The New Inquiry, 2016

Closing the Loop

by Aria Dean, 2016

“The black female’s body needs less to be rescued from the masculine “gaze” than to be sprung from a historic script surrounding her with signification while at the same time, and not paradoxically, it erases her completely.” —Lorraine O’Grady

MAYBE 2013 felt like the beginning of something; around then we began to hear murmurs at the margins of this idea that the selfie might be powerful. It started with young queers and people of color and a realization that perhaps if you could flood the network with something, it would become impossible to ignore. The selfie soon was written of as a “sign of life” — as the ultimate tactic toward #visibility. As we were taught via the likes of Susan Sontag, “photographs furnish evidence.” The image is, or can be, a powerful verifying tool, and with the selfie it seemed that you could continually verify and affirm your very existence on your own terms.

Time passed and the selfie’s more general life- and difference-affirming politic — which

had previously allowed for a wide variety of non-normative identities to circulate and receive validation on user-driven platforms like Tumblr and Instagram — whittled itself down to its most palatable iteration. With aid from online art and culture media platforms, Feminism with a capital F began largely to overtake the other causes that the selfie politic had previously championed. What remains, in 2016, is a political and artistic orientation that revolves primarily around a network of young, female-identifying artists and creative-types for whose work the computer or mobile-device based selfie is the conceptual and formal fulcrum. With the help of platforms like Dazed Digital, Vice, and their lesser cousins, this selfie feminism has taken hold of and become the mainstream.

The nascent selfie politic’s success in making itself visible made it vulnerable to subsumption within already dominant ideologies — which is to say, ideologies that center and favor whiteness. And white feminism, for whom the selfie politic was a wet dream, was first to pick up the scent. (…)

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