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Salt: The Persistence of Blackness
Visura Exclusive
Credit: Sokari Ekine via Visura
Asset ID: VA34299
Caption: Available
Copyright: © Sokari Ekine, 2022
Collection: Environment
Location: Gonaïves, Haiti
Topics: Black and White Environment Essays Landscape Photography Spirituality Water

Sokari Ekine

Based in Richmond VA

Sokari Ekine, Photography Sokari Ekine is a Nigerian Black British genderqueer feminist  who has lived and worked in Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and the United States. Their work has been exhibited in such venues as the 4th...
Also by Sokari Ekine —
Imagination Lost 

This is the scariest thing that has happened to me, scarier than cancer. It’s death.  I  thought I had lost my imagination then I read this and breathed...

“One of the most powerful modes of black belonging is metamorphosized in the body’s sway under spirit possession”.  [ Nadia Ellis ‘Territories of the Soul’.]

Ayiti! It was here that I encountered Africa and its connection to the Atlantic. Like a piece of elastic which you can pull and it shoots back to the starting place. Here I encountered what I had imagined when those ancestors were forced from their homes and families. I saw them in Ayiti and I knew who they were immediately.  And it shocked me into temporary silence because for the first time I became face to face with our enslaved and colonized past. With the brutality of whiteness and the betrayal of the native informers who sold the souls of their mothers and fathers.   Here I witnessed our history of resistance.  Here I found our belief systems.  They crossed the water in pain. Then they made a revolution. The land became theirs. Forever. A land of mountains and salt.
Salt is essential to life and to the preservation of food and has been mined in the Sahara for at least 2,500 years.   When in the 7th century, Arabs began enslaving Black and trading in people, they often used the same trade routes as the salt traders.   It is estimated that over a millennium some 10 – 20 million mostly Black men were sold into slavery in North Africa and the Middle East.  With these thoughts in mind, the vision for the photos came well before I arrived and long after that first visit to the Salt Mines of Gonaïves in 2014 

Gonaïves is the home to the three grand Lakou of Haitian Vodoun founded by Maroons and escaped enslaved people prior to Haiti’s independence in 1804.  It was in Gonaïves that Jean-Jacques Dessalines read the Act of Independence and became the first president of the first Black Republic. The photographs are informed by these layers of history and liminality as the images and location play with time and space.   The traditional attire of the North Africa desert regions, [Morocco, Algeria, Libya] are set against a desert landscape but it is not clear whether we are in the Sahara or  Haiti.  

The Atlantic passage,  both landscape and people, is absent from the images and only reveals itself when we see the ocean to the west that we see we are in Haiti.  Gender is also interrogated as the bodies of subjects are covered in the same gown and make similar poses.  In one image showing only the eyes, it is not clear to whom the body belongs as they too are racially and gender complicated.  Here too the transportation of fabrics from one Africa to another shows the elasticity of the Africas. The salt mines also represent both the possibility and abandonment of natural resources as people are forced to buy imported cheaper salt rather than the mineral-rich local salt.

The mines depict a Haiti that is unknowable and timeless as the mountains stand small in relation to the human, yet they are the background to revolutionary history. The images express a solitary reality which is somewhat deceptive as turning to the sea, we witness the community of youths bathing in the sea, chatting and playing soccer, eating BBQ and drinking beer welcoming sunset and a respite from the day time heat. This is a place of pleasure, and wildness, far from the town, no buses come this way so either you pass by moto-taxi or private car or by foot. To the far right, there are hills broken and damaged by rock breaking to be used in construction. Men climb the hills, in the heat of the day, their faces and heads covered in cloth to protect them from the rock dust.  Some break the rock with hammers, others carry the rocks to the base where they create new hills of broken rocks to be collected by old trucks from the US some still with the commercial markings used in the US. The men do not wish to be photographed even from afar. IT is a humiliating work that eats up the body for just a few dollars a day.

Salt heals, saltwater, the oceans that heal our bodies, that hold the bodies of Blackness. No wonder the Spirits live at the bottom of the ocean and our bodies primarily consist of these two elements,  water, and salt.  Toni Cade Bambara’s ‘The Salt Eaters’ reminds us that salt is a healer, we can heal through salt.  The salt mines of Gonaïves rest between the mountains and their source, the sea. During harvesting, the pools of salt are flamingo pink and the salt rocks are sweet and moreish. I found myself eating salt as one would eat a lollipop, sucking and licking my lips as my body craved for more and more.

©Sokari Ekine 2016
The Dance of Salt or Imagination not Lost - 



This is the scariest thing that has happened to me, scarier than cancer. It’s death.  I thought I had lost my imagination then read this and breathed

“One of the most powerful modes of black belonging is  metamorphosized in the body’s sway under spirit possession”.  [ Nadia Ellis ‘Territories of the Soul’] Ayiti.

It was here that I encountered Africa and its connection to the Atlantic. Like a piece of elastic which you can pull and it shoots back to the starting place. Here I encountered what I had imagined in the long moments when the ancestors were forced from their homes and families into the abyss of slavery - The Catastrophe!.  I saw them in Ayiti and I knew who they were immediately.  And it shocked me into temporary silence because for the first time I came face to face with our enslaved and colonized past. With the brutality of whiteness and the betrayal of the native informers who sold the souls of their mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters.  

Here I witnessed our history of resistance.  Here I found our belief systems.  They crossed the water in pain. Then they made a revolution. The land became theirs. Forever. A land of mountains and salt.