When asked in the March 1982 issue of the architectural journal Skyline whether any particular architecture of the past or present act as forces of liberation or resistance, the French theorist Michel Foucault states that “no matter how terrifying a given system may be, there always remain the possibilities of resistance, disobedience, and oppositional groupings […] Liberty is a practice […] liberty is what must be exercised.” However, the exercise of liberty understood in relationship to space, time, and being leads to an understanding that liberation is a spatial practice. Key to this understanding is the interrogation of situated conditions and the relationships of power to space, the body to autonomy, and subjectivity to perception.
European perspectival construction is predicated upon a subject in the guise of the Vitruvian ideal “man” whose eyes are the origin of a line of sight along the center of view that designates all knowledge to be comprehended. Furthermore, perspectival painting and drawing position this ideal man at a station point with a 60 degree cone of vision towards a horizon line that exists at infinity. Understanding the spatial practice of liberation challenges the notion of universalism and the ideal subject whose gaze survei, objectifies, and seeks to subsume the world within European epistemology and colonialism.
In her work exploring the architectural space-making of Black compositional thought, artist Torkwase Dyson asks: What was the ocular experience of Black and Brown people in the slave ship hold? In the self-emancipatory spaces of the garret or crate? Or under the Medieval architecture of the slave castle? Or under the conditions of racial capitalism, slavery, imperialism, colonization and all forms of terror, occupation, and enclosure?
In the work Blackbasebeingbeyond (2023), with specific reference to Castelo de Garcia d’Ávila / Forte de Garcia d’Ávila in Mata de São João, Bahia, Dyson asks: How did looking become extraordinary? In this 16th- century castle, that at its exterior overlooked the Atlantic Ocean and the sugar cane plantations of enslaved Indigenous peoples, and at its interior housed a double torture chamber whereby an imprisoned runaway slave would be subjected to the terror and death by a captured and starved animal, Dyson explores the ocular work of the hidden, obscured, concealed, or untraceable body. Dyson’s sculptures are instruments for new and yet unknown ways of seeing and tools to think about the “liveness” of those who died in captivity.
Torkwase Dyson (Chicago, IL, USA, 1974. Lives in Beacon, NY, USA) describes herself as a painter working across multiple mediums to explore the continuity between ecology, infrastructure, and architecture. Examining human geography and the history of Black spatial liberation strategies, Dyson’s abstract works grapple with the ways in which space is perceived, imagined and negotiated particularly by Black and Brown bodies. Dyson has distilled a vocabulary of poetic forms to address the spaciousness of freedom and question what type of climates are born out of world building.