Think from Black: A Lexicon Convenes in Johannesburg

March 23, 2023

Professor Tina Campt, Roger S. Berlind ’52 Professor of Humanities in the Department of Art and Archeology and the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University, was lead convener of a collaborative activation aimed at creating a more expansive vocabulary from the perspective of what it means to be Black provocatively entitled: Think from Black: A Lexicon, which took place from January 26–28, 2023 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The Centre for the Study of Race, Gender & Class of the University of Johannesburg(RGC), in collaboration with the Practicing Refusal Collective (PRC), hosted the three-day convening, which was co-sponsored by the Princeton Collaboratorium and the Columbia University Institute for Research on Women and Gender Studies. Participants were encouraged to contribute “terms and practices that animate black life… [and] articulate the multiple/intricate textures of Blackness,” or put another way, terms that “think from Black.”

“Thinking for black is a radically open-ended intervention. Think from Black begins from a space of freedom, play, and possibility. We are thinking from Black not as an identity, but as a political and ethical praxis. We think from Black not beginning from the deficit whiteness creates and assumes. Thinking from Black is a continual practice and an active state of doing and living a certain kind of work. When we think from Black, we do so not collectively, not in a single voice, but collaboratively in a multiplicity of voices embracing that multiplicity and embracing all of its incumbent tensions ruptures and specificities.” – Professor Tina Campt

The term that Campt contributed to the lexicon is “care.”  “‘Care’ has been the operative word for so many of us struggling to survive the profound losses of the pandemic,” Campt explained. “‘Care’ has also been a rallying cry for social justice movements (BLM, #METOO, abolitionist and carceral justice movements, to name a few) for a while now. It’s also been a resonant theme in the work of several black contemporary artists. I’m really responding to this overwhelming chorus of voices.” 

Poster featuring two women dressed in black ascending and descending a small stairway

Throughout the convening, a local cohort of thinkers, writers, curators, and practitioners joined, visiting PRC members for intimate discussions, listening sessions, shared meals, and creative activations. Participants included artist Gabrielle Goliath, writer and assistant professor in the School of English and Theatre Studies at the University of Guelph, Canada; Canisia Lubrin, Senior Lecturer in African Literature at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg; Danai Mupotsa, writer, Professor, and Canada Research Chair in Black Studies in the Humanities at York University in Toronto Christina Sharpe, and artist Nelisiwe Xaba. The initial two days consisted of workshops of invited participants hosted by the Library of things we forgot to remember and LAPA, with the public program on the third day of sonic, performative, and poetic responses at the Johannesburg Art Gallery open to the broader community.

“Over the past two days, a group of 20 writers, artists, and thinkers have been thinking from Black. We’ve been thinking from Black as an attempt to define a new vocabulary for living Black in the 21st century.  Think from Black has three goals. It is a practice. A thought experiment that aims to create a new vocabulary of terms thought from the perspective of blackness. Untethered and unbounded from all constraints. It is also an expression. A compendium of these terms that will take the form of a publication of the lexicon of terms that we are developing.  And third, it is an invitation. An invitation to a conversation. A dialogue between some of the different locations from which we are thinking from Black.” – Professor Tina Campt  


Video footage of the convening