Suck Teeth Compositions (After Rashaad Newsome)

3-channel, HD video installation with sound, 16 x 9 format
9:47 / 2018

In Shade Compositions (2005-present), a series of live performances and videos, the African-American artist Rashaad Newsome explores issues of Black authorship, appropriation, identity and belonging by conducting choirs of women (and sometimes, gay men) of colour who snap their fingers, smack their lips, roll their eyes, and cock their heads, creating expressive linguistic symphonies out of the nonverbal gestures and vocalizations of African-American women. Suck Teeth Compositions (After Rashaad Newsome) is a three-channel video and sound installation that both responds to and extends this inquiry by focusing on sucking teeth, an everyday oral gesture shared by Black people of African and Caribbean origin and their diasporas, including those of us who live here in Canada.

Referred to variously as kiss teeth, chups, steups, and stchoops, to suck teeth is to produce a sound by sucking in air through the teeth, while pressing the tongue against the upper or lower teeth, with the lips pursed or slightly flattened. West African in origin, this verbal gesture is used to signify a wide range of negative affects, including irritation, disapproval, disgust, disrespect, anger and frustration. Given that representations of African-American Blackness dominate and define mainstream understandings of the Black experience, when it comes to anti-black racism, most white Canadians are allowed to feel comfortable and are supported in their comfort by the historical and ongoing narratives of “not me,” “not us,” “only them, down there.” Suck Teeth Compositions (After Rashaad Newsome) is thus a response to the frustrations of living within this denial, and an expression of the anger and pain that many Black people often experience living in Canada, where we are always assumed to be better off, if not completely free of racism.