An Introduction to Video Essays

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

…what I think is most importantly carried in Black art and in Black music is a kind of radical, disruptive social energy that…gives us a way of imagining how we might live otherwise. – Fred Moten

The trouble of going slow, of writing in one’s room for a future reader at a time like the present is that, as Cornelius Eady insinuates in his video album Our New Old Blues, we might not survive that long.

Eady’s Our New Old Blues is a testament not only to the importance of the genre of the video essay at this time of both the Covid-19 pandemic and ongoing systemic racism, but also to the continuation of collaborative art making over the Internet. Eady’s songs (six of which appear on this album) were recorded online with his band, the CE Trio, as its members isolated separately in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Long Island. In his curated video album, Eady narrates the brutal context out of which the selected songs arose.

“[H]ow to live in a world designed in the image of our flaying?” the text of Calvin Walds’ Flee reads as the camera records a bird’s eye view of the burgeoning Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territories. Walds’ philosophic video journal, filmed in Ramallah, Detroit, and Mumbai, depicts a diasporic life at the radical margins, fleeing “outside,” away from carceral logics, at a time when to be marooned is a survival tactic.

Then there is Nakinyi Kuruga’s joyous Kenyan homecoming in The thoughts of a returner. Kuruga’s lyrical voiceover, attending to a grandmother who complains about having to stay home, so the virus won’t catch her, is astoundingly tender.

Lastly, A. T. McWilliams’ American Math reminds us of the arithmetics of torture, the genocide out of which today’s survivors rise, and the Black Power fist at the end of this video protests the ongoingness of such torture.

These artists urge us on—boldly, lyrically. Angela Davis’s mother never gave up hope that things could change. “So I learned as a child to live under racial segregation,” Davis reveals, “but at the same time simultaneously, to live in an imagined new world.” As viewers of these videos, it is my hope that we find ourselves empowered to face what states of emergency the future holds. As Nakinyi Kuruga would have us understand, we need one another to carry on.