On Water, Salt, Whales, and the Black Atlantics

Published

This conversation between Christina Sharpe and Alexis Pauline Gumbs was a dream of ours for this issue. Both of their works engage with the Atlantic Ocean in relation to Blackness and, in the case of Alexis, marine mammals as well. In this epistolary dialogue, they exchange about their respective works and those of their Black Atlantic community of thought, as well as on the relationships between bodies, water, and salt.

Featured Image 1
Map created by Léopold Lambert for this issue (2021).

Dear Christina,

Gratitude for a safe enough transatlantic journey back west and I hope that your transition back into teaching has been as peaceful as possible. It was a gift for my mother and I to listen to your words and watch you reading them through the lens and obstacle of Torkwase’s brilliant installation Liquid: A Place. In that place, the bottom floor of Pace, we watched your shoes, we glimpsed your face through the black reflective curve of Torkwase’s sculptures. We watched you around and through the amplified and changing body of the brilliant dancer, GAIKA(?). And it happened. Torkwase did it. I did feel something of the experience of embodiment of water, how partially submerged in water my body remembers it is non-linear, existing as it does in multiple worlds. Remembering a time of the womb when breathing submerged in fluid was not even a thought. So you spoke about your mother, and felt grateful to sit next to my mother, on what happened to be the day after her birthday. Because since 2019 there has been an ocean between us.

I did not see the ocean on my flight across the Atlantic to London, and I also did not see it on the way back. When I glimpsed out the window I only saw clouds. Those giant filters. I didn’t spend much time looking out the windows, I also hadn’t chosen a window seat. I usually do, (cit. Erykah Badu) but on such a long flight my priorities were hydration and release. That’s the method the activist Roxanne Lawson (former policy director of TransAfrica Forum) taught me for obliterating jet lag. 1. drink a gallon of water. 2. forget what time it was or would have been, stay in the present. So far it works. Some collaboration between time and the fluid within me. I wrote a short story once, when my sister traveled to England, about haunted reverse transatlantic crossings. Now she and my mom and my nieces live there full-time along with generations of our cousins descendants and survivors of the Windrush generation of migrations from Jamaica. My nieces, age 5 and 3 insist that I not take a boat when I come to visit them. They aren’t thinking about carbon, they are thinking about convenience. Also, they informed me, they are working on a pink glitter spaceship to travel around the planet even faster. As I write this they are with my sister on an airplane for the first time since the pandemic started. Stay hydrated! Is what I want to remind my sister over whatsapp. The way I drink the distance is different and related to what Torkwase means when she studies the middle passage through all of her work, but in particular I Can Drink the Distance.