from an elderly white woman who had engaged extensively with one of my pieces was all it took.































































































































iii. disturbing the politics of visibility

The danger of the gaze lies in the fact that it looks and it thinks it reads.

In an article on the male glance, Lili Loofbourow contrasts this with the frustration one feels when faced with an image unlabeled–a daunting blank: “You don't know how to approach it, or what to think of it–sometimes you might not even quite know what it is. It's a very uncomfortable sensation. Relieving that discomfort requires sacrificing possibility."

While this passage may lend itself to different interpretations, what I took from it is this: discomfort breeds possibility. It is this idea, as well as a growing interest in phenomenology and the generative potential of hesitation, that has inspired me to reconsider the politics of visibility, and that of invisibility–or rather illegibility–in particular, in my art practice.





And so, in 2019, when I next approached a self-portrait, it was in the form of a large wooden podium, two hanging sheets of red plexiglass, two red banners on opposing walls and a hidden image that could only be seen from one position within the gallery space.





































































Underwriting this work–and an ongoing subject of my practice–is the question of what happens when we disturb the legibility of the Black body, forcing people to surface the mental processes that act to constitute the very identities they believe that they are merely perceiving. A corollary to this comes in the shape of Edouard Glissant’s concept of opacity, which rejects ideals of transparency that would have parameters of difference clearly defined and categorized, and instead calls for the right to not be understood. It is in this space, in between Glissant’s call to find refuge in a politics of refusal, and hooks’ gentle invitation to enter into that space of marginality, that I find myself now, trying to make sense of this need to be seen in ways that are liberating and this urge to withhold myself from those who will never see me in that light.












IMAGES IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE
Kosisochukwu Nnebe, Untitled, 2014.
Kosisochukwu Nnebe, Somatic Satiation, 2017, Photo of Black Woman #8 (70 Degrees), 2017.
Kosisochukwu Nnebe, Somatic Satiation, 2017, Photo of Black Woman #9 (rebirth), 2017.
Kosisochukwu Nnebe, I want you to know that I am hiding something from you / since what I might be is uncontainable., Installation views at AXENÉO7, Gatineau, 2019 (Image credit: Justin Wonnacott).








Image
KOSISOCHUKWU NNEBE


A RELATIONSHIP IN THREE PARTS

i. reclaiming black identity through the black image


“Black art is a redefinition and reclamation of the Black image and Black identity by Black individuals. It is inherently political, as it counters predetermined images and stereotypes, and repositions us in the political discourse.”

My voice wavered slightly as I spoke, stumbling on certain words, wrists flailing as I attempted to emphasize with my body what I was unable to capture and convey in words. It was the fall of 2013, and I was 20 at the time – brimming at once with self-confidence and insecurity as I shared my recent discovery of the Black Arts Movement with a group of artists, activists and academics who were likely already familiar with the movement, but indulged me nonetheless. Learning about the Black Arts Movement and the Harlem Renaissance before it, evoked a similar sensation to watching videos of Malcolm X speaking for the first time, asking “what made you hate yourself?” The ability of a portrait to communicate confidence and the recovery of a seemingly lost identity through the slight angle of a hat or direct, insistent eye contact with the viewer felt like a call to action for a young Black girl from Gatineau, Quebec.





Image
I took to it with reverence, painting portraits of others as representations of the woman I had always wanted to see myself as. Layer upon layer of watercolours became visual traces of a depth and nuance of spirit in the women I painted into existence, and, by extension, myself; floors and fingers stained with oil pastel and paint became both artifact and archive of this moment of self-creation. I painted and painted, until one day I realized that the woman I had visualized myself as–the one I was ardently attempting to fix onto paper using whatever medium was available to me–was a figment, not of my own imagination, but of the white imaginary.





Image
ii. searching for a radical black female subjectivity

In 2015, a friend sent me a PDF version of bell hooks’ “Black Looks.” I read it cover to cover, printing out a copy at my school library, highlighting and dog-earing passages to re-read, and then transcribing them in my best handwriting into a notebook I carried with me everywhere. Circled, underlined and bracketed over and over again was the term ‘radical Black female subjectivity’ which hooks frequently describes, but never quite defines. It is at once “the process by which we move from seeing ourselves as objects to acting as subjects” and that which allows us to move beyond the legacy of ontological Blackness – the Blackness that whiteness created. For a young, Black woman artist, it was a blueprint for moving away from the discourse of “good v. bad” representations which fix Blackness in relation to whiteness, towards a discourse that pushes for transgressive and challenging images of Blackness.

Rather than use others as a proxy for my own visuality, my body and self-image became the battlegrounds on which I wrangled with the realities of projected identities and the possibilities of self-actualization. It was hooks’ writings that also led to my interest in feminist standpoint theory; her re-imagination of marginality as a site of resistance, a space for creation and liberation, shifted my focus away from the centre and towards that which I already had and knew. And so, in this search for a radical Black female subjectivity, I found the seemingly boundless potential for new and otherwise possibilities – through self-portraiture, I could access new ways of understanding myself that were rooted in the marginal space of difference and inwards defining.





