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Our Tongues Still Move While We Sleep: A Dedication to Spiritual Remembrance and Erotic Existence

A photo essay by a South African visual artist and photographer on the spiritual significance of la bruja.

I’ve always been curious to explore the spiritual significance of la bruja.


It’s played a large imaginative role in its cultural and literary utterances of female representation, repression, and respectability politics, and the symbol of the witch is one that has consistently been relegated to deflated stereotype.

This is a collaboration between black and brown womxn, and femmes in particular, that looks at what the language and imagery of la bruja is and has existed as, outside of white-western superficialities—how it iterates and re-imagines sexuality and complexity within black and femme identity, and the power of feminine independence and association.

I think a lot of us are tired of seeing black womxn’s sexuality consistently gazed at through an imaginary trash-or-cash lens. It’s exhausting when your body is consistently depicted as a site for either trauma, fucking or cash cropping.

I was inspired to collaborate photographically using this idea to bring to life a piece representing black womxn & femmes outside of the exhausted, binary imaginings of our bodies.

And in particularly, I was interested in the resurgence of spiritual deities and the fruition of cultural/ancestral rootedness and imagery as resources for recognizing our existence. That’s why these images are a dedication to re-visibilizing black female sexuality, erotic existence, desire, independence and imagination. It’s an attempt to try and challenge visual representations of “classic spirituality” that often excludes images of black womxn and is devoid of any expressions of sexual identity.

The womxn in my life, hold a massive influence in how I continue to see the world and engage with my physical body and my spirituality. I think sexuality is the really poignant part at which the two very messily ooze together.

If anything, I think we exist in the marrying of spiritual and physical remembrance, and the spaces where our spirituality and sexuality are conflated in how we identify with our physical and imagined bodies. The womxn who form part of this collaboration are very expressive of their spaces of belonging in this world—in intensely different ways. We worked to put together this series of images and utterances that reimagined black feminine agency and the spirit of association through la bruja.

Most of my photography comes from playing, and is inspired through play. I think it’s an important part of how I identify with my own existence, and visibility through visual remembrance.

Photo by Dani waKyengo O’Neill.

Photo by Dani waKyengo O’Neill.

Photo by Dani waKyengo O’Neill.

Photo by Dani waKyengo O’Neill.

Photo by Dani waKyengo O’Neill.

Photo by Dani waKyengo O’Neill.

Photo by Dani waKyengo O’Neill.

Photo by Dani waKyengo O’Neill.

Photo by Dani waKyengo O’Neill.

Photo by Dani waKyengo O’Neill.

Photo by Dani waKyengo O’Neill.

Photo by Dani waKyengo O’Neill.

Dani waKyengo O’Neill is South African visual artist and photographer from Johannesburg. Her work mainly focusses on intimate conversation/revelations of representation, identity and gendered agenda through experimental parody, image language in a post-internet space.

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Photo: Courtesy of Saphir Niakadie

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