– Spring/Summer 2016

Fractal Freedoms

Hannah Black

Kazimir Malevich, Cherniy kvadrat (Black Square), 1915, oil on canvas, 79.5 x 79.5cm

Paul Gilroy describes the transmission of black cultural forms (of human survival) across the black Atlantic as fractal.1 The figure of the fractal is seductive for thinking about the relation between superstructural, historical forms and something else, that other thing – ‘experience’ is one word for it, or ‘living’, but all words seem to fail it, to become too abstract as soon as they fall from the concrete mouth. History manifests itself in people as race/gender, I tell myself, but it doesn’t always help because ‘history’ is fissured in the same way: life is on one side and forms of life are on the other, but that can’t be right. In a fractal pattern, the same (or a similar) order is reproduced at every level or scale. A six-pointed shape grows six six-pointed shapes, and those six shapes produce a shape at each point. It gets complicated so quickly.


Histories of feminism reveal the persistent attraction of deploying slavery as an analogy. The white wife complains she is like a slave, but the slave does not complain that she is like a wife, or if the complaint was ever made we have not been able to hear it. Where feminism has used the white

  1. See Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double-Consciousness, London: Verso, 2007.

  2. Alenka Zupančič, ‘Sexual Difference and Ontology’, e-flux, issue 32, February 2012, available at http://www.e-flux.com/journal/sexual-difference-and-ontology/ (last accessed on 18 December 2015); originally presented at the conference ‘One Divides Into Two: Negativity, Dialectics, and Clinamen’, Institute for Cultural Inquiry Berlin, March 2011.

  3. 'The Logic of Gender: On the separation of spheres and the process of abjection', Endnotes, no.3, September 2013, available at http://endnotes.org.uk/en/endnotes-the-logic-of-gender (last accessed on 18 December 2015).

  4. In addition, two compositions, described as 'Cubo-futurist' and 'proto-Suprematist', were discovered underneath the black square itself. See 'Russia discovers two secret paintings under avant-garde masterpiece', The Guardian, 13 November 2015, available at http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/13/russia-malevich-black-square-hidden-paintings (last accessed on 18 December 2015).

  5. Kazimir Malevich, The Non-Objective World: The Manifesto of Suprematism (1927), quoted in Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, London: Tate Gallery, 1991, p.145.

  6. Simone Browne, Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015.

  7. Linda Brent, 'Preface by the Author', Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself, Boston (self-published), 1861, pp.5–6.

  8. L. Maria Child, 'Introduction by the editor', in ibid., p.7.

  9. See Ron Eglash, African Fractals: Modern Computing and Indigenous Design, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1999.

  10. Saidiya V. Hartman, Lose your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007.

  11. See Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study, Wivenhoe, New York and Port Watson: Minor Compositions, 2013.

  12. R. Eglash, African Fractals, op. cit., p.97.

  13. John Locke was secretary of the Board of Trades and Plantations and secretary to the Lords Proprietors of the Carolinas. On Locke’s endorsement of colonialism, see Barbara Arneil, ‘Trade, Plantations and Property: John Locke and the Economic Defense of Colonialism, Journal of the History of Ideas, vol.55, no.4, October 1994, pp.591–609.

  14. John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689), London: Thomas Tegg, 1841, p.152.

  15. Ibid., p.150.

  16. F. Moten, ‘Blackness and Nonperformance’, lecture at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, 25 September 2015, available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2leiFByIIg (last accessed on 18 December 2015).

  17. L. Brent, ‘Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Seven Years Concealed’, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, op. cit., p.2. Emphasis in the original.

  18. Jared Sexton, Amalgamation Schemes: Antiblackness and the Critique of Multiracialism, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008, p.29.