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Friday, June 9 • 1:30pm - 1:50pm
Sankofa: Playing with my Ancestors

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As Black and brown scholars, we are taught to leave our traditions, knowledge-making practices, and cultures in general at the door. The suppression of our cultural knowledges and personal and collective histories within traditional academic research maintain Western, Eurocentric epistemological norms within the academy, thereby perpetuating dominant white masculinist perspectives as “neutral,” and the only standpoints from which legitimate knowledge can be produced (Collins, 2000). Scholars such as Eve Tuck, S.R. Toliver, Angela Figueiredo, and K. Wayne Wang, among many others, have put forth decolonial methods by which we can begin to value alternative ways of knowing. This project, in accordance with these methodologies, is an effort to reinscribe the people, culture, and history that most directly make up who I am and the work that I do.

The collages I will be presenting began with a day spent with my maternal Great Aunt Pat. Over lunch, I recorded an interview with her discussing our family's genealogy, which she was able to trace back to the generation after enslavement. She told me about where family members lived, what jobs they had, memories she had of them, and how they shaped her life. Toward the end of the conversation, my aunt began showing me photos she had of some of these family members. I took pictures of the photos using my phone, just as a way to keep "copies" for myself.
A week after our conversation, I looked back at the photos and realized I could make something with them. I started with a photo of my great grandmother, Pearl Sadler, isolating her image from the background and playing with it in the ways I usually do in my digital collaging practice. I reflected on what I'd learned about her personality, her life, things she liked, and what I thought we had in common as I worked on the piece. I continued this process using images of other ancestors, aiming to visually reflect what I thought they'd want their descendants to know about them. Through this ongoing series of digital collages, coupled with short vignettes incorporating theory, I reflect on what I’ve learned from family members who have transitioned — either directly, through familial traditions or cultural retention, genetically, spiritually, or otherwise.

Theoretically, this project is as an exploration of “Sankofa,” an Akan concept loosely meaning “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind." Tying together my thoughts about performative methods, Black feminist epistemology, embodied scholarship, culture, and futurity, among other ideas, this project embodies a number of topics I explore in my scholarship. Most importantly, it reflects what teachings I bring to my scholarship by way of my ancestors.

This project speaks directly to the HASTAC 2023 conference theme as it attempts to subvert the epistemological norms of the academy through the process of making collages and critical reflection. However, it also speaks deeply to my work as a Black feminist and multimodal scholar more broadly. Toliver (2021), citing Dillard (2000), discusses “the importance of examining culturally indigenous ways of knowing, researching, and writing by calling for the validation of knowledge produced in alternative sites like literature, poetry, and music” (p. xv), a list to which I would add a number of other multimodal forms, including collage. In line with these ideas, I believe art and media are crucial sites of cultural knowledge and discourse particularly amongst people of the African diaspora whose oral traditions and artistic knowledge-making processes have been subjugated by white supremacy. As such, notions of critical making and social justice are specifically important to my decolonial approach to scholarship.


Azsanee Truss

PhD Student, University of Pennsylvania

Friday June 9, 2023 1:30pm - 1:50pm EDT
Steuben 410 (Design Center)