Gabi Ngcobo and Thiago de Paula Souza I’ve seen your face before

Still Taken from How Many _ Does It Take? - Simnikiwe Buhlungu and Tessa Mars (2020)
Still Taken from How Many _ Does It Take? - Simnikiwe Buhlungu and Tessa Mars (2020) | © Simnikiwe Buhlungu and Tessa Mars

A trans-disciplinary platform founded by Gabi Ngcobo and Thiago de Paula Souza to reflect on entangled histories between Africa and its diasporas, inspired by complex encounters that create spaces for learning with that which has been interrupted or has not yet been possible; for unlearning the brokenness, displacement and anxiety that follow us in this journey of creating structures that are as yet unavailable. 

I’ve Seen Your Face Before as it was initially imagined no longer exists. We had planned a series of research trips that would allow us to visit, study, exchange and learn with fellow art practitioners that we already met or knew. The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to cancel and reimagine all future travel plans. Instead, we initiated “Not-In-Between”, a series of engagements during lockdown with would-have-been artistic collaborators and participants in our research trips.

These engagements were a series of conversations around “Not-In-Between”, the first chapter of Fred Moten’s book Black and Blur (2017). Moten’s concept of the “not in between” is a proposal towards a refreshed language of performing the art of history. We had referenced the text and title within a proposal for an even earlier cancelled trip: to participate in the sixth iteration of the Ghetto Biennale in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Departing from the Haitian Revolution, Moten reflects on the Black radical tradition and expands on how we can approach the historical in ways that open up paths for new grammars and conversations to emerge - or to continue.

From those conversations several projects emerged, of which two are presented below.

How Many ____ Does It Take?

Simnikiwe Buhlungu and Tessa Mars

“This is what we do. We sit, we listen, we bounce. We often print, copy and scan. We share and compare. We mxm and tchuips and we remember. We count the dead, the living, those that made it, how they fought and those that did not. We count the many conversations we are not part of and the many _____ we don’t give because we prefer to have our own.”  - Simnikiwe Buhlungu and Tessa Mars
“In and through two seemingly disparate recollections of personal histories - as ‘delayed responses’ in their own respective ways - there is a nexus in the understanding of how these moments are significant in our artistic practices. Taking a cue from Not In Between, a chapter in Fred Moten’s Black and Blur (2017), How Many _____ Does It Take? weaves through a transgenerational telling of Dédée Bazile and Imvo Zabanstundu; a heroine and a newspaper; within Haiti and South Africa but converging through immaterial geographies; making sense of inconsistencies; told by parents, left alone and referenced later.”  - Simnikiwe Buhlungu and Tessa Mars 
Still from <i>How Many ____ Does it Take?</i> Still from How Many ____ Does it Take? | © Simnikiwe Buhlungu and Tessa Mars (2020)

The Power of Refusal   

The project troubles and questions the limits of visibility politics the way we know them in our current times. They engage in and with practices where refusal and collaboration become tools to combat the perverse logic of “new forms of control” (Denise Ferreira da Silva). 
Is it possible to articulate refusal as a practice in constant negotiation with visibility policies, in order to contribute to a profound unlearning of colonial categories within and beyond the art world?

Topping from the Bottom

Sinethemba Twalo Courtesy of the artist Sinethemba Twalo © Courtesy of the artist Sinethemba Twalo
Audio wird geladen

“committed to wax

Bigger and Bigger cosmic graves


whole black collision

like night and the new sea

Dream Haiti

spectral and residual

A transmuting weight...


Notwithstanding one learnt to dance and shuffle

within _____________

(The testimony redacted)

A compendium of expedition configured the

encounter and its (in)finitude. 


the queerness of its own compulsions...

an intimate agitation

always (an)other weight, heightened by

expectation, bogged down by a wait. The wait,

ceaseless and adumbrated...

Death alive was/ is the moment in black

A certain profundity…imminent

Rhenus Rhebus: Papiro

Committed to Wax: Matana Roberts interviewed

by Sinethemba Twalo

Entanglement: Khanyisa Jaceni, Nina Simone

Bigger and Bigger Cosmic Graves: Sinethemba Twalo

Whole Black Collision: Nicole Mitchell, Lisa. E. Harris

Like Night and the New Sea: Sinethemba Twalo

Dream Haiti: Kamau Braithwaite read by Christina Sharpe

The Past is a Living Thing” 

- Sinethemba Twalo

Still from <i>How Many ____ Does it Take?</i> Still from How Many ____ Does it Take? | © Simnikiwe Buhlungu and Tessa Mars (2020)

Provisionality as Pathway

The gestures often performed by art institutions in search for social equality are confined to neoliberal yearnings and tied to the invisibility-visibility frame, with very little sensibility for alternatives that could potentially break with the logic of identity as a commodity. Our research can contribute to the redesigning of these debates and to pursue modes of ethics and justice that break with this dichotomy. How can we create spaces where art practitioners are not constrained by imposed social identities, even if such spaces prove to be provisional, as I've seen you face before now is. 
Initially, we were interested in continuing conversations that can rarely occur without the financial support of European institutions, however controversial these agreements may be owing to their deep-rooted connections with European historical guilt and perpetuation of power rather than proper reparation, even as they help develop concrete networks of exchanges. The pandemic led us to devise alternative modes of acknowledging these limits and paradoxes, which are paramount for us to look critically at our own practise and self-positioning in this debate to improve political relations and to respond to the urgent need of tackling unbalanced power dynamics in the art field.
In both, sound piece and video conversation, presented here, the personal and the historical intersect to conjure up a dream-like landscape that begins with a journey through different but connected temporalities and moments of the Black experience via the Atlantic: from Fred Moten’s Black radical theorizing to pivotal moments in South African history to the Haitian Revolution and its myriad, often lesser-known layers. 

In the face of the constant re-articulation of mechanisms of control, provisionality remains a generative force opening up pathways through layers of history, memory, and unanticipated encounters.