by Ge Allan
"I looked at that idea and began to pull it apart...black as the totality of colour rather than the absence of it"
Nadeem Din-Gabisi is a visual artist, filmmaker and poet. His short film MASS was influenced by the term ‘black visual frequency’ and imagines a young woman, ‘the seeker’, entering a futuristic sanctuary inhabited by two parental figures.
She then wanders through a bleak cityscape, recognising radio antennas and their frequencies. The film examines space, place and the signals that identify the contemporary Black experience. We talked to Nadeem about the film’s prescient themes, the current climate and his future projects.
This article is an extended version of a feature in Issue 7: SOLITUDE. Order your copy here
The starting point of the film is the term 'black visual frequency'. How do you interpret that term?
Cynthia Silveira introduced the author Tina Camdt and the term to me. I looked at the word and began to pull it apart, to look at the idea of Black, not just in relationship to people of African descent but Black as the totality of all colour rather than the absence of it.
With frequency, I started to look up radio waves, connectivity, transmission, to be frequent and to frequent a place. It's also about how to create a narrative that clearly represents all of those things, that lived and worked in harmony with one another.
This issue's theme is solitude, and I thought your artist's statement in which you talk about ‘to mass, to materialise, to become present’ and ‘the seeker finding home within herself and within her people’ links well to this. How do you associate the work with solitude?
The seeker is solitary and there is a solitude in finding peace within oneself even if you are with groups of people. I think solitude is quite necessary and important to reach balance and understanding.
At the same time, one should also balance that solitude with togetherness. The seeker is the only person that exists in this reality, the man and woman are representative forces of the duality of masculine, feminine principles that exist within nature.
The film is largely symbolic and the seeker represents us, and it's that journey of finding sanctuary within oneself.
I think I've always enjoyed writing in that way, where there's clear representation of our lived reality but at the heart it's a parable-esque tale that is almost like a guide to how I would like to live.
There have been huge protests for Black Lives Matter this year and on Instagram you referenced this by saying 'let us not devalue the quiet struggle' which seems to link to ideas in the film...
There is a struggle represented in the film whereby the seeker is trying to find ways to sustain herself. I often think that the human issues we face are down to the fact there hasn't been a quiet. There's a lot to be said of the ideological shift which is incredibly necessary, how we value ourselves and how we value human life and it seems often the simplest things are the hardest to have tangible outcomes for.
If one says we have to start valuing ourselves more, but then one questions, how does it look? It doesn't look a specific way because of the different environments we live in. The way someone in a rainforest will be careful and kind to themselves is very different to how someone in central London will be, but it's still necessary for both.
In the film, the underlying message is how cities and capitalism can operate and it's only until the seeker uses the tools in a way that connects with herself, she begins to find solutions, consistent and constant growth. It's also about radio and frequencies, literally and metaphorically. I thought the mass communication of radio that you depicted felt quite apocalyptic, giving essential survival information. The voiceover says ‘the radio is for ... resting and nesting places, food sources, mates, enemies, migratory routes'. Where did that come from?
I looked up the definition of what an antenna did on insects and then meshed it with what radio does. Again using duality, how they operate in symbiosis. I copied, pasted and edited slightly so I didn't even clock that it sounded apocalyptic!
When the seeker enters the space and she plays with the antenna, she realizes what they can be used for, as opposed to in the cityscape where they're out of reach. That shifting in context, being in a different space, one can see how we can use technology in a positive way. That's an underlying thing that I'm only just realising, this attempt to see how technology can be used in a way that unites us as opposed to dividing us.
With your current project POOL, how would you define it and how is it progressing in lockdown?
It's a conversation starter about how mental health issues within Afro-Caribbean diasporic communities affect lives. It's bigger than what I first thought because I’ve been thinking about migration, generational change of land and the emotions that come with that.
The pool is one you have to cross, like a sea, but when you make it a pool it becomes smaller. It’s about the emotions that we have inside of us and not seeking to drown in them but also about the cities in which we live in, not seeking to drown in them either. It's really about sustaining oneself in one's community, understanding being in an environment that oftentimes wants to drown you and you have to know how to swim to survive.
Lockdown was so unexpected that the trajectory of what I wanted to do has shifted so I'm now focusing mainly on the sonics of the project. I'm doing that with Momoko, her artist name is MettaShiba. I'm also working on a project with Momoko called An Alien Called Harmony.
It's still going to be multimedia, the only thing I can focus on now is the sound. I haven't had the headspace to focus on the visuals and my ideas for the visuals were very ambitious. The other elements will come; it's just a matter of when, of scale and necessity. It's like pruning a tree.
MASS (2020) by Nadeem Din-Gabisi was commissioned for Frequencies, a curatorial project initiated by Cynthia Silveira. Commissioned and produced by Film and Video Umbrella (Producer Leah McGurk) as part of FVU's Curatorial Practice Award. FVU is supported by Arts Council England.
Ge Allan is the Film Editor of the Radical Art Review