Issue 002 | Spring 2021
Letter from the Editor
Dessane Lopez Cassell
“This is for us.”
These words, spoken by the artist Barby Asante as part of her ongoing performance project Declaration of Independence, reference the work of centering narratives of liberation—narratives both personal and collective that refute and move beyond the oppressive stories we’ve long been told.
As each piece in this issue exemplifies, this work of carving out space is both transformative and integral to Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities around the world. It is often quiet, slow, and spiritual—and perhaps most importantly, it is ongoing. As Jemma Desai writes in her stirring essay on mothering, mourning, and the crucial gestures of Asante and numerous other artists, “This is the work I dedicate myself to.” Jemma’s sentiment expresses the essence of our mission with Seen, a journal of film and visual culture that extends BlackStar’s mission, on and off screens, to the page.
With this second issue, we continue to mull the question of what it means to be seen—truly understood and recognized—and to see and bear witness amid this age of upheaval. The twenty-four artists, curators, writers, and brilliant coconspirators who have joined us each contribute their own unique missive towards this collective effort: from Astria Suparak’s incisive treatise and visual essay on science fiction’s denial of futurity through its appropriation of Asian material culture, to Dixa Ramírez’s meditation on Black self-subsistence and refusal in the Dominican Deep South in Liborio, to Razan Al-Salah’s immersive dive into the sharp wit and humor of Thirza Cuthand’s thoroughly queer and anticolonial films. Likewise, from Terri Francis’s essay on the exacting cinema of Madeleine Anderson, to Erin Christovale and Meg Onli’s conversation about the radical gestures of Ulysses Jenkins, to Luce Lincoln’s exploration of the intimate cinema of Isabel Sandoval, and Janaína Oliveira’s essay on the challenges (and rewards) of championing Black film in Brazil, the texts in this issue attest to both the importance and possibilities of carving out space—physically, intellectually, and cinematically.
For our cover, we center the work of filmmaker Keisha Rae Witherspoon, whose stunning short film T knocks the wind out of you, only to fill you back up with the love and resilience you thought had long been depleted. At its core, T is a story of how to hold grief and joy simultaneously. It is a balm for the whiplash that has perhaps always defined the experience of living under white supremacy, but that feels particularly palpable now. We’re honored to be able to reproduce the film’s script within these pages, alongside a poignant introduction written by Keisha herself.
This issue, assembled amid a period of both cautious optimism and brutal assaults on our communities and collective wellbeing, has been guided by that same spirit of love and resilience that permeates T—something that could only be made possible by BlackStar’s CEO and founder Maori Karmael Holmes, and Nehad Khader, festival director and managing editor of Seen. Thank you for the invitation to be part of this work, both on Seen and when you first asked me to join the festival’s programming team four years ago. Your trust and wisdom have been invaluable.
Heartfelt thanks (and frankly, awe) are also owed to our art director Caroline Washington, a force whose singular energy and vision radiate off of every page of this issue. Thank you to Leo Brooks and Imran Siddiquee, whose quiet yet game-changing ideas have likewise deeply impacted the look and feel of these stories, both online and in print. To our brilliant and discerning editors Jasmine Weber, Kavita Rajanna, Yasmine Espert, and Shauna Swartz, tremendous thanks for your expertise and generative feedback. Each piece is stronger and all the more resonant for it.
It has been both an honor and a pleasure to shepherd this collective offering. I hope you’ll continue to join us and stay awhile with this exercise in imagining otherwise. “After all,” as Keisha writes, “what is art if it isn’t a spell?”.
Dessane Lopez Cassell is a curator, writer, and editor based in New York. Her work focuses on artist’s moving image, documentary, and experimental film practices concerned with race, gender, and decoloniality, with a particular interest in voices from the African and Caribbean diasporas. Currently, Cassell is the reviews editor at Hyperallergic and sits on BlackStar’s programming committee.