Mixed media is the future, but it is also the past. Our memories have sound, vision, smell, taste. A good recording tells you the temperature of the room, the mood of the singer, and the response of the crowd. Video archives lend rhythm and subjectivity to the written word. In these times, our media is multi-purpose, multi-layered, and multi-sensory.
Black art-making is also embracing a multimodal turn, specifically in the musical realm. Beyoncé Knowles’s Lemonade expanded the concept of what an album could be by engaging with visual storytelling, bringing the concept of the visual album into the mainstream. Kanye West’s Runaway short film realized his high-art aspirations in a complex flourish of dark twisted fantasy. Kahlil Joseph’s Double Conscience rendering of Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City recordings fused the rapper’s Compton with magical realist beauty and experimentation.
Poetry is another arena where multi-media can enhance the experience, and we wanted to introduce our readers to the work of DaMaris B. Hill, an assistant professor of creative writing and African American and Africana Studies at the University of Kentucky. Inspired by Toni Morrison’s rememory and its potential as philosophical and aesthetic practice, Hill has recently published what she is calling a digital remix poem, “Shut Up In My Bones,” that combines sound, word, and image.
Like in this poem, Hill’s other creative work, including a novel titled Willows in the Spring, takes up remix as a form of pastiche, extending the work of black women writers like Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, and Lucille Clifton. She associates herself with a movement known as Afro-postmodernism, which uses pastiche, intertextuality, and irony as strategies of identity formation to remember and honor a specific cultural past, while at the same time working to construct visions of a better future. “Sampling helps me to situate my writing in the crossroads of literary (in the form of linguistic text), visual (archival photos and genre manipulation), cultural (abstracting/recontextualizing the historical narratives) and other forms of African Diasporic knowledge, logic and expression,” she writes. And though influenced by hip-hop, Hill suggests it is important to consider that literary remix began long before the term entered the popular lexicon as it is known today.
Using the written version as a starting point—the poem is the opening piece in a new manuscript titled A Bound Woman is a Dangerous Thing—Hill reads deliberately as Sarah Vaughan’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” faintly haunts the background, telling the intermingling stories of her grandmother’s past and her own present. “During her lifetime, the Jane Crow styles of oppression were careful to include violence for accessing civil liberties,” Hill writes in a blog post for her publisher, Mammoth Publications. “These forced social constraints affect one’s mental health. They incite mania, mental illness and tend to fracture a wise woman’s mind. My grandmother was an avid reader and is rumored to be the smartest of her siblings. She married at age 18 and was the only one of her siblings that didn’t attend college. This haunted her. She talked about it all the time.”
As the recording builds, more music, sights, and sounds enter the screen, drawing together public discourse, memory, inter-generational collectivity, self-reflection, and joy. One particular passage speaks to the cross-media and cross-subjectivity of the work and its specific place within a lengthy and complex genealogy of black art-making: “To be literate/is to pen oneself with needles, shape beauty/from a funhouse mirror. This is how artists learn the craft of display.”