Image





It wasn’t until an art opening in Guelph in the fall of 2018, that the frailty of this exercise became apparent. A simple, “But you don’t look like a slave in that photo; you look elegant and dignified,” from an elderly white woman who had engaged extensively with one of my pieces was all it took.






Image Image
iii. disturbing the politics of visibility

The danger of the gaze lies in the fact that it looks and it thinks it reads.

In an article on the male glance, Lili Loofbourow contrasts this with the frustration one feels when faced with an image unlabeled–a daunting blank: “You don't know how to approach it, or what to think of it–sometimes you might not even quite know what it is. It's a very uncomfortable sensation. Relieving that discomfort requires sacrificing possibility."

While this passage may lend itself to different interpretations, what I took from it is this: discomfort breeds possibility. It is this idea, as well as a growing interest in phenomenology and the generative potential of hesitation, that has inspired me to reconsider the politics of visibility, and that of invisibility–or rather illegibility–in particular, in my art practice.





Image


And so, in 2019, when I next approached a self-portrait, it was in the form of a large wooden podium, two hanging sheets of red plexiglass, two red banners on opposing walls and a hidden image that could only be seen from one position within the gallery space.




Image


Underwriting this work–and an ongoing subject of my practice–is the question of what happens when we disturb the legibility of the Black body, forcing people to surface the mental processes that act to constitute the very identities they believe that they are merely perceiving. A corollary to this comes in the shape of Edouard Glissant’s concept of opacity, which rejects ideals of transparency that would have parameters of difference clearly defined and categorized, and instead calls for the right to not be understood. It is in this space, in between Glissant’s call to find refuge in a politics of refusal, and hooks’ gentle invitation to enter into that space of marginality, that I find myself now, trying to make sense of this need to be seen in ways that are liberating and this urge to withhold myself from those who will never see me in that light.







IMAGES IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE
Kosisochukwu Nnebe, Untitled, 2014.
Kosisochukwu Nnebe, Somatic Satiation, 2017, Photo of Black Woman #8 (70 Degrees), 2017.
Kosisochukwu Nnebe, Somatic Satiation, 2017, Photo of Black Woman #9 (rebirth), 2017.
Kosisochukwu Nnebe, I want you to know that I am hiding something from you / since what I might be is uncontainable., Installation views at AXENÉO7, Gatineau, 2019 (Image credit: Justin Wonnacott).








Image
KOSISOCHUKWU NNEBE


A RELATIONSHIP IN THREE PARTS

i. reclaiming black identity through the black image


“Black art is a redefinition and reclamation of the Black image and Black identity by Black individuals. It is inherently political, as it counters predetermined images and stereotypes, and repositions us in the political discourse.”

My voice wavered slightly as I spoke, stumbling on certain words, wrists flailing as I attempted to emphasize with my body what I was unable to capture and convey in words. It was the fall of 2013, and I was 20 at the time – brimming at once with self-confidence and insecurity as I shared my recent discovery of the Black Arts Movement with a group of artists, activists and academics who were likely already familiar with the movement, but indulged me nonetheless. Learning about the Black Arts Movement and the Harlem Renaissance before it, evoked a similar sensation to watching videos of Malcolm X speaking for the first time, asking “what made you hate yourself?” The ability of a portrait to communicate confidence and the recovery of a seemingly lost identity through the slight angle of a hat or direct, insistent eye contact with the viewer felt like a call to action for a young Black girl from Gatineau, Quebec.





Image
I took to it with reverence, painting portraits of others as representations of the woman I had always wanted to see myself as. Layer upon layer of watercolours became visual traces of a depth and nuance of spirit in the women I painted into existence, and, by extension, myself; floors and fingers stained with oil pastel and paint became both artifact and archive of this moment of self-creation. I painted and painted, until one day I realized that the woman I had visualized myself as–the one I was ardently attempting to fix onto paper using whatever medium was available to me–was a figment, not of my own imagination, but of the white imaginary.





Image
ii. searching for a radical black female subjectivity

In 2015, a friend sent me a PDF version of bell hooks’ “Black Looks.” I read it cover to cover, printing out a copy at my school library, highlighting and dog-earing passages to re-read, and then transcribing them in my best handwriting into a notebook I carried with me everywhere. Circled, underlined and bracketed over and over again was the term ‘radical Black female subjectivity’ which hooks frequently describes, but never quite defines. It is at once “the process by which we move from seeing ourselves as objects to acting as subjects” and that which allows us to move beyond the legacy of ontological Blackness – the Blackness that whiteness created. For a young, Black woman artist, it was a blueprint for moving away from the discourse of “good v. bad” representations which fix Blackness in relation to whiteness, towards a discourse that pushes for transgressive and challenging images of Blackness.

