Haptic Aesthetics as a Form of Strategic Slowness in Black Cinema

Curator's Note

On Malik Sayeed’s liquid blackness artist page, I argue that his use of haptic aesthetics functions as a response to the cyclical and intersubjective violence that reverberates throughout history, which is rendered aesthetically in his work through light and sound.[1] Reflective city architecture, then, operates as both a concrete reference to how anti-black violence is reiterated through its reflections and reverberations and as a metaphor for a social structure that continually facilitates instances of violence but expresses its reflections as discrete phenomena. Yet, the textured sound and imagery in Sayeed’s work seem to offer a form of sanctuary where, “through moments of tactile dissociation, time can be stretched out for just a moment before the next round of [reverberation, expressed through] pulsating sounds and disjunctive edits.”[2]

Hapticality, here, seems to reclaim a feeling of duration in a world where black people have always needed to improvise as a necessary response to the speed and force in which racism is mobilized as a basis for social organization. Haptic soundscapes and visuals depict a mode of slowing down and turning inward to resituate attention on one’s own bodily relationship to the world (or the community’s body) within the present.

The haptic visuals in Stefani Saintonge’s work equally demonstrate how people’s sensory relationship to materiality constructs our socio-political systems while also organizing lines of flight. In Fucked Like a Star (2018), extreme close-ups of ants’ bodies as they work to support the colony are double exposed alongside women braiding hair. On Saintonge’s artist page, Anna Winter notes that Saintonge mobilizes collage as a form of intimacy where “Although energy dissipates into the ethers, it never disappears, never ceases to exist,” which offers a different perspective on reverberation.[3] The women repeat the work but, unlike Sayeed, there is optimism in that repetition. The proximal and textured surfaces of each of the artists’ images incorporate the onlooker, implicated either as an eventual direction for violence or a participant in a project of survival. Entangled with the ants and the women, viewers are positioned as having their own role in an organization that is just as fated to return. From this perspective, sanctuary is the site that must be continually disrupted, and violence instead becomes the anxious attempt to recapture control.

Perhaps, amidst a neoliberal situation in which all subjects must improvise to navigate the spontaneity of just-in-time violence, black people remain the most culturally prepared to do so using strategies that require extensive intergenerational experience with reverberative environments. In this sense, a spatial problem becomes a temporal one: identify when to keep pace with time, slow it down, or speed it up.[4] Haptic strategies in black cinema might indicate a strategic slowness as a moment of self-preservation and withdrawal, but they can also imply community connection and a certain optimism for what can only come after repetitious work, an assertion that we’re not stuck after all.[5]


[1] Harney and Moten, The Undercommons, 98. Hapticality can be understood by Fred Moten and Stefano Harney as “the touch of the undercommons.” This is a feeling prior to mediation within the symbolic order. This feeling marks a refusal of clear meaning and of social definition/differentiation, where one sits in the ambiguity and complexity of a feeling of being with others and the world.

[4] Like Jenn Nkiru’s inclination for sampling and remix.

[5] The strategic application of “slowness” as a response to certain environmental demands is inspired by djones who is working on his dissertation surrounding slow archival work.

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