February 21st, 2022
My fascination with Gaëlle Elma’s practice stems from the exaltation of seeing myself in the carefully photographed models.Of course, there is at first a physical resonance, but also a visceral sense of belonging that goes beyond questions of representation or appearance. Indeed, when standing in front of Elma’s photographic work, I feel an emotional connection that is rooted in my experiences of comfort and well-being when immersed in water. In Elma’s aesthetic universe, the aqueous environment fosters a safe space in which both body and mind are freed from daily burdens. Captured in a state of abandonment in Québec’s waterways, the artist’s muses are rocked by the waves and drift towards the infinite possibilities of a fluid corporality.
The disarming vulnerability found in the artist’s Water series reveals a bodily experience on the fringes of stereotyped questions of identity. We are rather introduced to the various potentialities of the erotic body into the collective imagination, with an emphasis on the interdependence between corporeal exploration and joy. I use the word erotic in a broader sense, as explored by the legendary African American writer, activist, and scholar, Audre Lorde, in her essay The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power and more recently within the anthology by the inspiring author adrienne maree brown, Pleasure Activism; The Politics of Feeling Good. Eros is described as a source of connectivity and a catalyst for socio-political change. Desire encompasses more than sexual sensuality; it is a counterpoint to modern and Western patriarchal thought, based on the separation of body and mind. The power of eroticism is therefore represented as energy for deep healing, a wealth of embodied and spiritual knowledge, and a tool for conscientious emancipation. The legacy of these feminist and queer analyses prompt discussions on the politicization of pleasure as a measure of individual and collective freedom.
In Elma’s photographs, the Black body is neither fragmented, harmed nor othered but in symbiosis with nature and tapping into the knowledge in its vast ecosystems. The artist’s work exposes a seldom examined sensory intimacy. The tenderness of the embraces between the photographed subjects deserves to be studied from different perspectives, raising questions about the complex relationship between the Black diaspora, water, pleasure and ancestral care rituals.
The Water series fuelled my curiosity about the little-known stories of the intimate connections that Canadians of African descent have with the aquatic environments that surround them. I want to immerse myself in narratives where Black agency in Quebec and elsewhere in the country is palpable and multidimensional, and transcends the current and historical tidal waves of violence and erasure.This element allows stories of subjugation, liberation, adventures, and healing to coexist, but more importantly, it allows for wholesome emotional and sensorial experiences.
I like simple moments of synchronicity and I wanted to share a recent occurrence that delighted me.
My last post published in October described a dream that served as a springboard for me to present the poems of Christine Sioui – Wawanoloath. In this dream, I met the children of Oshun, the Yoruba goddess of fresh waters and who, as part of their ceremony, wore loose golden or coral tunics.
Two months later, Gaëlle Elma and I were in the process of making the final selection of her photos for the exhibition, then one of the portraits that we considered displayed a young and female bodied person standing on a rock on the edge of a lake. They were wearing a wet dress that hugged their body and their wet curly hair appeared to hang heavily on their upper back. They stood straight, facing the camera. Despite their slightly blurred face, you could read an expression of contentment and feel the warmth of the sun’s rays on their skin.
Elma’s muse seems unreal, like an apparition.
This image reminded me of my dream and when sharing this experience with the artist, she exclaimed that the garment chosen for the photoshoot was in fact coral just as I narrated. Since the picture presented was in black and white, this detail had escaped me and I was struck by what I perceived as a cosmic sign.