On April 15, 2019, liquid blackness, a research project on blackness and aesthetics housed in the College of the Arts at Georgia State University, hosted renowned filmmaker Jenn Nkiru for an artist talk and discussion surrounding her innovative audiovisual work. Nkiru is a British Nigerian filmmaker who has written, directed and produced the award-winning short film “Rebirth is Necessary” and has collaborated with a number of musicians and artists including Beyoncé and Jay-Z, Kamasi Washington and Neneh Cherry. Recently, she collaborated with Bradford Young, Terrence Nance, Marc Thomas and Kamasi Washington, as part of Ummah Chroma, on “As Told to G-D Thyself” which recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
The event, “Jenn Nkiru’s Pan-African Imagination: Black Studies as Aesthetic Practice,” began with a curated screening of Nkiru’s work. Nkiru is invested in integrating the intellectual forces of black studies and black feminist thought with the aesthetic forces expressed in the Black Arts Movement, the history of black music, as well as the cinematic traditions of experimental filmmaking, global art cinema and the African diaspora. The screening revealed the immense breadth and depth of Nkiru’s artistic range and included En Vogue, a short experimental documentary exploring queer ballroom culture, and the stylistically varied music videos for Washington’s “Hub-Tones” and Cherry’s “Kong” and “Rebirth is Necessary.”
After the screening, Dr. Alessandra Raengo, associate professor of Moving Image Studies, along with research group members Jenny Gunn and Jazmine Hudson, engaged Nkiru in a theoretical and practical discussion of her work. Nkiru, who is also a DJ, discussed her crate-digging approach to archival research, explaining how one of her goals is to remix the archive so that it becomes relevant, productive and even ecstatic. Nkiru also discussed her interest, which is shared by the liquid blackness group, in constructing a kind of black cinematic language that would, as Nkiru paraphrased from fellow liquid blackness invitee Arthur Jafa, give visual expression to the sonorous qualities of black music. As Nkiru explained, such a project of what she called sonic mimesis means giving equal weight to the image and to the soundtrack in the construction of a film, as well as the curation and construction of images that reverberate with vibrational intensity. Nkiru discussed how such resonant images can actualize the latent energies embedded in the archival materials of Pan-African culture, allowing for a reimagining of Pan-African futures in light of reconfigured pasts, or what she termed a kind of cosmic archaeology.