Anique Jordan’s ‘Ban' yuh belly’, a series that visually grapples with the ways Black people cope with the loss of loved ones due to anti-Black, systemic violence, is a work that asks us to reject making sense of the way we deal or do not deal with such violence by challenging the linear trajectory of how people are expected to mourn. The series, instead, asks the viewer to ‘Ban' yuh belly’, a Caribbean expression meaning “brace yourself”. Ban' yuh belly – a phrase that is both a warning and a place of comfort, can be read in relation to Jordan’s work, not only as holding or bracing yourself, and therefore a sense of stillness, but also as a verb. Do something- act… be prepared. But also, be still. It is both the movement and the stillness that is the refusal of sense making present in this work. How can we both be still and move – at the same time? Jordan’s work tells us we can. We can by refusing the normalized process of grieving that is expected of Black people. The process that is laid out for us … we are killed, it is reported in the media, it is archived (made to be in the past, moved on…repeated). The senseless labour that is involved in this process wants Black people to grieve losses with an expectation that it will be the last, even though we know it is not. What I mean here is that the anti-Black world has not changed, it has killed, is killing and will continue to kill Black people, asking us to grieve an ongoing process is asking us to ignore that the world still kills us. Jordan’s work asks us to interrupt this process, not waste our labour, doing the work to get over something that is not over. Instead Jordan tells us to ban’ yuh belly. Jordan asks us to refuse doing the labour of moving on, not because we don’t want to, but because we can’t until the structures that make life impossible for Black people are dismantled.
Through a visual engagement with documents of recent, local history, Jordan offers an entry point into grief and mourning “that disrupts its normalcy” by telling us we move by being still, therefore rather than a normal linear trajectory of loss and grief and mourning, Black people do all of these things at the same time which is what allows us to hold ourselves-brace ourselves, ban’ our bellies and the bellies of those around us. The way we lose is not liner, it does not happen, then we get over it and move on. The loss often happens simultaneously to when we are already in a state of grief, in a state of mourning. The question then becomes, how do we live with and like this? Jordan’s work attempts to deal with this question. By layering historical documents with space and time, while also inserting her own portrait within the pieces, Jordan suggests we are haunted by a past that is also a present due to the reproduction of violence against Black people. That haunting, is survival, it is a way through, it is a state of protection.
I take all of these different aspects of Jordan’s work and connect them through a lens of melancholy. In Mourning and Melancholia, Freud (1917) notes mourning and melancholy as two different conditions. He states, “mourning is regularly a reaction to the loss of a loved person, or to some abstraction which has taken the place of one, such as country, liberty, an ideal, and so on. In some people the same loss produces melancholia instead of mourning…For Freud, melancholy is a “crippling attachment”, grief that does not allow moving on. Post-Colonial/Feminist literary Critic and theorist Ranjana Khanna pushes Freud’s notion of melancholy and states “[m]elancholia, however, is not simply a crippling attachment to a past that acts like a drain of energy on the present […] Rather, the melancholic’ critical agency, and the peculiar temporality that drags it back and forth at the same time, acts toward the future” (Khanna, 1, 2006). The melancholic can move but cannot move on- hence the stuckness doesn’t indicate a lack of movement but rather an inability to move from one place to another. This, I would argue, doesn’t point to a lack of healing, however it signals to the ability to occupy multiple positions at the same time- to be haunted. It allows us to think about the kind of grief work the melancholic refuse. The melancholic are saying, ‘we refuse to do the labour of healing, until the labour of what is hurting us is changed’. Reading Jordan’s work in this way, allows us to see the work, to Ban' yuh belly as both survival and space of protection that moves us toward the future.
This movement toward the future can be understood through an afro-pessimist lens. Afro-pessimists are mainly concerned with how the social death of Black people structures modern life. They argue that modern life is structured and made possible due to anti-Blackness. This suggests that the only way anti-Blackness will end is through the restructuring of modern life. Afro-pessimist, speak from a place of a pessimistic optimism, as a way toward the future. The way I read melancholy in Jordan’s work is suggesting a similar thing. A place that is normally understood as negative can actually be a space of possibility that moves us toward a future. Melancholy suggests stuck-ness. Ban' yuh belly asks us to be stuck, to brace ourselves, to be still, which can explain how Black people have been able to not only survive but also resist anti-Black sentiments.
Inertia in physics is used to talk about a property of matter in an existing state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line, unless that state is changed by an external force. Ban' yuh belly, is concerned with the internal, hold yourself, stay in this straight line but also the external… we ban’ our bellies until the external changes. That is, we brace ourselves, our bodies, our minds, our loved ones, in a state of protection, a state of readiness, until the external- the social death of Black people is changed.
Hold: Part 1
A conversation between artist Anique Jordan and activist Tina Garnett on the refusal of sense-making
Hold: Part 2
A conversation between artist Anique Jordan and journalist Priya Ramanujam on media, youth and relationships that carry memory.
Presented by Mayworks Festival of Working People and the Arts in collaboration with Zalucky Contemporary, Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival, and CUPE Ontario