“I am black; I am in total fusion with the world, in sympathetic affinity with the earth, losing my id in the heart of the cosmos -- and the white man, however intelligent he may be, is incapable of understanding Louis Armstrong or songs from the Congo. I am black, not because of a curse, but because my skin has been able to capture all the cosmic effluvia. I am truly a drop of sun under the earth.” Black Skin, White Masks, Frantz Fanon.
Emerging Bahamian photographer, Melissa Alcena will present a collection of 20 photographs focusing on the Black Bahamian and Caribbean male as a central subject and the issues around representation, exile, displacement and becoming. Her images reveal problems around conventions: stigmas, stereotypes and fragile masculinity, while shining a light on the social space of The Bahamas as a country rife with racial tensions, disparities and charm.
Grounding this ongoing body of work in the actual practice of looking and curiosity, Alcena acknowledges within her awareness the impact of race and representational issues on postcolonial spaces like The Bahamas. The question of identity as defined by “the condition of being oneself or itself, and not another,” is one of the issues she seeks to unpack. What happens, however, when your identity has been defined by another and not yourself?
Using the work of cultural theorist, philosopher and revolutionary Frantz Fanon, Alcena reconfigures his study and observation that Black people are fed images their whole lives and most of these visuals comprise projections of stereotypes. The contrast between those prescribed ideals and their ideas of themselves is the essence of the thing that unravels any possible identification. There is a personal gap towards how one can be in the world versus what one is expected to be.
Within this double consciousness, citing the work of W.E.B Dubois, there is the struggle of Blackness and owning Black identity that isn’t unified but divided into several parts—the historical repression and devaluation of self—that causes a disconnect, which leads to a host of shared societal issues. The fragmentation and shattering of selfhood, especially in post-colonial countries, leads to many young black men being lost, marginalised and bewildered as they struggle to come to terms with an identity that is in deep conflict with what is experienced. Often there is a sense of looking at oneself and this is frequently mitigated through the gaze of another.
Within the power hegemony and imbalance, there is currently pushback in the Global Black community, not only from the United States with the Black Lives Matter movement, but throughout the world with underrepresented minorities and indigenous peoples, as they figure out how to fight for their space and place in this world. Black male selfhood can be read in "Some (re)assembly required" as something that is fragile and vulnerable, coy and trickster, one that is strong and full of promise and self-realisation. In these images, we bear witness to performances of intimacy, resilience and vulnerability.
Under the unique light of Alcena’s gaze, how do we then see these Black men? How do they know themselves? How have we been conditioned to feel about their presence? What does it mean if we struggle with the tenderness, beauty and agency of the subjects in these images? What does it mean if we don’t? Within the insufficient and rigid frame that society dictates and demand for us to contend with, how can we use the presence and availability of these subjects to break down and move forward our thinking about our Black future?
With this collection of images, we invite you to meet the various Black men whose identities are built upon more than what the stereotype of them dictates. We encourage you to reassemble your ideologies and to pause while acknowledging the more profound humanity therein where love, affection, pride, introspection, consciousness and freedom at times occupy.
Melissa Alcena was born in 1988 in Nassau, The Bahamas. She attended Lyford Cay International School and graduated from St. Andrew’s International School in 2006. In 2010 she enrolled at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario, and completed a two-year Applied Photography course in 2012.
‘Some (re)assembly required’ will be her first solo exhibition in The Bahamas and her third overall. Alcena’s approach to portraiture is environmental; by photographing her subjects in their surroundings, she highlights aspects of their lives and personalities