Digital Issue 19: Efrem Zelony-Mindell & Jason Koxvold in Conversation

© Alex Avgud, Olivier (as on a crucifix), 2019. Taken from Primal Sight (Gnomic Book, 2020).

Excerpt taken from Paper Journal Digital Issue 19, available to download now.

Jason Koxvold: 

Through Gnomic Book I’m able to make books, and through my practice, I make works, which address some of the questions of power and inequality that you’re referring to here; I created the imprint specifically with that in mind. If someone benefits from whatever position of power they might hold, it’s almost certain that they will continue to make decisions that perpetuate that power, often regardless of the cost to others.

Over the past twelve months, I’ve felt something akin to the world around me physically shrinking, so I’ve been more than ever driven to connect with people and ideas from outside of my immediate sphere. When we launched Virtual—Assembly in April of 2020, it was like gulping down fresh air; it was a chance to escape these walls, entirely due to the efforts of Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa, who did a wonderful job of directing the programming. Some of the conversations that we began during those three days are yielding remarkable fruit.

All of that comes back to what motivates me, which is learning and sharing. It’s a ray of light in what can otherwise be a remarkably bleak landscape. One of the things that I very much enjoyed about Primal Sight was your decision to include characters from the photographic canon alongside emerging artists. The project feels like a level playing field, unfettered by status or power.

Efrem Zelony-Mindell: 

As a system, whiteness wants to be silent, that’s how the success of supremacy thrives. It’s certainly challenging to verbalise because that’s what it wants. We can’t keep standing in solidarity with that violence that comes with white silence. We have an opportunity to express the shape of these systems. Our re-education will start to address how we can change systems and institutions that no longer function and are hurting people who don’t look like us. Creating a clear pathway to give our power over to the most subjugated should be the mission of every white person.

I’m grateful for the level playing field that Primal Sight offers. Bringing so many people together from so many backgrounds, specifically professionally, is, I hope, one way of saying, “This isn’t about hierarchy, this IS about allowing power to be a level playing field.” I don’t mean to oversimplify but with a group like this, it feels like everyone has a bullhorn on the same stage. The power comes from being together on that stage with so many different ideas and lived experiences. It’s only when a group of folx move together with their different ideas that something akin to a movement will form.

I don’t mean to make it sound like Primal Sight is meant to change the world. As an artist, and more than that, as a white person, I don’t believe I’ll ever fully arrive at relinquishing that power, control, and all the histories that come with it. It’s my goal to keep doing better, to keep trying, keep talking, to recognise that I’m not alone, I have an opportunity to listen to others and try to extend certain freedoms that I’ve experienced, to others. There’s a Toni Morrison quote that I think about a lot—“I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.”

  • A selection of spreads from Paper Journal digital issue 19. Cover © Elliott Jerome Brown Jr., Vanessa and Diane, 2016

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