fbpx Rashaad Newsome | CIRCA PRIZE 2023

Rashaad Newsome

My work blends several practices, including collage, sculpture, film & video, animation, photography, music, writing, computer programming, software engineering, community organising, and performance, to create a divergent field that mirrors the intersectionality of my lived experience. Using the diasporic traditions of improvisation, I pull from the world of advertising, the internet, art history, Black and Queer culture to produce counter-hegemonic work that walks the tightrope between social practice and abstraction. Collage acts as a conceptual and technical method to construct a new visual, performance, and literary language that highlights the immaterial and material expressivity related to Black American Life.

In Build or Destroy, a bejewelled figure in flames vogues to an original soundtrack featuring Kevin JZ Prodigy and Kyron El. The figure is an amalgamation of Black fem bodies to communicate the importance of community as a form of resistance. The architectural references on the chest signal the significance of nonbinary people being architects of themselves. They are an allegory for building the self when the self doesn’t exist in the world. However, the trans experience is more than a process of reconfiguration of bodies because the body is not necessarily the locus of trans identity. The body is one structure one might choose to design, but other structures may require detonation. While fire consumes a fictional cityscape, it becomes clear that the figure dancing is causing this blaze. Their dance is a dance of liberation, destroying structures seeking to deny bodily autonomy. The Diamond between the thighs is a reference to one of my favourite poems, Still, I Rise, by Maya Angelou. The line in the poem reads, “Does my sexiness upset you? Does it come as a surprise that I dance like I’ve got diamonds at the meeting of my thighs?” Inside the diamond is a cohort of Iconic Black trans women from the NYC ballroom scene engaging in a vogue fem cypher, further imbuing the figure with affirming energy to demolish not only the structures in the world that impede on their ability to experience the full wingspan of their humanity but those in the mind as well. In the words of my beloved James Baldwin, “The hope of the world lies in what one demands, not of others, but of oneself,” and the figure in Build Or Destroy demands revolutionary hope.

I would create a 3D animated film featuring my AI child, Being the Digital Griot and their variants. The film would employ African fractal geometry used in modern computing, early to mid-century African sculptures and masks used in divination rituals, and imagery from a speculative future. The film will be grounded by original poetry acting as a call to arms for all of us to connect to compassion and empathy. The immaterial expressivity inherent to the Black American experience, such as our dance and paralinguistics, would function as the dazzling mortar that holds it all together. In a time when the environment, Black, LGBTQ+, and marginalised genders are under siege, this work will offer audiences hope and a new perspective. Perhaps these issues are all connected, and environmental, racial, Queer, and gender justice are not just words but wildly imaginative worlds that can produce new universes.

Hope is to believe in the radical and relentless work, both direct and subversive, of ridding ourselves of the legacy of negative socialisation to realise a world where all are treated equally..