Tatsuniya series, artist Statement 2017
(Londres, Inglaterra, 1986)
Lately, I’ve been thinking about theorist and filmmaker, Trinh Minh-Ha’s statement “I do not wish to speak about, but to speaking nearby” as a way to describe the narrative approach of the Tatsuniya series.
My intent wasn’t to clearly or directly approach this subject, or to extract useable information to affirm a position but rather about a playful unfolding of narrative and the relational happenings around the making of the images in which I am fully implicated.
I began photographing the students of Shehu Sanda Kyarimi school in Maiduguri, Nigeria as part of larger photojournalistic series about the experiences of students who had been affected by the Boko haram conflict. But as I continued the project, I began to become distressingly aware of my relational proximity to them and the repressed colonial, violent and extractive consciousness that was inherent in the journalistic work I was embarking upon.
The Tatsuniya series was about finding a way to be fully present with the students. About plotting an area for multiple and varied moments of playful interaction where something undefined and surprising could bloom from a lack of a tight definition of the “why’s” of the gathering and the loosening of steering of what form and structure the images would take.
I wanted to create a space of emotional and spatial entanglements where the objective and cold legacy of the documentary/photographic gaze I was handling may be disrupted.
Tatsuniya is not about a narrative of trauma, survival, heroism or courage of these students, it is about the creative process through the relationships, bonds and frictions between my subjects and I, the mistakes and throw away gestures made when the camera keeps recording, the invisible things learned and encountered that make no sense at that moment, and not particularly about gaining a coherent end result that tries to explain a specific condition.
Using the motifs of teaching, learning and play, the Tatsuniya series takes shape from the residues of an energy of collective making, where lines are blurred and visual thoughts and authorship is open-ended, ongoing and unfinished.
The first photographs of Tatsuniya I took in 2017 was about exploring an imaginative third space of collective memory of student-hood and play, it was an experimentation with improvised prompts that the students and I could weave the visual narrative through and make it into something that on the surface looked like documentary but contested and pivoted away from it.
Tatsuniya II moved further into this social surrealism by using a workshop framework. In the seven day workshop that took place prior to the making of the images, I wanted to explore further how to loosen the reigns of my own authorship to collaborate better with the students I was photographing and integrate them in the creative process. In an off-shoot of the creative work we made, the students intervened by sewing imaginative compositions on school uniform fabric.
The ensuing images created from the workshop continued on with certain themes from Tatsuniya I using intuitive and improvisational strategies, to create a loose assemblage of images referencing from children’s games, lines of poetry and exercises from a textbook called “Physical Education for secondary school students”.
The Tatsuniya workshop is about the intangible things that happen when you bring a group of young women together and hold space for creative expression to come through.
It centers what cannot be accurately and entirely recorded by the camera, like the bonds formed when we gather communally to speak and to listen, to teach and to learn, to play and to express. It is not about Boko Haram and doesn’t find an easy point of departure from the often cited trauma the conflict has inflicted on the young. If anything the conflict is footnote to this particular endeavor.
In the images and film produced you can see the students moving from the classroom to dense green forest in dream like scenes that act as a backdrop to the choreographed moving sequences the students helped created in the Workshop.
In the evolution of Tatsuniya, I found freedoms and crucial fluidity in the ambiguous space between the moving and the still images, between myself and the students, between fact and fiction. I found a tangibly soft, relational energy in that space where I could piece together the fragments that get lost, often on the editing room floor, into a “warmth sculpture” in a very Beausyian sense, to make something new and undefined through our interconnectedness.