Ola Idris (2022) — Hypervisibility and Invisibility of Black Women in Academia

Directors Statement

For my final assignment, I chose to create a documentary and accompanied photo series. The documentary is titled Hypervisibility and Invisibility of Black Women in Academia and the photo series is titled unseen. The reason I chose to do both because in this was the media themselves tell the story of visible “bodies”, invisible “experiences”.

It features five women that I have had the opportunity to learn alongside through my university journey. Three are my close friends and co-creatives, Joy Adeyemi, Belinda Afriyie-Ankrah, Safyya Cissé, and two are friends from community & the other two Black women in this class, Lily Abate and Kalkidan Naway.

Through my experience here, I started to recognize the university celebrated its diversity and yet quieted the experience of racialized minorities. In this program specifically, we study power and structures and world systems and often being the only Black woman in a room meant I had to constantly defend and re-affirm my humanity in something built to destroy it. This came from students, but also from teaching assistants and professors. This complex is present at all levels of the institution.

In this class we have discussed the way that oppression creates an intersected experience and amongst this is the feeling of having to put on a mask and the Academic institution is no different. We are present, but unable to be our full selves without fear of ‘not belonging’ or ‘failing’.

This is the experience that Black people in predominantly white spaces sit in; being seen and unheard, hyper visible and yet invisible. Our “bodies”, the physical space they take up or the worth that can be extracted are visible, in fact hyper visible and yet our experiences and what makes our livelihood is made invisible. If our ideas are given the stage, we are meant to speak only of from the lens of our collective “race” or “gender”.

There are many, many theorists that have wrote on this, or some part of it extensively: Franz Fanon, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Sara Ahmed, Debra Thompson, Kimberlé Crenshaw and so many others but this assignment transformed from a space of theory to experience for me. It became about creating a love letter to Black women that walk the halls of every institution, who feel alone and masked, whose brilliance goes unnoticed many times. 

I want to take a second to thank the women who participated in this project, out of their own time and I want to especially thank Joy Adeyemi. Being my roommate, she had to hear about this project many nights as I thought it through and being a brilliant photographer donated her time and expertise to support with the photo series. I also want to thank you, Dr. Cattapan for creating assignments like these that may allow us to go beyond quoting theory and cranking out words, and into learning about our experiences.