I am Valerie Caesar, and I am an artist and archivist. Utilizing a dynamic mix of media, including photography, video, printmaking, illustration, animation, and Black vernacular music and speech and literature, my artistic practice centers around the magic of Diasporic self-discovery in urban city centers.
Currently I am producing a series of short films that organically document the beauty of African American residents primarily in neighborhoods of Philadelphia, and including Brooklyn, New York and Johannesburg, South Africa. In the future, this project will be expanded to other cities of the Diaspora. Utilizing slow motion video and titles and excerpts from Black vernacular literature music, including modern and vintage hip hop, jazz and electronic, the films explore the expressions of Black power; the varied manifestations of the Black family, the sorcery of Black femininity.
I am interested in the tension between the modern Diasporic self and the ancestral self; about transported and relocated people, and how we find our way(s) home. In Akan, Sankofa literally translates to “reach back and get it.” It relates to the concept of connectedness between ancestral past and modern-day life for African and African Diasporan people. It’s the idea that despite the subversion of the continuity of the histories of African peoples, an internal, spiritually rooted link joining us to those histories in real time – an ancient sensibility that holds the values of those long-lost traditions and rejects modern contradiction of these values, whether consciously, unconsciously, or subconsciously.
In addition to working as an archivist, I utilize the archive as art in my own work. I am embarking upon a project to visually archive major thru streets of Philadelphia using video. This historical city is in a particularly interesting place in history, where the poverty of infrastructure, signage and even the dress of its inhabitants harkens back to an era decades past, while the digital landscape and indeed, downtown, marches forth with frightening and financially funded efficiency. This documentation will have significant cultural value in years to come when we try to make sense of how the digital age so irrevocably changed the way people live in urban communities.
My work observes the transmutation of histories. Black artisans, workers, and mothers have shaped their tangible experiences into timeless and elemental works. I want to explore further that the act of preserving an experience, a process, a document creates history – that there is tremendous power in what is chosen, and enormous loss in what is discarded. Through my art I seek to contextualize the significance of gesture and other signifiers in the media and traditions of African American storytelling, music, and literature — to continue the legacy of saving that which can’t be held in one’s hand via creating that which can.