C&AL: In November 2018 alone, Kapwani Kiwanga and Sondra Perry won two major art awards. Can we talk about a new interest in Black womxn in the art world at all? And what do you think that really means?
ZS: Both of these artists excite me and I’m glad that they’re getting resources to produce more work! And, being a cynical person, I’m also worried about what it means to exceptionalize Blackness through these awards and to allocate money and legitimacy only to Black artists whose work rises to some unknown subjective standard of excellence decided by the awards’ jurors. This isn’t at all to say that these artists don’t deserve acclaim because resource scarcity is artificial: there’s opportunity for us all to get put on and put one another on. But this is to question why institutions aren’t being more liberal in their distribution of resources to up-and-coming artists and across mediums/artistic disciplines. I want to contrast Kiwanga and Perry’s award wins with the Taylor Wessing prize for photography. John Edwin Mason had a really great Twitter thread about the fact that all of this year’s winners were portraits of non-white people taken by white photographers; and I, like he did in the thread, can easily rattle off Black womxn photographers whose work of similar content is comparable or better. I feel like the art world’s decision to be interested in Black womxn’s work is both so many years overdue and also a little more than suspicious. But I’d be so grateful to be proven wrong, I’d be glad to see that the institutional gaze is shifting. Let’s also get many more Black womxn curators and gallerists, critics and art writers, awards and festival jurors, museum and archival and gallery directors, though—when the means and modes of artistic production and discourse change hands, that’ll be proof that the gaze and the structure is meaningfully changing, and that’s when I’ll shut my mouth a little bit.
C&AL: What is next for you?
ZS: I’m thinking a lot about violence and intersubjectivity. I’m continuing my “Man & Nature” series, and I showed three images from this in my show, because, as someone who eats meat, I’m interested in visualizations of our foodways and the symbiotic relationship—ultimately one of both dependency and domination—between human and non-human animals. I’m also doing visualizations of genocide memorialization and genocide denial, and I’ll be traveling around a bit starting in 2019 to begin that work. And also I’m a third-year doctoral student, so I really just want to finish this PhD as quickly as possible with my mind and body mostly intact.
Elemental took place at Ashara Ekundayo Gallery, Oakland, USA, in 2018.
Zoe Samudzi is a Zimbabwean-American photographer, writer, and doctoral student in Medical Sociology at the University of California.
Interview by Will Furtado.