Curator's Note

In my article for the recent JCMS In Focus, “Modes of Black Liquidity: Music Video as Black Art,” I discuss the British Nigerian filmmaker Jenn Nkiru, who has quickly become an important and critically acclaimed practitioner of contemporary Black cinema whose focus on rendering rarely seen aspects of Black life—particularly queer identity and Black feminist thought—is an expression of a younger generation of Black artists’ conception of identity, style, and history. Although she often works in the commercial music video form, Nkiru intentionally pushes the format to more formally daring ends, creating work that lives as comfortably in the formal gallery space as it does on online. To recognize the particularity of this type of work, located at the intersection of art installation and experimental film, the liquid blackness research group has utilized the term “music art video.” A perfect example of the fluidity of the music art video is Nkiru’s short film, REBIRTH IS NECESSARY, which was first released on the video channel Nowness for their 2017 Blackstar series, featuring upcoming directors’ reflections on the Black experience. Nkiru’s complex short features a variety of audio and video archival materials—including samples of Sun Ra, James Baldwin, Fred Moten, Steve Reich, Kathleen Cleaver, and Alice Coltrane, among many others—as well as original footage shot in South Africa and her native South London. With REBIRTH IS NECESSARY, Nkiru hopes to spark “intergenerational cosmic conversation,” that her film will reach twenty-first-century diasporic audiences and remind them of twentieth-century Black radicalisms. To that end, Nkiru leverages the digital distribution methods of networked culture, vowing that all of her films will eventually end up streaming for free on platforms such as YouTube and Vimeo, as REBIRTH quickly did. Nkiru’s keen attention to both her films’ distribution and reception speaks to her emphasis on the importance of process over the finished product. To that end, in the winter of 2019 Nkiru recut REBIRTH IS NECESSARY as a central piece for the exhibition, “Transformer: A Rebirth of Wonder,” curated by Jefferson Hack at 180 The Strand in London. This video preview of the exhibition features stunning images of REBIRTH in its new two-channel installation while its soundtrack—the psychedelic soul band Rotary Connection’s “I am the Black Gold of the Sun” featuring Minnie Riperton—is a crucial record sampled in REBIRTH’s extensive audio archive.



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