featured gallery for December 2017

Decolonizing Fetish

The term “fetish” was first made prominent in the 17th century through European explorers seeking to demonize the spiritual traditions of Black indigenous peoples. As a term invented by white Europeans colonizing Sub-Saharan Africa, the concept of fetish is rooted in anti-Blackness.

In Decolonizing Fetish we highlight work which expresses the sovereign right of Black peoples to have ownership of our bodies, ownership of our sexualities, ownership of our spiritualities, ownership of our inherited and reconstructed indigenous traditions, and rule of our land. In Decolonizing Fetish we recognize how our sexual, spiritual and spatial liberations are intertwined.

Within the Visual AIDS Artist+ Registry we encountered works from artists of African descent who document and visualize Blackness beyond the limits of white vernacular. Upon placing these images in dialogue with one-another, not only did we recognize manifestations of Black indigeneity across diaspora, but found resonating visual methodologies of psychic healing in the following forms:

Body Language: self-liberation through communicative gestures, movement and poise

Joyce McDonald and Eric Payne

Imaging sovereignty through narrative figuration and portaiture

Kia LaBeija and Rotimi Fani-Kayode

Ritual, rites of passage, intimacy and kinship in the House Ball community

Luna Luis Ortiz

Legends: continuity, myth and intergenerational knowledge transmission

Sandy Lee Robertson and Derek Jackson

Acts of Recognition: symbolism and syncretism, encoded messages across language space and time

Shirlene Cooper and Edwin Lacend

For the month of December and beyond, we are facilitating an unfolding dialogue with the artists work to engage with these histories in three phases. Stage One: Inquiries (Dec 1), Stage Two: The Language of Extraction (Dec 8) and Stage Three: Visualizing Sovereignty (forthcoming).


In what ways can embodied knowledge and oral traditions be exercised and centered in the information age?

Given the ways that our ritual practices are both fetishized and under siege, what is the role of secrecy in our sovereignty and how are privacy and intimacy afforded in our cultural practices? What forms of documentation and archiving reinforce our sovereignty and cross generational collaboration?

How are our ethnicities honored and articulated where family ties and ties to our historical lands are severed?

How can we observe Black sexualities and Black gender expressions from a vantage point of Black indigeneity?

What would it look like to decolonize the narration of our gender identities?

What acts of recognition are possible between our inherited and reconstructed indigenous practices?

Questions for non-Black viewers:

What does it look like to respect experiences, boundaries, and values you do not understand?


The notion of fetish worship was conceived, weaponized and elaborated over a centuries-long European agenda to proselytize white superiority while contesting the sovereignty and rationalizing the theft of Black people. White intruders and corresponding theorists used the idea of ‘fetish worship’ to expound their own ideological myths regarding the Black ‘other’ which is seen in opposition to the enlightened humanity of the white narrating observer. Over centuries of European occupation of Sub-Saharan Africa, the fetish term was deployed across several colonizing Western European language groups including Portuguese, Dutch, French, and German.

“In so describing fetishism as a carnal faith, de Brosses emphasized the arbitrariness of fetish objects, which could include plants, animals, and grander natural phenomena like oceans, mountains, and rivers, when these are treated ‘as Gods’”

“Various European philosophers found in the idea of fetishism the ideal image of Reason's other. For Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), fetishism indicated lack of judgment, an aesthetic incapacity. For Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831), it constituted a very early if not yet fully developed form of religion...“

(Fetishism - Overview - Comparative Religion, Philosophy, And Fetishism - Worship, Brosses, Power, and Constituted - JRank Articles )

In confronting the present day eroticization of fetish (which we will address in Stage Three: Imaging Sovereignty) not only do we come to terms with how anti-Blackness provides the fundamental othering that fuels the contemporary stigma of the fetish concept, but we recognize how the intimacies of Black people are exoticized and demonized simultaneously. To be fetishized within this broader historical context means being subjected to white-supremacist ideologies regarding gender, sexuality, and spiritual tradition; as well as being observed through the exploitative and extractive gaze of white colonial entitlement.

Decolonizing fetish involves and requires shifts in recognized power.

Decolonizing fetish means to unchain Black people, Black bodies and Black histories from the limits of white vernacular.

Decolonizing fetish involves dismantling the imposition of white-supremacist gender, sexual and spiritual ideologies onto indigenous people

The following principles became useful for us in assessing how Black artists in the Visual AIDS database are able to embody and transmit their own histories while swerving white-supremacist mythologies that co-conspire across colonizing language groups to ensnare and exploit Black people.

1) Asymmetric intelligibility: white vernacular (WV) is designed for the extraction of people, places and resources and therefore actively (categorically and strategically) precludes any capacity of signifying or rendering Black Indigeneity. WV is not a context of mutuality or exchange. WV does not translate, it transports, displaces, exploits.

“You don’t see us but we see you”

Tainted by Kia LaBeija

Homo Thugs: The Down Low (frame 7) by Derek Jackson

Sunponnoi by Rotimi Fani-Kayode

2) Dematerialization: When we decolonize the concept of fetish it dissipates. Without an imagined other to subjugate the "fetish" term has no function, no significance and no material.

“Party done”

Arrival of the Fon by Sandy Lee Robertson

Azulina del Mar by Edwin Lacend

Rumbling by Jesse Murray

3) Naming/unnaming: From beyond the constraints of white vernacular, Black indigenous practices are signified and articulated through self identification - or furthermore have the liberty of existing in secrecy, being restored to secure territories where access and knowledgeability is warranted only through community membership, initiation, accountability and consent.

“But you can’t use my phone”

In the spirit by Joyce McDonald

Runway effect close up by Luna Luis Ortiz

Untitled by Sandy Lee Robertson


Tacoma Action Collective is a partnership of Black community organizers working in grassroots action and education in Washington State. Connect with TAC on twitter @Tacoma_Action


Decolonizing Fetish is presented by Tacoma Action Collective contributors cana marie and Christopher Paul Jordan.

cana marie is a sex positive Black feminist and student. Along with organizing actions with TAC she also created programming, Black Women Speak, which focuses on building Black power, Black autonomy, stronger community bonds, and healing spaces. She believes holistic health is an important theme of Black health. Through her experience in HIV/AIDS prevention she has seen how the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic is based in systemic racism and battles to center Black voices in her work, as Black voices are often erased.


Christopher Paul Jordan (b 1990) is a public artist and curator integrating virtual and physical public space to form infrastructures for dialogue and self-determination among dislocated people. Jordan's paintings and sculptures are artifacts from his work in community and time-capsules for expanded inquiry. Jordan is curator of #COLORED2017, a call and response exhibition leveraging mediated reality to connect Black artists and poets from the Caribbean and US in dialogue across space and time. Jordan is recipient of the 2017 Neddy Artists Award for painting, the Jon Imber Painting Fellowship, the GTCF Foundation of Art Award, and the most recent summer commission for Seattle Art Museum's Olympic Sculpture Park.

chrispauljordan.com | Instagram: @chrisssjordan