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State of Play (2011)

by Roshini Kempadoo
2 Jul 2012 • Comment (0) • Print
Posted: Post-Racial Imaginaries [9.1] | Commons

A photographic series on Obama’s Presidency (2009 -)
by Roshini Kempadoo

Moments of history, seminal moments, like noise to our senses are brought to this body, via a screen and a voice  – here, this side of the Atlantic in London, England, in this imperial ruin.

This body, daughter of the post-colonies witnesses the first black President elected in a Western country, it is unprecedented in my lifetime and our history.

This body here, experiences a collective/personal moment of elation and justice.

It reminds me of another ‘lived through’ political moment, still vivid in my memory – 11th February 1990 when Nelson Mandela was released – the collective, mediated making of history, as we devoured newspapers and were glued to televisions. It is moments when these histories are embodied, viscerally affecting the self and being. It is moments like these that history becomes the matter of the person, the individual, the body in our separate places. These representations are given more meaning.

For as long as I can, I join in a long collective sigh of relief and sheer optimism. Obama, the President and his family – have provided us here and now with a glimpse that some things can be righted, that sometimes justice can happen for majority cultures of the world who have experience such wrong doing, and that we live amongst persons who really do abhor racism, and are willing to embrace difference. For some moments, I am made more comfortable in my European/Southern, decolonised frame of reference.

No matter that Obama’s media representations of photographs, words and sounds are constructed ideologically as ‘spin’ for different agendas. These tableaux vivants are created as acts of respect. Like everyone else, the media archive of Obama’s image online is experienced remotely. I create these to re-imagine someone with ‘permeable skin, penetrated by sounds, smells and memories that are sharp and diffuse, histories public and private’.[1]

This election had many firsts …[b]ut one that’s on my mind tonight’s about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta…. Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.
She was born just a generation past slavery …. when someone like her couldn’t vote for two reasons — because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin…. she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot…she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote…
Senator Barack Obama, Grant Park in Chicago, Illinois, after winning the race for the White House – victory speech – 4th November 2008.

A series of photographs for exhibition (70cm x 45cm). A selection from State of Play were included in the exhibition 28 Days: Reimagining Black History Month, Justina Barnicke Gallery/ Georgia Scherman Projects, Toronto, Canada – 19.01.2012 – 19.02.2012.


1. McGrath, Roberta (2007). ‘History Read Backward: Memory, Migration and the Photographic Archive’ In Grossman A & O’Brien, A, (eds.) Projecting Migration: Transcultural Documentary Practice. London: Wallflower Press. pp. 36 -52. [↑]

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