EXOTIC TRADE: Cultural imperialism, decolonisation and the Internet

Tabita Rezaire in conversation with ART AFRICA.

Tabita is a French born Guyanese and Danish new media artist, currently based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Her work explores ideas surrounding decolonial health and knowledge, and navigates these themes, both online and offline, through internet’s tools and languages. ART AFRICAsat down with Tabita to discuss her solo show, Exotic Trade, currently up on exhibition at the Goodman Gallery.

Goodman5Tabita Rezaire, Dilo, 2017, Lightbox. Image courtesy of the Goodman Gallery.

ART AFRICA: You have an interesting lineage of French, Danish, and Guyanese heritage – all countries with a vast history of colonialism. Could you please expand on how these combined histories have impacted on your practice, assuming that they have?

TABITA REZAIRE: My origins have shaped a part my being, as I carry my lineages with me wherever I go. My ancestors are my connection to the source, and therefore my relationship with them means everything to me.  Lineages are always complex loads to carry – both a burden and a gift – and so my work somehow allows me to connect to, and make sense of, the histories embedded in my DNA and energetic field.

Previously, you have compared the internet to being like another language. What was it that made you tap into the internet and create art, and how is it able to carry the meaning of your message, unlike any other medium?

The internet is a tool and this tool has its own languages – multiple different languages at multiple different levels. I’m interested in systems of knowledge, and information technologies and their politic: how they affect/condition/oppress/inform/guide us – the internet is only one of them. Part of my work engages with the question: how did we get to the point where Google is the most trusted source of information – especially while knowing that most online content centres the West?

The internet has become another tool for erasure and cultural imperialism. What other technologies are available to us to receive and share information? I use the Internet as a space to both occupy and feed Black femme centred, and spiritually uplifting content. I also utilise other information technologies such as plants, crystals, sound or water as interfaces for downloading information.

Goodman3Tabita Rezaire, Hoetep Blessings (still), 2016, Hd Video, 12min30s. Commissioned by Bradford Nordeen for Summer happenings, The Broad Museum, LA, USA.

Navigating architectures of power online and offline, your upcoming solo show, ‘Exotic Trade’, challenges the pervasive matrix of coloniality and its effects on identity, technology, sexuality and spirituality. What are some of these effects, and how does one go about becoming decolonised, and healing our technologies?

The legacies of colonialism have infiltrated almost every part of our lives:  from work to sex, medicine and food – we are all contaminated. A part of the problem is also ourselves, as we continue to reproduce what has been forced upon us.

The hierarchies between people and systems of knowledge –  the shame and demonisation of indigenous cultures, the exploitation of resources and labour from people of colour for the sole benefit of the western world, and the westernisation of the world as the only avenue for ‘progress’ –  are all legacies of the colonial enterprise.

Decolonization requires first that we commit to the work the task demands. Many people want things to change but don’t want to change themselves. It’s hard work – it’s the unlearning of most of the things we take for granted, it’s digging deep into where it hurts, it’s feeling powerless and vulnerable, it’s connecting to our spiritual selves, it’s letting go, it’s facing our fears, it’s stepping out into our power,  it’s coming home to ourselves.

You have curated ‘Exotic Trade’ so that the works will be exhibited in the shape of a womb, and through video installation and digital prints you have responded to a perceived need to connect body, ‘womb-mind’, and spirit in order to heal oppressive colonial hierarchies. What are your reasons for curating ‘Exotic Trade’ in the shape of a womb, and would you say your work is aimed at a predominantly female viewership – considering your connection between the womb and the mind?

The exhibition space is designed into a symbolic womb with different cavities that offer multiple different visions/feelings/powers/’herstories’ on our state of connectivity. The entrance welcomes you with a work on ancestral communication, and the central cave which holds our inner-water presents a work on the submarine fibre-optic system and water technology.  The side rooms tell stories about biological warfare and precolonial understanding of gender and sexuality. It is a constant flux between what hurts and what uplifts, what we have forgotten and what our soul-bodies remembers.

The womb is a portal to the source, so wherever you fall on the gender spectrum you are connected to its forces. We all come from one, but politically and socially, how do we interact with femme energies and labour? How has society condemned and demonised its powers, and how are womxn complicit? Then – spiritually the wisdoms of the womb are deep, ancient and wise. It is a technology that connects us to everything that has been and everything that will be. We can all learn and tap into this communication highway, if we learn to listen.

My work is for not aimed at a certain biology – also not all womxn have wombs, and some mxn do. What we all have is a powerful energetic centre in our pelvic floor. My practice seeks to celebrate this sacral energy and call on femme guidance in our lives, allowing it to flow through us.

Goodman1Goodman1 Tabita Rezaire, Deep Down Tidal (still), 2017, Hd video, 19min. Commissioned by Toke Lykkeberg for Citizen X – Human, Nature, And Robot Rights, Oregaard Museum, Denmark.

Your first solo show at Goodman Gallery comes in a year of increased global interest in your work and in digital art from Africa and the Diaspora. Could you please tell us a bit more about what we can expect to see from you this year and beyond?

NTU – an artist group started with Bogosi Sekhukhuni and Nolan Oswald Dennis, and in collaboration with Hlasko – is presenting a new solo show UBULAWU at AutoItalia South East Space in London at the end of April. This exhibition looks at Southern African healing plants and dreams as an information device.

I’ve also been commissioned to produce a virtual reality work for an exhibition at the Dusseldorf Museum which will open in May. But there are many other shows coming up, too.

I’m also going to do a series of talks and group healing work in New York, Prague, Basel, Utrecht, and Vienna over the Western summer period, and I’m going to try very hard to be gentle with myself for the rest of 2017.

Exotic Trade will be at on exhibition at Goodman Gallery Johannesburg until the 17th May 2017.