Grace realized that she could help bring awareness to this issue through her writing and photography. As a recent graduate, Grace hopes to work with initiatives that bridge the creative and academic spaces, as well as raise awareness of the experiences of Black women within the Black community.
I produced this art last year (2021) in Intro to Feminism (FEM 5300), a course taught by Professor Gulzar R. Charania. It was my final project accompanied by a report illustrating the connections between my art and Black feminist studies and intellectual traditions. I decided to do this specific piece because I was able to join my academics and my love for creating through photography. In a world where you a taught to do something a certain way, my art helped me to visualize and communicate my thoughts in a unique way.
The Lens is Black, is a four-part self-portrait photograph series that explores the virtual surveillance of Black lives, particularly Black women. The goal of the piece is to spark a conversation surrounding the harmful impacts experienced within the Black community due to shared imagery of Black suffering online. In addition, the photos prompt the audience to think critically about how methods of Black surveillance have changed over time to accommodate the increase in online activity. The piece is an ode to two texts: From #Ferguson to #FalconHeights: The Networked Case for Black Lives by Sarah J. Jackson, Moya Bailey and Brooke Foucault Wells (2020), and Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness by Simone Browne (2015). Both lead the reader to think critically about the realities of surveillance on Black lives and communities. Inspired by these readings, The Lens is Black challenges the audience to consider the lens through which they view Black lives and the Black Lives Matter movement. Though the subject’s eyes are removed, the image reveals that she is female-presenting. This was done intentionally to illustrate two things. The first is that while men are overrepresented as movement leaders, the organizers of the Black Lives Matter movement and the Movement for Black Lives coalition are women (Jackson, Bailey & Wells, 2020, p. 147). This art draws upon this very point, as it represents all the Black cis, queer and trans women, who have often been erased in the fight for justice. Moreover, this art series is a reorientation from displaying the consuming images of Black suffering by demanding that we wrestle with the harm of anti-Blackness without the additional trauma that Black people experience because of the graphic displays of violence online. From this point, the audience will begin to think critically about racialized surveillance, the proliferation of images depicting Black suffering online and its harmful impacts on the Black community, specifically Black women.
Throughout history, Black people have been the targets of law enforcement in their lives. This targeting and surveillance continues and extends to Black people online. Heavily influenced by From #Ferguson to #FalconHeights: The Networked Case for Black Lives by Sarah J. Jackson, Moya Bailey and Brooke Foucault Wells (2020), and Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness by Simone Browne (2015), The Lens is Black asks its audience to consider how images and videos of Black suffering shared online have the ability to harm Black communities, particularly Black women. Although is important to pay attention to the person(s) or institution(s) responsible for the surveillance of Black people, this photograph series calls attention to the subject who has been placed under scrutiny. To be more specific, this art illustrates the reality of the individual under surveillance. A Black woman sits at her desk behind a computer with her hands up. Captured in full colour, she is sporting all black, the traditional colour of a person in mourning. These details spotlight the subject’s racial identity as well as her emotional response to what is being shared on the screen in front of her. Her eyes are removed, yet in each frame, the audience is taken through a range of emotions from surprise to sadness to fear. Dominant/White perceptions of Black lives as threats shape the experiences that Black communities have with racialized surveillance. The Lens is Black pays particular attention to how Black women are impacted by these historic and contemporary practices. The circular lens is meant to highlight the frame of anti-Blackness that shapes how Black women are viewed in digital media. The lens you look through determines what you see.