Closing the Loop

Carrie Mae Weems

Excerpt from this article (note: there’s nudity in some of the accompanying photos):

MAYBE 2013 felt like the beginning of something; around then we began to hear murmurs at the margins of this idea that the selfie might be powerful. It started with young queers and people of color and a realization that perhaps if you could flood the network with something, it would become impossible to ignore. The selfie soon was written of as a “sign of life” — as the ultimate tactic toward #visibility. As we were taught via the likes of Susan Sontag, “photographs furnish evidence.” The image is, or can be, a powerful verifying tool, and with the selfie it seemed that you could continually verify and affirm your very existence on your own terms.

However digital and radical this brand of feminism is marketed as being, in taking up the mantle of second-wave feminist cinematic and visual theory, selfie feminism most unfortunately takes on its baggage as well. Selfie feminism is guilty of extending the violence and ignorance that plagued its forbears. As bell hooks writes in “Ain’t I a Woman,” white feminism has long suffered from “a narcissism so blinding that [it] will not admit two obvious facts: one, that in a capitalist, racist, imperialist state there is no one social status women share as a collective group and second, that the social status of white women has never been like that of black women and men.” Selfie feminism likewise claims a universal female experience located in “the female body.” The artists at the forefront of what the media calls a “movement” and the media itself often fail to note any nuance beyond “female body,” “female form,” “girls,” etc.

Merely presenting an image of a Black woman, no matter how affirmative and positive that image is intended to be, might still serve to reproduce an imbalance in agency.

To consider the specificities of our experiences as black women — the surveillance and ghostly or bodily violences in our histories, our constantly shifting orientations and centers — and really considering them for what they are without whiteness looking over our shoulders — these are the current tasks at hand. O’Grady writes: “To name ourselves rather than be named we must first see ourselves.” Artists like E. Jane and Shawné Michaelain Holloway pick up where Piper leaves off in Food for the Spirit and where O’Grady leaves the door cracked open in Olympia’s Maid. These artists, among numerous others, approach the ruins of the selfie politic with a critical edge that perhaps only black women, femmes, and gender-nonconforming people can bring to it.