In our In Focus dossier for the Journal of Cinema and Media Studies we claim that the contemporary music video is one of the black arts. That is, we foreground the way some filmmakers from the Black Diaspora build on the connections between music video and more esteemed categories like fine art and the essay film by working between high and popular forms of black expressive culture--especially music--to claim a more capacious, and strategically unpredictable, archive. Through these connections they practice the expansiveness of blackness.
In Rebirth is Necessary (2017) Jenn Nkiru uses a plastic and constantly reproducing archive to create a new black cinematic language grounded in “cosmic archeology.” The film relies on process, both the artist’s way of making and her sampling of already “processed” materials, such as Ben Russel’s ethno-surrealist film River Rites, a long steadicam take, projected in reverse. Rebirth plunges into the archives of the blues, police brutality, the myth of the flying Africans and Afro-futurist visual and sonic arts; it revels in the choreography of women from the Nation of Islam and the ecstasies of popular forms of spirituality by sampling experimental and ethnographic images from religious practices in Haiti, Congo, and Nigeria. Unleashed in Nkiru’s work, this material moves and sounds differently: a clip from Steve Reich’s Come Out is remixed with the voice of Fred Moten reading the poem “James Baldwin” from his book B Jenkins; street dancers in South London move backwards in space, but the footage is rewound. Studio portraits of black youth in high-art-inspired fashion blast open the film frame, offering queerness as archival practice and time travel. Further, the film that began as an art object, commissioned by NOWNESS and celebrated at international film festivals, was made available online after its initial run. Thus, as Jenny Gunn explains in her In Focus piece on Rebirth, Nkiru’s open archive further extends the possible space for black creative processing as a form of intergenerational pedagogy.
Re-mixing already mixed and post-synched materials and subjecting original footage to the same processesforegrounds the depth, materiality, multiple temporalities, and multidimensionality of black visual and sonic archives. It emphasizes movement as a type of sound and sound as a type of movement so that, together, they produce energy with a cosmic capacity that cannot be contained by any one genre or category of black cultural production. This “reaching back” in order to “reach forward” is central to hip-hop style and Nkiru’s politics of form. Through it, her seemingly “art film” gestures towards an “unaccounted” popular in the past, and a wider, richer, and more expansive “popular to come.”