violent bodies: the recurrent genesis

by kopano maroga


“we are all here because our ancestors did things to survive

because we did things to survive

because our mothers wombs are where we first learned to be violent

because we scratched and ate them dry and red

because we swallow history whole

and cannot birth it away”

—Little Girl, Janani Balasubramanian

for me 2015 was a year of convergence: the year of impasse. the white, capitalist, patriarchal system instituted in 1652 in south africa by the physical and psychosocial subjugation of black bodies had divested us of our socioeconomic and socio-political mobility. this was done through the sophisticated apparatus of neoliberalism. all that was left to us was our bodies and the violence instituted upon them and the corollary resistance which is our intergenerational inheritance.

in the cape colony (and subsequently nationwide) this impasse came to be symbolized by the advent of the decolonial practice and apparatus of “#fallism”, a movement that found its genesis in the creation of the #rhodesmustfall movement in early 2015 and the subsequent, physical removal of the statue of cecil john rhodes at the university of cape town. the removal of the rhodes statue and the accompanying resistance thereof by, mostly, white south africans brought into sharper focus the disjuncture between the post-1994 narrative of the rainbow nation and our contemporary reality. icons of white supremacy are valued above the psychosocial trauma they institute on black bodies due to the history of black exploitation which they are a physically manifested celebration of. a memorial to white supremacy triumphant and the subsequent black bodies trampled underfoot. it has become clear to me that the body is a site of trauma. a nexus of violence and privilege and the untenable weight of history. as people we exist on a myriad of strata.

we are physical manifestations of our history and our socio-political configuration which places us in conversation not only with other physical bodies but in conversation with abstract bodies; bodies of space and time. political bodies such as the state, social bodies such as the media, bodies of history and bodies of power and resistance. an anthropology lecturer of mine once told me in a lecture on the state’s monopolization over the legitimate means of violence, that “where there is resistance there is power”. i would like to extend this idea and posit that resistance in itself is a form of power.

it is the singular power of the dispossessed and the marginalized, the wretched of the earth. a power characterized by the violence it institutes on its ontological opposite, the oppressor, by means of its resistance. a power characterized by the autonomy it displays in relation to the oppressor. the act of resistance is a radical posture and the physicalisation thereof is, what is commonly understood to be, violence (though, for me, any posture whether physical or psychological that places one in an antithetical relationship with the oppressor is an act of violence).

to march on parliament, as was done during the #feesmustfall protests, is to physically manifest violence on the state apparatus. similarly, throwing shit on the statue of cecil john rhodes at uct, storming an all-male residence led by the #patriarchymustfall collective to protest the upholdment of misogynist traditions in uct residence culture and the trans collective storming the zizipho pae topless to protest her queer-antagonistic social media statuses all manifest violence against oppressive systems.

what becomes interesting in these spaces of protest are, as thuli gamedze says in her article on decolonization as art practice, “the activisms of art production that make use of our innate creativity in decolonizing and re-imagining our space” . the act of protest is intrinsically a creative one as it requires the creation of a space in which our deviant bodies find vindication.

these are the spaces in which our intergenerational trauma, anger and dispossession achieve their existential vindication. they are a reconfiguration of space to say, this is what (my) black looks like. this is what it sounds like. this is the fact of my blackness disregarded for centuries. this is my raisin in the sun. this is my dream deferred. this is my body hung on a noose gasping for air. this is my anguish and my fear becoming more mangled with each birthing of a new bitter, black harvest. this is the roaring silence into which i plunge nightly.

2015 was characterized by the reclamation of bodies and the genesis of a kind of art practice that is embedded in a very specific, temporal, socio-political space. a space characterized by disillusionment with the pervasive neoliberal discourse and reformist politics that serve the agenda of white, capitalist supremacy.
2015 was the historic re-visitation of the genesis of the black body, the black female body, the black queer body, the black trans and non-binary body, the black poor body and the black body in all its infinite and illegitimate manifestations as a politically disruptive and artistically (de)constructive apparatus.
a body beginning to move beyond the constraints of the stunted imagination of its oppressors and re-envisaging the space it occupies as a canvas upon which both self and collective can autonomously narrate.