a Black clockwork: afrofunctional ornaments of chronoliberation

Qil Jones

Metal is a flexible material in more ways than one - particularly in thin sheets. I’ve been teaching myself how to work with it for the past 4 years, and it is only recently that I feel like I am beginning to even know the words to the things I wanted to ask of metal back when I first felt drawn to the gleam. I would say that in terms of properties, thin metal can be placed somewhere in between paper, cloth and rock. It is fascinating to explore what forms it can hold. The more I work with it, the more it is apparent that it materially reflects how I’ve been learning to feel when I think of who I am. The words closest to me are Black, trans, femme & nonbinary - that is to say, I am also in between things and holding them. And as I work with metal, I wonder if there is something more to hold about myself. 

Something larger. Larger in the way that Afrofuturism is larger than cyberpunk. Larger in the way that me now fits inside of me later fits inside of me before and me after. I think that it has to do with time. Not just time like young and old, but time like here and there, too. Time like freedom. I believe that time is personal and locational and descriptive of where we are in ourselves. I believe time is Black and it’s free and it moves. And I would now like to advance how I chronicle that movement with metal. 

Up to this point my work has been about physically anointing Black presence through speculative ornamentation. My ornaments center the Black face, because mostly Black faces guide me, and in my dreams where I feel closer to freedom, they show me ways of being that give me direction towards freedom in the waking world. From those ways of being I draw patterns, and from those patterns I make headcrests, an ornament made specifically to hug Black hair and adorn our faces. Each design is representative of a way of being Black, with an intention of naming to others in what ways one would like themselves to be presently found.

A name is an address, and so is a body; my work is meant to facilitate the finding and naming of Black self in places of freedom. When asked the question of what stands between us and realizing that freedom, I would say that it is white chronocentrism and the colonial conception of time. In the colonial conception of time, Blackness is always behind, and surely, if even at least just our time was solely ours to envision, we would be free. Free now. Because time is Black and it’s free and it moves. Because time is where I am and I am where time resides. Not on a clock - that is a particularly Western interpretation of things. Black folks have a right to see ourselves outside of the white approach to time, and that is what my work intends to manifest. 

With that right in mind, here is my proposal: a Black clockwork in the form of facial ornamentation, and a speculative present where Black conceptions of time and location of self adorn the face like shifting, shining signals. I want to make my work move, mechanically, in Black ways; I want to exhibit an Afro-functionality of time. I plan to create facial ornaments that incorporate movement in order to illustrate Black chronoliberation.

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