Thumbnail graphic by Ipsa Dhariwal
Thumbnail graphic by Ipsa Dhariwal
There I was, a then 20-year-old burgeoning filmmaker, ushering in her final semester of film school before a doe-eyed school body and board, pitching what was to be my final film. It would be a slow moving mumblecore, whose initial premise fixated upon an angsty young couple on their first date. We’d watch as they exchanged fledgling life philosophies and witty back and forths, against the backdrop of a starry metropolis. However, days before the pitch, I succumbed to pressure from an internal monologue asking- As a black female filmmaker, don’t I ought to offer more than a few bruised dogmas on love and mushy love scenes? Given what I look like, shouldn’t this film be a vehicle for some profound socio-political message concerning blackness?
So, I reconfigured the premise of my film to hinge upon not just any angsty young couple in the city of Melbourne, but an interracial one. And along with witty back and forths, they would also exchange discourse on race, more specifically blackness. A year in hindsight, here I am reflecting upon that experience and interrogating myself with complex questions about what it truly means to bring blackness into visibility, as a young black artist. And whether politically framing blackness in some way, is the only means for a black artist’s work to be deemed valuable or contributive. I began by tracing the origin of that initial monologue. I was led to see how a complicated and imperfect cultural representation of radicalism had inspired those ruminations. I was led to discover the radicalised gaze. A gaze which contemporary black artists are passively made to navigate by non-black institutions and audiences.
A gaze insists on weighing a work’s value by measuring it’s radicality or virtuous messaging. Counter-intuitive to its aim, the result of the radicalised gaze is a convenient and artificial construction, where the works of black artists are made to be no more than affectations, signifiers of change, instead of a catalyst for actual change. This radicalised gaze, demands that the stories black artists wish to convey, politically speak for the totality of their race in a manner palatable for non-black audiences. This radicalised gaze, continues to perpetuate a narrative, that black art must always be in service of non-black audiences’ existing perceptions of blackness.
Historically, black art, namely the art of ‘the other’, grew unheard and unseen both metaphorically and institutionally via the white gaze. As a means of refuting this, black filmmakers and artists such as Spike Lee, David Hammons, Lorna Simpson, Menelik Shabazz, Carrie Wae Weems etc. resisted the very notion and position that they were the ‘other’. By explicitly weaving the politicised themes of their humanity into their art. To cause disruption through self-assertion, it is my belief that this is the very foundation of true radicalism. But in doing so, non-black institutions and audiences have begun to adopt afro-aesthetics and outlines of black work in order to signal themselves as reformist and privy to this new-age rise of black representation, giving rise to the radicalised gaze.
We must now resist this gaze, for I say as black artists we, are simply allowed to be. Given that the nature and practice of being an artist, a black artist, is brazen enough and radical in and of itself.
You can find more of Fadzai’s work here.