A Constellation of Refusals: Blackness in Contemporary African Video Art

Malatjie, Lorraine Porcia. 2020. A Constellation of Refusals: Blackness in Contemporary African Video Art. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis explores the intersection between blackness and African video art. This is achieved through a focus on five case studies produced by African artists in the period between 2010 and 2016. The videos, is i am sky (Dineo Seshee Bopape, 2013), spin and Polyhedra (Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum, 2014 and 2018 respectively), Concrete Affection – Zopo Lady (Kiluanji Kia Henda, 2014) and Phyllis (Zina Saro-Wiwa, 2010), indicate a concern with the shift in black ontology in the contemporary African imagination. The thesis contemplates the videos through their temporal, visual, sonic and videographic sensibilities and their interventionist meditation on continuous reconfigurations of anti-black existences. The thesis uses the term African video art to describe video artworks made by black African artists with direct links to South Africa, Botswana, Angola and Nigeria. It draws from ongoing black diasporic scholarship about the contemporary condition of blackness – including its formations and resistance against anti-blackness – to indicate how African artists use video to represent and grapple with daily acts of black ontological refusals. In addition to engaging with the work of key black diasporic thinkers, close readings of the videos carry out a corrective appositional reorientation of a discourse of blackness through the cultural politics of the continent. The thesis employs the notion of continental blackness to signal to African experiences of blackness – as opposed to diasporic relationality to the continent – and concludes that, while the selected artists are not immediately recognisable as investigating blackness through obvious and ubiquitous means, they nonetheless contribute to imaginative ways of articulating black people’s lived experiences through innovative ideas of blackness and technology, fugitivity, spectrality, and the social position of witchcraft. In order to conduct the appositional work of rethinking discourses of blackness via the continent, the thesis uses the five videos to inject four potential figures in narratives of continuous refusals: the machine, the fugitive, the spectre and the sorcerer, with the latter employing black feminism to help articulate how gender can communicate hidden forms of black socialisations that are otherwise not visible to us.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):



Africa Art, African Video Art, African Sound Studies, Black Spectrality, Blackness and Technology, African Spirituality

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


30 November 2020

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

25 Jun 2021 14:03

Last Modified:

30 Nov 2023 02:26



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