Rather than use others as a proxy for my own visuality, my body and self-image became the battlegrounds on which I wrangled with the realities of projected identities and the possibilities of self-actualization. It was hooks’ writings that also led to my interest in feminist standpoint theory; her re-imagination of marginality as a site of resistance, a space for creation and liberation, shifted my focus away from the centre and towards that which I already had and knew. And so, in this search for a radical Black female subjectivity, I found the seemingly boundless potential for new and otherwise possibilities – through self-portraiture, I could access new ways of understanding myself that were rooted in the marginal space of difference and inwards defining.





Image Image





It wasn’t until an art opening in Guelph in the fall of 2018, that the frailty of this exercise became apparent. A simple, “But you don’t look like a slave in that photo; you look elegant and dignified,” from an elderly white woman who had engaged extensively with one of my pieces was all it took.






Image
iii. disturbing the politics of visibility

The danger of the gaze lies in the fact that it looks and it thinks it reads.

In an article on the male glance, Lili Loofbourow contrasts this with the frustration one feels when faced with an image unlabeled–a daunting blank: “You don't know how to approach it, or what to think of it–sometimes you might not even quite know what it is. It's a very uncomfortable sensation. Relieving that discomfort requires sacrificing possibility."

While this passage may lend itself to different interpretations, what I took from it is this: discomfort breeds possibility. It is this idea, as well as a growing interest in phenomenology and the generative potential of hesitation, that has inspired me to reconsider the politics of visibility, and that of invisibility–or rather illegibility–in particular, in my art practice.





Image


And so, in 2019, when I next approached a self-portrait, it was in the form of a large wooden podium, two hanging sheets of red plexiglass, two red banners on opposing walls and a hidden image that could only be seen from one position within the gallery space.




Image


Underwriting this work–and an ongoing subject of my practice–is the question of what happens when we disturb the legibility of the Black body, forcing people to surface the mental processes that act to constitute the very identities they believe that they are merely perceiving. A corollary to this comes in the shape of Edouard Glissant’s concept of opacity, which rejects ideals of transparency that would have parameters of difference clearly defined and categorized, and instead calls for the right to not be understood. It is in this space, in between Glissant’s call to find refuge in a politics of refusal, and hooks’ gentle invitation to enter into that space of marginality, that I find myself now, trying to make sense of this need to be seen in ways that are liberating and this urge to withhold myself from those who will never see me in that light.







IMAGES IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE
Kosisochukwu Nnebe, Untitled, 2014.
Kosisochukwu Nnebe, Somatic Satiation, 2017, Photo of Black Woman #8 (70 Degrees), 2017.
Kosisochukwu Nnebe, Somatic Satiation, 2017, Photo of Black Woman #9 (rebirth), 2017.
Kosisochukwu Nnebe, I want you to know that I am hiding something from you / since what I might be is uncontainable., Installation views at AXENÉO7, Gatineau, 2019 (Image credit: Justin Wonnacott).









KOSISOCHUKWU NNEBE | Kosisochukwu is a Nigerian-Canadian visual artist. Inspired by the work of countless Black feminist intellectuals and artists, her work aims to combine critical theory and visual arts practice and explores the role of art as an interactive and disruptive force. Using phenomenology (the study of experience) as a methodology, her practice aims to engage viewers on issues of race, gender and power in ways that make them aware of their own complicity through interactive and installation-based pieces.

Her work has been exhibited at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Places des Arts and Station 16 in Montreal, and the Mohr Gallery in Mountain View, California. She has given presentations on her artistic practice and research at universities across Quebec, including Laval, McGill and Concordia, and has facilitated youth workshops at the Ottawa Art Gallery and Redwood City High School in California. She is currently based in Ottawa. | colouredconversations.com

WEB & GRAPHIC DESIGN | Natasha Whyte-Gray

KOSISOCHUKWU NNEBE | Kosisochukwu is a Nigerian-Canadian visual artist. Inspired by the work of countless Black feminist intellectuals and artists, her work aims to combine critical theory and visual arts practice and explores the role of art as an interactive and disruptive force. Using phenomenology (the study of experience) as a methodology, her practice aims to engage viewers on issues of race, gender and power in ways that make them aware of their own complicity through interactive and installation-based pieces.

Her work has been exhibited at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Places des Arts and Station 16 in Montreal, and the Mohr Gallery in Mountain View, California. She has given presentations on her artistic practice and research at universities across Quebec, including Laval, McGill and Concordia, and has facilitated youth workshops at the Ottawa Art Gallery and Redwood City High School in California. She is currently based in Ottawa. | colouredconversations.com

WEB & GRAPHIC DESIGN | Natasha Whyte-Gray
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