On Ghosts

By Kitso Lynn Lelliott

Kitso Lelliott_Transatlanti Saudades_2013

Transatlantic Saudades, Kitso Lynn Lelliott, 2013, film still, image courtesy artist.


The shift to ‘independence’ from different forms of bondage/servitude of subjugated peoples, lands, histories and identities has seen continuations of systemic inequity between former imperial powers and the formerly colonised territories/peoples, the shifting terminology often not ushering in changing paradigms in socio-political life. Because of racial biases produced through these histories, where physical attributes become a site entangled with structural oppression, these attributes become both cause and consequence of inequality. As such I locate the struggle for liberation on the body and in the enunciations from subjugated bodies that destabilise the structural denial of their equal place in the human world. I think through the body of those subjugated peoples as a site for contestation, transgression and where liberation must first and foremost be attained/inscribed.

In this project I set up relationships between spaces of historical importance during slavery and direct colonial domination with the narratives of people whose humanity was elided in those spaces. I conjure pictures of ghosts, of a slave woman embodying her own subjugation as well as parts of other people that have been suppressed in the wake of her experience. She moves suspended as both singular and plural in different times, places and realities of people that her experience is implicated in. I consider how marginalised subjects are implicated in one another’s stories as they share a denial of self through the invalidation of their humanity.

I use the idea of ghosts and haunting to engage what it is to be marginalised, to have identities subsumed by imperial epistemologies or have subjugated parts of a fractured self because ghosts not only articulate the presence of something missing but also ‘embody’ the violence in processes of eliding that produces them. The visual and thematic use of the ghostly draws on the ghosts transgressive potential as strategy in reclaiming elided narratives in an enactment of a return of those things dismembered and denied.

Epistemologies and their vocabularies become an important point of engagement towards shifting ideas of bondage, freedom and independence. In thinking of subjugated elided stories and histories as the ghostly missing content of ‘History’ I thus turn to multiple forms of recollection – to memories, traces and ancestralities alongside histories and archive – to re-member these subjects in what is a full nuance complex humanity beyond the types racialised discourse reduce them to.

The image of the ghost in my video work is at once that of an individual person as well as an image of elisions much broader than her body. She is constituted by the processes of silencing and elision that produce her social subjectivity as phantom while at the same time haunting and disrupting the histories that constitutes her as such.

There is a disruption of knowledge systems that maintain supremacy by suppressing their ‘others’ through evoking the image of a ‘marginal’ person who transgresses temporal-historic and spatial boundaries to return to critique moments that produced her subjectivity as marginal. The elided subjectivity in my video work moves through and beyond a world defined through hegemonic discourse, in and out of ‘reality’, of ‘history’ and the narratives of the spaces that I engage with. As she is both absent and present, singular and plural functioning in this space beyond the logic and conscripted reach of hegemonic discursive control; a different logic may reclaim her through imaginative recall.

*This text was written for the Voyage of [Re]Discovery exhibition in March 2015. See exhibition catalogue.

Kitso Lynn Lelliott is a filmmaker and artist based in Johannesburg, South Africa. She graduated from the Wits School of Arts with a Bachelors degree in Fine Art in 2006 and Masters in film and television in 2011, the moving image becoming her medium of choice. Her work has travelled to a number of film festivals and exhibited around the world including in Scotland, South Africa, Singapore, France, Lithuania, Uganda, Germany and Brazil. She has participated in the Durban Talent Campus and the Berlinale Talent Campus. Kitso was a fellow with the Sacatar Institute Brazil’s artists residency funded by the foundation and the UNESCO-Aschberg Bursaries program. She is an alumna of the Asiko Art School run by the Centre for Contemporary Arts Lagos which ran during the Dak’Art Biennale 2014. She is a visiting artist/researcher with the Iwalewa House of Bayreuth University, Germany. She is currently working towards her PhD which is concerned with narratives of the socio-historical and imaginative relation between West Africa and South America.



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