By Ila Ananya
Have you seen Testimonies from the Table’s photographs of 61 black women and read what they have to say about their lives yet?
Before musician Solange’s performance at New York’s Guggenheim, Pakistani photographer Seher Sikandar was asked to create a conceptual project to do with Solange and her audience — giving rise to the idea of a scrapbook of testimonies, much like the scrapbooks we made and filled in for friends at the end of years in school. So Sikandar called 61 black women to her apartment in Brooklyn, took Polaroids of each woman, and glued them onto the pages of a book, asking them to write what they wanted next to them.
All at the same time, the stories are lovely, painful, encouraging, and terrifying to read. For instance:
“Every day I carry the extreme weight of needing to be fierce and the held together Black Superwoman. I need to carry and care for my family, protect and uplift my community, excel in my profession, and look great while doing it all,” says 38-year-old Joy.
Some pages later, Calandra writes, “When I was fifteen, a youn Caucasian boy repeatedly shouted ‘ugly black girl’ at me as I walked by. It struck me in my chest that day: the colour of my skin may “speak” for me before I can utter a sound—and may cause pain.”
And this is followed by 37-year-old Zerandrian, who writes, “Having to choose “woman” constantly in order to engage the world as someone who isn’t “man”. Often I’m genderless. Typically, I’m a girl. However that looks. 99 percent of the time, that’s with a beard. I heal by saying ‘no’. It’s a complete sentence.
Solange’s performance at the Guggenheim was what she called an ‘interdisciplinary’ reimagining of her 2016 record, A Seat at the Table. Sikandar’s work is an engagement with this, and, as she says in her book, it’s to “create a sense of community, solidarity, and healing amongst contributors”, who have written about everything, from the weight of expectations, to the politics of hair, and being a black woman with light skin, to struggling with depression.
You can access the book here.