Collection 1970s–Present

Gallery 214: Critical Fabulations

Saidiya Hartman. Gallery 214: Critical Fabulations. 2021

Digital print. Courtesy of the artist

Curator, T. Lax: Before you is a zine made by the artist, Kandiss Williams, who runs Cassandra Press in Los Angeles. It's a reprint of the essay "Venus in Two Acts" written by cultural historian Saidiya V. Hartman. In this essay, Hartmann coined the phrase "critical fabulations." Archives and historical records are filled with countless gaps and omissions, especially as it relates to the lives of enslaved people. In order to redress history's omissions, Hartman uses storytelling to imagine not only what was, but also what could be.

Here's Saidiya V Hartman.

Saidiya V Hartman: One of the things that I was really struggling with thinking through in “Venus In Two Acts” was the violence of the archive and the way power is registered through absences and silences, the obliteration of lives, all the things that we could not know.

I wanted to topple the hierarchies that determine how we know things and who people are in the world and so I was thinking about the relationship between history and the violence of the archive as well as its fiction and its elasticity.

For me, what's really enabling about artistic practice is the way poets and filmmakers and visual artists use materials, the way beauty as both a practice and a method might enable some kind of redress, right? That might be a possible antidote to the violence that is a part of the everyday.

At the same time, beauty as a discourse and a set of values is so structured by a very colonial, racist history and archival violence. So how do you steal something from it that's enabling, but not be caught up in its structure of value?

I think that artistic practice becomes the exercise of imagining beauty and what it might make possible in the world.