ICA Student Forum: Preambles on 'Blackness'

What it means to be a female curator of colour

An exploration of blackness in the curatorial by ICA Student Forum members.

Kefiloe Siwisa

17 Mar 2017

This post is part of a Bulletin series dedicated to the ICA Student Forum and designed to enable forum members to showcase their ideas across the ICA’s digital platforms, innovating and experimenting. In 2017, in addition to co-curating and delivering events, talks and workshops as part of the ICA Public Programme, Student Forum members will be working to generate a self-published zine to be launched in December 2017. Reflecting the Forum’s myriad of talents, interests and ideas, the zine will consist of four themes: Performance, Technology, Sound, and Rituals & Non-Spaces.

Here, ICA Student Forum member Kefiloe Siwisa shares a text illustrated with digital collages by Marcel Darienzo following the event Black Dots in White Boxes, addressing what it means to be a female curator of colour.

Black hues and performance cues [because google told me so]

I am shadowed light, day inside out, five past midnight blue, sun-baked flesh coloured crayons, sightless eyes, felt-tipped outlined identities. I am muddy histories, inherited memories, commodity bodies, blistering slurs, inked out narratives, fists in the air revolutions, existence as resistance, an ‘all lives matter’ solidarity song.


I am an awakening, skin-kin, apart in part, once dislocated and now self-misplaced. I am pigmented progress, re-named names and forgotten last names, painted faces on a map, shaded history month, race cards, trending culture crack, binary visible yet stand-alone invisible. I am wounded words in healing, reincarnated power words, words in search of yet another handwriting.


Remember in the book of black: "black power, amandla ngawethu, uhuru, free at last, black consciousness, decolonize the mind". Remember the walkers of those pages: James Baldwin, Sojourner Truth, Frantz Fanon, Wole Soyinka, Martin Luther King Jr, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Steve Biko, Malcolm X, Nina Simone, W.E.B Du Bois, Alice Walker, Desmond Tutu, Marcus Garvey, Rosa Parks, Miriam Makeba, Harriet Tubman, Achille Mbembe, Paul Gilroy, Saartjie Baartman, Angela Davis, Queen Nzinga, Sister Souljah, Nelson Mandela, Audre Lorde, Fela Kuti, Fred Moten, Bell Hooks, Assata Shakur… [and all unspoken names]

I say their names as an incantation of momentary freedom.

I have re-read their words, mind shuffling between their notes and my scribbles. I have walked through the labyrinth of their stories, and retold them as my own, as though hyperlinked to my identity. But still I ask what it means to be a ‘black-brown-person of colour’? Is there a need ask?

[insert answer here]

In wait no answer has arrived, because I am not an authentic kind of black experience. I am in constant flux; I absorb, mirror, refract and mutate. I am body in progress.

Black Dots in White Boxes was conceived out of necessity to have the whispered conversations aloud. It was a bringing together of minds to catalyse a critical discussion examining blackness in the curatorial, what it means to navigate the curatorial as a womxn of colour. Yes, we had burning questions to answer, but instead we opened a channel for generative and critical strategizing, a space to be heard. The discussion was an opportunity to untie knots and discover more knots that need to be untied. We questioned privilege, value systems and diversity within education and arts institutions, interrogated the complexities of imposed tokenism and inherited activism. We confronted oppressive facades of agency and celebrated not knowing, gently willing ourselves to know more. We un-performed; crafted new puzzle pieces to replace those that no longer fit. We posited ways of thinking through the inscribed body, unravelling binary borders. Collectively, we redressed old festering wounds with the knowledge that the work towards transformation is never done. We word actioned a new curatorial constellation, one with unimagined potentialities, one with no box to tick.

Tick the applicable box: black | black body | brown | person of colour| female | womxn | feminine presenting | art curator | curator | none | all | undisclosed | unimagined

So, we continue. There is no line. No fear.

Note: This text is really no text at all, there is nothing I can tell you that you need to know, frankly I don’t know what to tell you, I do not have the answer, only questions myself, I am not the curator as storyteller, I am curator as gatherer, gatherer of people and their thoughts, holder of spaces and their accounts, I am here as learner, as excavator, as subjective curious mind, I am here to rediscover what is already there but hidden, I am here to feed the insatiable hunger to know the other side of what I think I know, nothing more. ■

This article is posted in: Articles, Events, Student Forum

Tagged with: Blackness, Race, ICA Student Forum