The Object of My Gaze

Written by Yasmine Akim

Image by Marcia Michael

16.11.18

We search for our mothers in order to find ourselves. The Black mother is the instrument and embodiment of history. My mother is “The Object of My Gaze” – Marcia Michael

Based on the complexity of the Black British family album and the power of matrilineal connections, Marcia Michael’s recent project works to create a powerfully intimate perspective on the connection between a mother and her daughter. Entitled ‘I Am Now You – Mother,’ this series picks up where Michael’s 2009 project ‘The Study of Kin’ left off, focusing on visualising matrilineage through the body of her mother, Myrtle McKnight. I recently spoke to Michael about the methodology behind her process for this particular project, as she continues to create works that platform Black mothers and Black people in spaces that would otherwise use these sources of strength in a tokenistic way.

13) I Am Now You - Mother at Autograph © Marcia Michael

With the continuous use of demonising representations of Black life in mainstream media, the need to tell our own stories is incredibly important. It is this idea – of telling our own stories – that Michael is fundamentally concerned with.

Her latest project focuses on the family album. As a child, she was given the responsibility of maintaining her own family’s albums. She would add to it and question its make up. “I began looking at the discourse of albums, and the way in which they are structured. I became aware that Black family albums were missing a huge amount of data.”

There is an undeniable sense of authority and emotional rawness in this series. Women of colour have been expected to be resilient for so long that it has become toxic. De-humanization is used as a tactic; a way to deny the systematic oppression that affects us, allowing for one-dimensional representations of our cultures and our histories.

There is so much beauty in portraits. You want to know the story behind these artworks, what happened minutes before the images were taken. In our conversation, I asked Michael about self-portraiture and her journey to these final images:

“It was actually very easy, and quite powerful – it was achieved by looking at matrilineage and by gaining access to my history through my Mother’s body and our conversations. I was able to see the strength in my Mother’s nature and structure; she can show herself to the viewer so easily, without any restrictions, without any patriarchal manifestos being put on her body. Her gaze towards me is authentic. She said to me, ‘Can you do what I can do? I dare you to do it’. And that is precisely how this process began.” Michael went on to collaborate with her mother, exploring several different forms of communication. “We captured her movement and her voice, her singing, crying and laughing. And so now, what I want to do is create sculptures, not hyper-realistic 3D sculptures, but a sculptural form of her body in various positions.”

1) I Am Now You Mother at Autograph © Marcia Michael(1)

Black mothers are a source of strength, they pass on love and power, but with that, they also pass on intergenerational and systemic pain and trauma. It is the work we need to see more of, not only because of the socio-political climate that we all find ourselves in but to maintain an archive of Black women existing in their multiplicities. The work is courageous and incredibly honest. Whether that means happy or sad, or just living without a label, this kind of work adds to the archive and is both for our current selves, and for those who will come after us. To speak to our truths.

3) I Am Now You Mother at Autograph © Marcia Michael

Marcia Michael is currently studying for a practice-based PhD in photography at the University of Arts London, where this project continues to develop. Michael is contributing and making space through her craft and unique perspective by shedding light on the history of her ancestors: exploring issues surrounding, diaspora, Black British history. ‘I am now you – Mother’ was shown at Autograph ABP this summer, and was also a part of the ‘International Photography and Visual Arts Festival’ in Portugal recently. You can see more of the artists work on her Instagram or website