Keisha Scarville, The Placelessness of Echoes (and kinship of shadows) | Daniella Rose King and Keisha Scarville
Since 2016 photographer Keisha Scarville has undertaken a photographic study of a number of unnamed northeastern United States landscapes at night. She utilizes mostly natural sources of light, the moon and stars, to capture glimpses of a shapeshifter figure inspired by literary sources like Wilson Harris’s novel Palace of the Peacock and Jamaica Kincaid’s short stories “In the Night” and “Blackness”. Borne out of a practice of walking, camping, and performing repetitive, ritualistic gestures, Scarville has sought to learn from the landscape, developing a visual vocabulary that is both practical and ideological, one that is necessary for negotiating and navigating rural, nocturnal, and remote terrains. This body of work considers (rural) belongings, mapping and geography. The shapeshifter occupies and represents the liminal spaces between the body and the land, belonging and alienation, and signifies becoming within and of the landscape.
—Daniella Rose King
The Placelessness of Echoes (and kinship of shadows), 2016–2018, is an ongoing visual journey into the metaphysical depth of darkness. In the series, I navigate the transformative space of the nocturnal American landscape to address questions of place, power, and self-formation. Located in the spatial, temporal, and visual ambiguity of night, the images unfold an abstract account of a nocturnal shapeshifter who becomes part of the landscape around her. I draw inspiration from the densely metaphorical writings of the late Guyanese author, Wilson Harris, whose first novel, Palace of the Peacock, informed my approach to the images and imagining of new spaces. I mine his philosophies on the “possessed, living landscapes” to contextualize the metaphysics of becoming and variable existences. This mythopoetic process establishes a framework through which geographic complexities are transformed into a place of power and belonging. Darkness is no longer inert but an active space of perception in which I construct a new topographic understanding of the landscape. This understanding blurs the specificity between the body and the terrain, while actively decentering the black female body as prey.
“In the night, the flowers close up and thicken[...]The flowers are vexed.” (Kincaid 1983, 10)
“The solid wall of trees was filled with ancient blocks of shadow and with gleaming hinges of light.” (Harris 2010, 26)
“The impossible start happen I tell you. Water start dream, rock and stone start dream, tree trunk and tree root dreaming, bird and beast dreaming...” (Harris 2010, 87)
“The night-soil men can see a bird walking in trees. It isn't a bird. It is a woman who has removed her skin and is on her way to drink the blood of her secret enemies. It is a woman who has left her skin in a corner of a house made out of wood. It is a woman who is reasonable and admires honeybees in the hibiscus.” (Kincaid 1983, 6)
“The blackness is visible and yet it is invisible, for I see that I cannot see it. The blackness fills up a small room, a large field, an island, my own being. The blackness cannot bring me joy but often I am made glad in it. The blackness cannot be separated from me but often I can stand outside it. The blackness is not the air, though I breathe it. The blackness is not the earth, though I walk on it.” (Kincaid, 1983, 46)
(All images: Keisha Scarville, The Placelessness of Echoes (and kinship of shadows), 2016–2018. Archival inkjet prints, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist)
Notes on Contributor
Keisha Scarville (b. 1975; Brooklyn, NY) weaves together themes dealing with transformation and the unknown. Working across media, but with a grounding in photography, her work deals with issues of place, memory, and subjectivity. Scarville lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.
Harris, Wilson.  2010. Palace of the Peacock. London: Faber and Faber.
Kincaid, Jamaica. 1983. At the Bottom of the River. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.