French-born Guyanese/Danish new media artist Tabita Rezaire challenges the colonial power structures of the web through her digital healing activism. She opened her first solo exhibition "Exotic Trade" at Goodman Gallery last month to positive critical reception. Through video installations and digital prints, her exhibition responds to a perceived need to reconnect body, ‘womb-mind’ and spirit to heal the ‘oppressive colonial hierarchies of knowledge systems which define the dominant narratives of our time’. Here, she breaks down key symbols in her work and how she hopes to further her digital healing activism.
"Exotic Trade" is showcasing at Goodman Gallery Johannesburg till 17 May.
You featured your dad in the video "Premium Connect". Tell us more about how this came about.
I was in Paris in December and just got my gong. I was giving yoga classes every morning to my family and then playing the gong for meditation. My dad was really into it and started playing so I could experience the gong bath. I thought I should film this because it looked beautiful. He then started to freestyle some form of spiritual political speech, which was just so fitting to the work.
What do you hope people feel when they encounter your work?
I don't hope for anything specific, I am just offering access to different perspectives on some subjects that I hold dear because the disinformation is real! The conspiracy/secrecy/erasure around knowledge is so deeply rooted in systems of domination and oppression. To make a people’s truths or contributions invisible has been a deliberate tactic of control and conditioning for centuries and it really affects the well being of our communities. My work seeks to confront the dominant narratives that everything of value emerged from the West, when actually a little dig shows you very different sources and stories. I want those stories to be out and available, and for people to be aware that what we hold as legit has been designed purposefully to distance us from our power and agency. This work is my contribution to a non western-centric history/hersory/ theirstory of knowledge. It is a practice of repositioning oneself within the narratives of the past: for instance looking at computing science in relation to divination systems; the internet in relation to the ocean and colonial shipping routes; mental health as a spiritual affair or understanding femme energy not as something to be afraid of but as a pathway to the divine.
Your view of the internet is quite negative, you have referred to it as exploitative, exclusionary, patriarchal, racist etc. Are there any positives aspects of the internet that you can identify?
Of course! I also love the Internet, don't get me wrong but I'm just trying to be critical of the spaces that I inhabit. I’ll be forever grateful for the communities it allowed me to be a part of, for the support system that I have online, it has been very real and has helped me to get through things in my life. I am now in NY and meeting for first time a lot of my Internet friends and the connections are deep and beautiful, I feel blessed.Also in terms of information, the knowledge that is available is precious - even though most of it is Eurocentric, there are gems. I believe it is contributing to an energetic shift, some people talk about the Aquarian Age where knowledge is not gate-kept as opposed to the Piscean Age where only a few were allowed certain information, which was passed down in an elitist sort of way or via initiation. As my sister says in my work Premium Connect: “information is the new gold of the digital age”, so as long as information and education are commoditized they will not be freely accessible. The information overload is overwhelming though, so my work is a way of processing the flow of information and trying to make sense of the stories that have and still are forced upon us, while reprocessing and rewriting these narratives in a different way.
Your work has specific symbols that are featured throughout; pyramids, snakes and water. What is the significance of these symbols?
Pyramids - Pyramids are important to me because of their energetic power. Pyramids, through their geometric shape, have the ability to harness energy from their tip.
Historically, many ancient cultures around the world have placed their pyramids at specific points on the earth; on Ley lines potentially. Ley lines are the energetic grids that surround the earth. Some speculate that all ancient pyramids from contemporary Egypt, Nubia, Mexico, Peru, Guatemala, China etc. formed part of a complex system of information and communication technologies and that they were placed at specific intersection on this grid to harness energetic vortexes.
In the show, the pyramids have specific measurements and angles. They are there to harness energies of healing, remembering, channeling and ensure that the messages echo.
Water - Water is life. Literally. Water is an interface for communication. I'm interested in water as a technology. Water is a portal from which you can access different realities or different forms of knowledge from which you can download information. Water remembers, everything that has been and everything that will be and you can tap into water's memory. In many African traditions, water is used for libations; you pour water to your ancestors to create a pass way to communicate with them.
But then also we are made of water, 70% water, we are water, we come from water, the waters of the womb, the cosmological waters of creation, water is home. Our inner water is our inner ocean. We are aquatic homes for so many organisms within us, I find this beautiful, we are oceanic mothers giving life and shelter in our waters.
Snakes - Snakes are the best. They represent divine polarities, feared and revered. Spiritually, they symbolise the life force that flows along our spine from our perineum to our crown. Snakes are also powerful water spirits in many tradition they are divine representation of creation. The way they ondulante in waves it is like vibration. They just too deep.
How did spirituality and energy become a key feature of your work?
It started when my work shifted from a place of anger to one of healing. At some point I became too drained by my work, constantly submerged by the ills and traumas of our toxic system, to the point where my practice was affecting my mental health. So my approach to resistance had to change into one of resilience. How can we cope better? That’s where the healing became a necessity. When digging into healing technologies and strategies to better heal ourselves, to better understand ourselves, I found that energetic work, spiritual work is fundamental to the process. It is not enough to look at what is going on on the physical plane and on the emotional plane, we need to consider how our spiritual lives are also imbalanced. The disdain of spirituality was also designed to strip us off of our restorative and self healing agency. We must look at all those levels simultaneously, in order to overcome those ancestral pains that are still stored in our DNA.
How do you hope to further your digital healing activism?
There are two directions. One is group work, I feel like it is so much more powerful to work with group energies. So this is definitely something I want to bring into my practice more. Then I also want to do more offline work, I feel like there is only so much you can do through a screen and being on a computer all day can be very isolating. With my performances or yoga work I can touch on different energy centers and move energy through people in different ways and I like that. So basically more real life community engagement.
Photography: Anthony Bila
Interview: Phendu Kuta