The Search For Transcendence

The creative and intellectual treatment of the experiences, conditions, and aspirations of black people never fit quiet neatly within the paradigms of ‘established’ disciplines and institutions. These paradigmatic negations form part of the fastidious exclusions and denials of the reality and totality of the black perspective and politics of any given moment. In order to fully appreciate the potentialities of invoking the fantastic in thinking about aspects of lived experience that Joseph Roach described as falling within the “disparities between history as it is discursively transmitted and meaning as it is publicly enacted by the bodies that bear its consequences,”1 the exploration of the ideological space that the “fantastic” occupies in the popular imagination is necessary in interpreting the complexities of representing our decolonised reality. Magical realism2 can also provide a way to fill in the gaps of cultural representation in a postcolonial context by recovering the fragments and voices of forgotten histories from the point of view of the colonized.

If we think of the fantastic as a genre that destabilizes, at least momentarily, our understanding of the distinctions between the reasonable and the unreasonable, and reason itself, the proper and improper, and propriety itself, by bringing into the field of play those potentials we have forgotten, or did not believe accessible or feasible, […] its effects are not at all that dissimilar from those of blackness.

Iton links here the aspects of the fantastic with that of blackness in order to describe the particular temporalities latent in the conflation of race, existential philosophy and with the fashioning of reality. Our conception of the fantastic is unsentimental about race and does not attach any expectations of representing an authentic black subject, nor in positive or negative portrayals of blackness. His description is useful to me in considering how a range of visual practices contribute to the enactment of “the fantastic” through the malleable technologies associated with cinema and photography to produce dystopian, illusionary, magical and contradictory images of a substantive postcolonial imaginary and politics.

The fantastic is useful to us in thinking about how social transformation relates to the search for transcendence and the exhibition goes some part in offering critical contemplation and questioning of the transcendental as inescapable. The metaphorical function of mysticism are cast as material elements for speaking about the real issues in which people struggle with institutions and their prejudicial categories of race, gender, and sexuality.

The works are not and do not provide any truth or untruth, but rather are critical conceptualizations of certain aspects of self as presented in phenomenological experiences rooted in a collective postcolonial consciousness of being. An existence and being which is itself “increasingly hyper-visible in the global market of multicultural commodity fetishism.”5 Thus making it difficult to accept ‘the fantastic’ itself as part of any intellectual thought and curtailed its possibilities for reimagining the experience of everyday living. This apparent distrust of the fantastic stems from the suspicion that it functions as commodifying kind of primitivism that relegates subjects with colonial histories and “their traditions6 to the role of exotic psychological fantasies,”7 as opposed to being a compelling post-colonial imaginary emerging as a deliberate response to the crises in black futurity. Applying postcolonial terminology, realism represents the hegemonic discourse of the colonizer while magic refers to the strategy of opposition and resistance used by the colonized. This former perception serves to invalidate any sort of intellectual investigation of this theme, and relegated productions by black artists as regressive and irrational.

The works are directly critical or generally evocative offerings of ‘personal reality’ in which mysticism is aestheticized as corruptive when everything is shrouded in a cloth of omnipresent mystery, either through the ‘invisible hands of god’ and government.

Through the various works we are see how ‘mystical’ change is enacted. We are privy in Zina Saro-Wiwa’s Deliverance of Comfort to the machinations of the ‘miracle’ and its consequences. As the viewers we have the dual perspective on the presence of two opposing discursive systems of the magical and real as they reflect the existing tensions in discourses in generating meaning and understanding of our postcolonial context. From our privileged position we see how the perpetual efficacy of the mysterious as a point where history, politics, and religion converge and live.

The rapturous, religious ecstasy seen in Andrew Esiebo’s photographs demonstrates suggestions of exposing the miraculous as a fraudulent in the social and ecological webs of zealous global Evangelism. The fantastic, as offered in both Esiebo’s photographs and Zina Saro-Wiwa’s short film is a cautionary note for those seeking to enact divine instructions. Esiebo opens up the possibility for horror that is the manipulation of the religious into a tool of self-aggrandizement and pure narcissism. Mysticism becomes a trope to underrate or completely overlook practical difficulties, unpleasant facts, and dangers and becomes a self-serving “escape” in the hands of television Evangelists who rely on mystical traditions to legitimate the spiritual power of collective consciousness by identifying it with the ecstasy and rapture of religious mysticism.

How and to what degree do these works succeed to convince us of the reality they represent? The mysticism we encounter in Terence Nance’s You and I and You is not about extraordinary phenomena like ecstasies and visions, the mythological is here only evoked to personify life processes in order deal with the loss of a child, and the subsequent withdrawal of the parents from each other. In other words, the fantastic may serve as the transformative decolonizing project of imaging alternative histories. because the mysticism is not primarily, its shifts the position of the fantastic to one employable within multicultural normalisation that makes space for the acknowledge that ‘we all speak from a particular place, out of a particular history, out of a particular experience, a particular culture, without being constrained by the position as “ethnic artists.”’8

Milumbe Haimbe explicitly articulates otherness through the lens of the posthuman, apocalyptic language of the corporation takeovers and the obliteration of black female bodies replaced by android that have reduced women to their biological essence, in order to convey a world without ‘real’ women. In the unfolding of the colonial discourse, the black body became an icon for sexuality in general and sexuality became a metaphor for domination.9 The extermination of this body and its elimination give evidence of an especial sense of alienation from politics when politics engagement remains hinged to “questions of ethnicity, identity, and both their relationship to senses of place and notions of authenticity and origins.”

The artworks are critical of the relations of power through parody, excess and complicity, and the viewer is left with the baton of responsibility, to resolve for himself why and how the ideas that provide a basis for these disparate elements produces the ‘fantastic’ force that will see black people through the future challenges.


1 Joseph Roach, Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance, Columbia University Press, New York, 1996, p 26.

2 Magical realism is a literary genre far more than anything and its application to and implications for African literature in general

3 The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance. By Dorothee Soelle. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001. vii+325

4 Ibid., 289–290. Richard Iton, In Search of the Black Fantastic (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 6.

Shana Redmond, ‘‘In Search of the Black Fantastic (Book Review),’’ Journal of Popular Culture 42, no. 3 (June 2009): 579. pp.

5 Kobena Mercer, ‘Ethnicity and Internationality: New British Art and Diaspora- based Blackness’, Third Text, no 49, Winter 1999, p 56.

6 Pre-colonial histories is my take on this explicative

7 Joseph Roach, Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance, Columbia University Press, New York, 1996, p 26.

8 The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance. By Dorothee Soelle. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001. vii+325 pp

9 SANDRA PONZANESI 8: Beyond the Black Venus: Colonial Sexual Politics and Contemporary Visual Practices

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