Afro-Futurist thought guides Ohemaa Dixon’s ongoing project 3436

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3436 proposes how one might reconfigure the notion of the floating Black body “to allow us to understand the deep trauma of this history while building a new realm for the visual language of these photographs”

Afrofuturism imagines a future through the Black lens: a space shaped by Black culture, arts, science, and technology. A reality rooted in ancient African traditions, Black innovation, and identity; an autonomous world, free from this history of colonisation, fluid, non-linear, and feminist. As the author Ytasha Womack describes it: “Afrofuturism allows Black people to see our lives more fully than the present allows – emotionally, technologically, temporally and politically.”

For photographer Ohemaa Dixon, Afro-Futurist thought provided a way to respond to a traumatic photographic archive of images capturing thousands of lynchings of African-Americans in the US between the late 1880s and the early 1950s. And specifically, as Dixon encountered them in the publication Without Sanctuary by collector James Allen. The book is composed of images and postcards that were made as souvenirs at these lynchings. Graphic, violent, horrific images, which counter to their initial intentions, exist as evidence of the violence and racism perpetrated against the African-American community, and, as Dixon writes, “the resulting trauma of the acts, and corresponding visual archive, are embedded in African-American history”.

3436 © Ohemaa Dixon.
3436 © Ohemaa Dixon.

Dixon’s thesis project takes the number of lynchings, 3436, between the late 1880s and the early 1950s, as compiled by the Tuskegee University, as its title. And the work proposes how one might reconfigure the notion of the floating Black body “to allow us to understand the deep trauma of this history while building a new realm for the visual language of these photographs,” as she articulates it. The work should provide a space for meditation on the subject, and the myriad pasts, presents, and futures connected to it. “How can we recontextualise what the visual connotations of the Black floating body are,” Dixon considers. “Images are truly one of the strongest forms of communication we have; we can influence a thought process with a photograph.”

Three images, printed on silk compose the series. One depicts a darkened clearing peppered with the silhouettes of arid trees; another shows the partial body of a Black woman in a long white dress, floating amid the trees; and the third depicts the same woman in full focus, hovering within the clearing. Dixon intends the work to be experiential, opening a dialogue instead of asserting one way of seeing. Exhibited at Candela Gallery, Richmond, VA, at the end of 2020, the multi-media installation was composed of the photographs, and sound, installed in a darkened room. Dixon collaborated with Yoshii Swxdn to create a solfeggio frequency soundscape to create an immersive environment and further engage audiences’ senses, facilitating a space to meditate on the work. 

3436 interrogates a painful past, to meditate on the present, and imagine an alternate future. It is multi-layered and radical in its meditativeness: inviting viewers to think and question what is in front of them, and the connotations, associations, and histories, entwined with such imagery. With 3436 Dixon confronts deeply traumatic imagery and shows the potential to transgress it. She coopts it as a means for constructive discussion, paving the way for imagining, and realising a very different future. 

Hannah Abel-Hirsch

Hannah Abel-Hirsch joined British Journal of Photography in 2017, where she is currently Assistant Editor. Previously, she was an Editorial Assistant at Magnum Photos, and a Studio Assistant for Susan Meiselas and Mary Ellen Mark in New York. Before which, she completed a BA in History of Art at University College London. Her words have also appeared on Magnum Photos, 1000 Words, and in the Royal Academy of Arts magazine.