Founded by curator Breeana Nykole, SYLA STUDIO dedicates their efforts “to amplifying literary and visionary voices of black and POC communities through digital exhibitions and creative services.” They do more than that, too. Anyone who searches the correct assemblage of words could stumble upon SYLA STUDIO’s new digital exhibition—entitled AS A FORM OF—and peruse its contents. Unlike a museum, admission isn’t charged and pieces can be digested in just seconds or over several days, and of course it can be viewed anywhere in the world. In the show, concepts surrounding liberation and resistance are explored through black and POC lenses within the works Nykole has curated.
Within the works (be it essays, anecdotes or visual art), various questions seek answers. “What does liberation look like? Feel like? Can liberation take the shape of resistance or vice versa? AS A FORM OF illuminates the boundless variations in which liberation and resistance take form,” the exhibition’s release reads. While presented digitally, the introduction resonates and triggers an emotional response, and the work exhibited follows suit.
Collectively we realize that our issues are similar, our experiences are socially constructed, and our traumas are generational
“This exhibition was born from a vulnerable, raw and gritty space within myself. Months before its launch, I felt that that multiple things were falling apart suddenly and simultaneously,” Nykole says. “I was so consumed by what was happening to me that I failed to remember that I’ve been here before, this is familiar territory, and I have grown from this exact mud. Though that thought can be considered encouraging, I was honestly fed up and exhausted. I needed to know why this pattern developed, why have I found comfort in it, how can I break it and ultimately, how can I set myself free. Of course, this process looks and feels different to every person and yet, there is a feeling of community and revival that grows when these experiences are shared. Collectively we realize that our issues are similar, our experiences are socially constructed, and our traumas are generational.”
Photographer and collage artist Azul Aghatise‘s contribution, a photo series titled Black Bits, addresses “the impact technology is currently having on interpersonal communication and connection.” The work toys with the way data is packaged and how the evolution of technology has devolved our ability to harmonize face-to-face. Aghatise’s work also harkens back to technology’s inherent bias in its inability to recognize black and brown faces.
Reboyah‘s An(other) Body is the exhibition’s clearest and perhaps most unsettling display of liberation: the literal detachment of one’s self by decapitation. There’s no gruesome depiction of the act, but by portraying her subjects (herself in most instances) headless, Reboyah extracts the self from the body and surveys each’s contribution to the entire being. “I have now realized that my identity is not defined by a competing champion, but rather, who I am, my true self, is manifested in this negotiation, a competition in which the only winner is the construction of my self,” she explains. “Developing this project, photographing my body in this specific way, and sharing the results, is a form of resistance against internal and external institutions,” Reboyah adds.
The literary components of the exhibition include poetry, recorded sounds and reflective essays. Referencing the exhibition’s introduction gives the clearest insight into the meaning of each: the ways in which resistance and liberation manifest in the everyday are endless. In Andrea Delph‘s “Untitled,” a diary-like introduction riddled with self-reflection gives way to understanding and acceptance. “I needed to know first that I was bound by a thing to become freed from it,” Delph says. “I had to say yes to my collective grief and then learn how I could use it so that I was no longer stuck by it.”
At the conclusion of Delph’s piece, Nykole’s curatorial prowess reaches its peak. While she afforded space at the bottom of each page for each artist to explain and personally react to their work, Delph’s context stretches beyond explanation and proves therapeutic—but it also heightens the stakes of her art. While the essay is a recollection of past trauma and an attribution of said trauma to actions, the space for further conversation reveals how Delph found her own liberation.
“This exhibit presents itself as a safe space for women to speak on our collective grief in efforts to grow and carry on,” Delph says. “After reading all of the pieces included, I got a sense of familiarity in shared narratives—that with pain comes liberation and freedom. Women are multidimensional, complex and godly. We feel, internalize and create and as a result heal ourselves and others. These brilliant women [that are] a part of this exhibition have inspired me to open my heart more to the possibilities. I never once shared such vulnerability where I felt this immense amount of freedom and release. I also learned from some of the response my friends had, in regards to my piece, that people really do not know what others are going through, the secrets they keep or the pain they internalize.”
“Radical politics must also be coupled with radical responsibility of our own lives and a willingness to name the pain and move forward beyond the ugly complexities, fears, and insecurities that destroy our intimate relationships and keep us alienated and isolated in an internal prison of shame and self-hate—such is the struggle of many black and brown adults who are deeply traumatized by their childhoods,” Delph continues.
“This exhibition is interlaced with references to lineage,” Nykole adds. “We consider our ancestors and recognize that because of their work we are able to work, and we have a responsibility to dedicate ourselves to the work for the generations ahead. Though we have deeply rooted traumas, we have an unmatched abundance of vision and perseverance. AS A FORM OF teaches us the multiple ways we can mold and celebrate the moments of liberation that are tucked in a world that wasn’t made for POC to easily navigate and flourish.”
“I equate liberation with the ability for proper breath. Any place the body, mind, soul [and] spirit can breathe at its fullest is a space of freedom,” writer Lyds places in the space below her poem “emancipation inna di dancehall.” “Its beauty lies in its simple reverence for the truth. I can be liberated lying in the sun, or laughing with my mother, or writing a poem, or being in love.”
The mission of AS A FORM OF reveals itself in these statements: liberation looks how you wish it to, and the self-realization that comes with it can set you free—emotionally and physically. “I find liberation in my voice, liberation in love, and liberation in art— whether it’s the practice of it or being surrounded by it,” Nykole says. “When I sit and create art, I do so with the intention to feel: to feel heard, to feel triggered, to feel seen, to feel discomfort, to feel understood, to feel loved.”
Images courtesy of SYLA STUDIO on behalf of the respective artists