The Harvesters, 2022. 4K digital video, color, sound. Duration 7:30 min.

Fall 23 - Memories

Jamilah Sabur


Your work is inherently complex drawing from art history, world history, politics, science, and metaphysics, what was it about your childhood/formative years that laid the foundation for your practice?

I’ve always thought of my practice as closer to poetry. A space to really grapple with the magnitude of experience, a lot is ineffable. Contemporary art today sadly has become very frozen, constricted, in a lot of ways it doesn’t feel like there’s much will to transform to meet this moment. There are many systemic incongruities. I suppose I would describe my formative childhood foundation as the residue of the Cold War.  I am a child born of the Third World, Henry Kissinger shaped the course of my life. Everything is connected, the war has never ended, it will always be a fight for  resources and the power structures that control them.  

Memory plays a central role in your work, yet it isn’t overt but, rather,  experienced as the substrate for the enzymatic action of mysterious recollection that your works evoke. How is memory used as a device in your video works?

My concern has always been about telling a story about time and its relationship to higher dimensional spaces.  For example, cricket as a historical thread became a conduit to tell a larger story. The player, a traveler connecting so many disparate points in the human experience. In my mother’s telling, the white cricket outfit was worn for cricket games that would be of the longest duration, broadcast over Jamaica on the radio sometimes for days at a time during the 1960’s.  Perhaps the white was to ward off the heat of the sun, a connection to concerns of energy, light, time and radio waves.  I think this touches upon the idea that memory is a kind of data structure for the human experience, a web of neurons interconnected in seemingly haphazard ways but very much a cohesive thing, if for no one else but the one living those experiences.  The cricket costume appears consistently in my video work as a kind of interdimensional traveler, a stepper of portals into any particular node of existence.   

Excavation in the form of mining and mineral extraction is witnessed in various forms in The Harvesters (2022). These images are viewed alongside  play and leisure. How are these ideas connected?

Ritual and labor go hand in hand, does language create meaning or spring into being to serve the needs of what is already understood? The practice of extraction is nothing without the shadow of consumption.  I want to describe a relationship that is endogenous. Like the hemispheres of the brain the distinctions only serve to reinforce the functioning of the whole.

Some of your work can be dangerous, can you tell us why you feel it is important to make these connections?

Bad gyal ting y’know.

What would you like the audience to consider while watching your piece?

One thing I want to draw a line at is mistaking my thoughts for some kind of key to unpack the images.  My thoughts will not be yours, I am presenting a map which is not the territory.  I hope people seeing my work will find a thread to connect with, something that unlocks their own memory pathways.  At the same time I’d like for people to step outside of themselves, this is out of body, a vehicle for the spirit. Something that transcends the self and atomises it into beams of thought.

Can you share the names of  three books you were reading while working on this piece?

The Future Is Degrowth: A Guide to a World Beyond Capitalism by Matthias Schmelzer, Andrea Vetter, Aaron Vansintjan

Berlin Childhood Circa 1900  by Walter Benjamin, Translated and with Commentary and Afterword by Carl Skoggard

Cricket, once a West Flemish game? The origin of the game of cricket by Luc Vanbrabant

Jamilah Sabur (1987, Saint Andrew Parish, Jamaica) lives and works in Brussels. Metaphysics, geology, and memory are recurrent themes in the work of Jamilah Sabur. Making critical contributions to the discursive spaces of labour and economies of movement, Sabur engages imaging on a planetary scale to re-calibrate our understanding of place, time and history. Sabur’s recent solo and group exhibitions include Fruits of Labour, Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Sint-Martens-Latem, Belgium (2023); Sinking Feeling, Or Gallery, Vancouver (2023); The Harvesters, Bass Museum of Art, Miami Beach (2022); Eltanin, Broadway, New York (2022); DADA Holdings, Nina Johnson, Miami (2021); La montagne fredonne sous l’océan / The Mountain Sings Underwater, Fondation PHI, Montréal, Québec (2021). Sabur earned a BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore (2009), and an MFA from the University of California, San Diego (2014). Her work is included in the permanent collection of the Pérez Art Museum Miami, New Orleans Museum of Art, The Bass Museum of Art, University of Maryland, The Dutch National Bank and TD Bank Group.