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The Cost of Staying in Academia

Updated: Apr 15, 2022

Collage Portrait of Tirsa

Heidi Sincuba

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I met her one night when I went to Afropunk in Paris. I was soulless then. Asleep. But I was stirred by the sensation of the event. Over a thousand attendees on Facebook - many of them apparent friends. But something had lulled me and I’d forgotten why. Then she spoke ... It moved me and I awoke.

I had been disappointed because, being an artist, it is my nature to be disappointed from wanting too much. I had still been referring to myself as a recent graduate, though my Masters degree at Goldsmiths was a thing of the distant past.

Ugh ... Goldsmiths! What a load of bollocks. I've been to three different art schools in three different countries. I know they're all racist as fuck and that's to be expected given coloniality. But Goldsmiths was the last and quite possibly the worst thing I'd ever believed in. Perhaps I'd known for a while that it would let me down. But I was holding on. Tormented by the things I'd done to get there.

Must have given a hundred hand jobs, some were blow jobs and I know I fucked a few. Mostly white men. Sickly, greedy, obnoxious, destructive, entitled, priveledged, unapologetic white men. Not only had I let my hands do the dirty work, but I distinctly remember selling my soul too on some occasions. I told them I liked them, thanked them, smiled, laughed even. And each time I lost a bit more soul.

But worse than this, I remember as a child, looking down - so far down - at my own blood that raised me. I believed then, long before I believed in Goldsmiths, that if I stood and spoke better than they did, I could escape the treacherousness of being a Zulu girl like me. So I looked all the way down.

It wasn't long before the first white man came for me. Pasty, foreign, and set to save me. And it wasn't long before the first white man tired of me. Teaching me that I was more than I should be. And I looked down. With each white man who fancied himself the hero, I learned a better way of looking down.

All the while that wretched, deluded dream of a higher education. Higher and higher still. An art school education. A place where I could be more than I should be. That academic, liberal, conceptual life I had dreamed of since I was little. That place I had moved towards and felt as if I knew and belonged to.

But oh ... would that I had ripped my eyes out when I saw that sore sight! For when I finally arrived nearly two decades later with debts and defects so deep I could barely stand and eyes so accustomed to looking down I could seldom see - there stood in front of me, as if cemented in raw granite rocks, an edge of even more white men.

And the women that were there and even the blacks like me stood at the gate and to my dismay gave metaphorically those same hand jobs and blow jobs and smiled, even laughed with those same white men.

It was at this moment that I felt everything I had ever done was for naught. That I had been bamboozled. That this Goldsmiths dream I had dreamt was truly a dream - a nightmare from which I could not awake.

I went to the lessons and I made the work but it was no use. I had wanted it too much. I had done too much; lost too much. Had too much faith I suppose, in myself and in art. And Goldsmiths itself had no inkling of this muchness, nor an inclination.

This remissness revealed to me the actual nature of the institution, which is the reverse of muchness. That the art world itself was a shallow bath of financially driven interactions and that Goldsmiths had accepted my application solely because as an international student, I would then owe them over thirty-three thousand pounds for my two-year degree. I had lived my whole life working, fucking, sucking, saving for a mere transaction. A nightmarish transaction from which for the life of me, I could not awake.

But being awake in the sense that I still walked and talked, I resolved to continue my search for something better to believe in. I found some relief in Afrofuturism and Afropunk, partly because of the diminished likelihood of being surrounded yet again by those same white men.

But when I went to Paris I found myself disappointed still. Unmoved by the hipness and lack of muchness. It was muchness I longed for. The muchness I had been born out of. The muchness that had sent me away. The muchness that would bring me back. Too ... too loud; too angry; too ugly; too thick; too wet; too broken; too dangerous; too crazy; too ... too much.

At one point I stood outside awkwardly by myself, waiting, longing, leaning against an exposed brick wall. We were headed to the after-party and I was watching the bags when she came and stood next to me. Her red afro sizzled fiercely in the night light, seemingly getting hotter as she moved closer to me. Her melancholy caked in a gruesome gaiety that I recognized even before she wept her first witty word. She barely looked at me. But she spoke to me. And it moved me. And I awoke.


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