Ja'Tovia Gary: A Care Ethic, AD&A Museum, UCSB
By Debra Herrick
Ja’Tovia Gary is OK with viewers feeling uncomfortable—even squirmy—when engaging with the experimental films in her first solo museum exhibit at the Art, Design & Architecture Museum, UC Santa Barbara.
Raised in a Pentecostal family in Dallas, Gary’s powerful storytelling draws from her formation in the culturally fecund space of the Black South. For Gary, inhabiting a space of performance is a way to get the full truth.
In the experimental documentary, “An Ecstatic Experience,” Gary creates an overlaid animation by etching and painting on archival footage of a Black woman telling the transcendent story of her mother being beaten as a slave. In another film, Gary weaves images of lush gardens into 16mm film of civil rights activists and cell phone footage of contemporary violence between police and people of color.
In these works, Gary alters perception, interrogates the politics of performance, and liberates the subject from, in her words, “the distorted histories through which Black life is often viewed.”
In Gary’s care ethic, care is the opposite of violence. The artist draws from the South African concept of "sancofa." For the Achanta people in Ghana, sancofa is “to look back in order to look forward.” It is a guiding principle and integral to ancestral memory.
“If Black people are going to emerge from the position in which we find ourselves, we are going to have to activate that memory,” says Gary. “We are going to have to look back in order to move forward.”
All quotes from Ja'Tovia Gary are taken from her talk on July 26, 2018 at the AD&A Museum, UC Santa Barbara in conjunction with her show "A Care Ethic" which is on view at the AD&A Museum, July 14, 2018 to September 2, 2018.