(De)colonial Gaze and Archival Bodies in Ayana V. Jackson’s Photographic Self-Portraits

Julia Stachura

Palavras-chave: self-portrait; decolonized gaze; archive; body; history

Participação: presencial

The presentation focuses on the self-portrait of contemporary African-American artist Ayana V. Jackson (born in 1977), who specializes in studio photography. I propose to see Jackson’s photographs as a contemporary representation of a Black female artist, deconstructing the colonial gaze, toward the decolonial change and possibility in challenging narratives about slavery and diaspora, historically written predominantly from male-dominated, and whitewashed perspective. Jackson creates a visual narrative on empowerment, womanhood, and blackness. In her early self- portraits from the "Poverty Pornography" series, the artist is working on the debris of archives (after A. Mbembe), mimicking (or „mimicry-ing”) the visual culture of pain and suffering. She is offering a counter-narrative of images from the Global South, that gained an iconic status throughout the years, by capturing dead or nearly-dying bodies of people of color. In "Dear Sarah" Jackson’s strategy is similar, depicting the historical figure of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, or in the "To Kill or Allow to Live" series, deconstructing images of colonial subjects, staged in a photographic studio. In her more recent series "Intimate Justice in the Stolen Moment", arranged visual encounters between historical figures and models of representation, allow the artist to create a narrative, where Manet’s "Luncheon on the Grass" meets with Anarcha and Lucy, enslaved women and subjects of early gynecology medical test and experiments. In the most recent series, "Take Me to the Water", Jackson’s regal-like self-portraits are reminiscent of Toyin Ojih Odutola’s re-imagined past of an ancient matriarchal society in "A Countervailing Theory" series. In my analyses, I will discuss Jackson’s way to decolonize the camera gaze as well as the artist’s approach to collective memory, and visual narrative. I propose to read the (de)colonial gaze as a liminal space between the photographer and the subject of photography, where lies both power dynamic and historical burden of representation. Jackson moves on the margins of reconstruction and deconstruction, placing her body in the center of her artistic practice. Her self- portraits are liberated from the weight of history, emerging new possibilities of re-reading the relationship between race, sex, and photography. Artist’s approach to history seems to resemble Sankofa, a Ghanian philosophy construct, which takes from the past in order to build the future. Braiding (after E. Dabiri) is another metaphor that suits the concept of history presented by Jackson, connecting people and stories separated by hundreds of years, still present in her photographic studio.

The critical apparatus will be completed by concepts of archive from H. Foster, O. Enwezor, and A. Sekula.


Dabiri Emma, Don’t Touch My Hair, Penguin Books: London, 2019
Enwezor Okwui, Archive Fever. Uses of the Document, International Center of Photography, Steidl: New York, 2007
Foster Hal, “An Archival Impulse.” October 110 (2004): 3–22
Jackson Ayana V., Archival Impulse & Poverty Pornography, Baudoin Lebon: Paris, 2013 Mbembe Achille, Necropolitics, Duke University Press: Durham, 2019


Julia Stachura, Doctoral School of Humanities, Art History Institute of Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland Ph.D. Candidate in Art History at the Art History Institute of Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań (Poland) and archivist at The Faculty of Art Studies' Audiovisual Archive. She is preparing her dissertation on African-American photographic self-portraits. She published for View Theories and Practices of Visual Culture, Kultura u podstaw, and Rodriguez Gallery in Poznań. She worked as a researcher on the Grant of National Development Program of Humanities and on Digital Research Infrastructure for Humanities and Arts Sciences DARIAH-PL. Her academic interests: photography, self-portrait, philosophy, decolonial perspective, queer art.