American photographer Ayana V. Jackson explores her knowledge of photography, anthropology and art history in “Take Me to the Water,” her exhibition at Mariane Ibrahim’s new location in West Town.
“Take Me to the Water” dives headfirst into Jackson’s construction of African mythological water spirits, which date to pre-colonialism, which she mixes with influences from the Detroit techno duo Drexciya, to create an aquatopia. Jackson’s ability to create a dialogue on both sides of the camera, by creating the image using her body and capturing that image, enables her to construct her identity for the viewer.Jackson’s aquatopia is a fictional underwater world, born out of the idea that there are survivors of the Middle Passage, the triangular slave trade route, who are living at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Drexciya explored themes of Afrofuturism before it was given a name during the late 1980s. Similar to the Black Cultural Movement, which aimed to change the negativity of public impressions of black communities in 1980, Jackson is creating a narrative that moves away from the negativity that is associated with the black female body.
There have often been limited first-person perspectives on the black female body, in both popular culture and the art world, and thus stereotypes have risen out of subjective imagery. Jackson relays the idea of aquatopia to the mythological African spirits. Each perspective that Jackson uses is derived from African water spirits, including Yenanja, Drexciya, Mame Coumba bang, Olukun and Mami Wata. Within each photograph is a staged attribution to the spirit that directly calls into question where racial biases form out of photography, by building black female characters through portraiture.
Through her firm stance and intense eye contact that breaks the fourth wall, Jackson exudes the stature of a strong black American woman and brings focus to each of those characteristics. From portraiture to static postures she conveys a performative nature in her work. Her potent presence in each photograph against the pure black background leaves no room to question her position in this fictional world.
Jackson explores the relationship between preconceived notions and the black body. Her photography is a vessel to explore speculative fiction and to continue to examine her body as a black woman. She is adorned in custom-made gowns, that like her personas, are made from scratch. She poses against a pure black background while critiquing the conventional notions of black femininity. While she explores a world that is not factual her presence, posture and overall aura create a fact of the beauty, strength and presence of the black female body. (Caira Moreira-Brown)
“Take Me to the Water,” through October 26 at Mariane Ibrahim, 437 North Paulina.