Ayana V. Jackson
Broadening the Landscape of Blackness

Fiona R. Greenland, Contexts, August 12, 2018

In the ongoing and profound expansion of possibility in the visual landscape of Blackness, photographer Ayana V. Jackson brings a critical, aesthetic edge that is at once arresting, alluring, and generative.


Using her own body to appropriate and re-stage “reference images”—archival photographs from colonial Africa and contemporary photojournalism—Jackson engages in a sustained critique of conventional notions of Black femininity. In her 2017 video work “Compared to What?”, Jackson quotes performance artist Nora Chipaumire in reminding us that her intersectional status has “historically been on a ‘collision course’ with power, masculinity, and Whiteness.” Colonial documentary photographs capture the violence of that collision, with racialized images of women, men, and children as submissive and suffering. The artist herself appears in the restaged reference images, clothed, semi-clothed or naked, and figured variously as a bound captive, swaggering guerrilla fighter, prim missionary teacher, and as a corpse swinging from a tree. Across this body of work, Jackson directs the aperture to interrogate certain kinds of racialized thoughts and their origins in photography.


Jackson earned her BA in Sociology from Spelman College, and now divides her time between Johannesburg, Paris, and New York. I met up with Jackson in Chicago, where select works were presented in the Museum of Contemporary Photography’s In their Own Form: Contemporary Photography and Afrofuturism, to discuss her work.