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ADS3: Refuse Trespassing Our Bodies – The Right to Breathe

Wilza Silva Mendes

Wilza is a Guinean architectural assistant and researcher born in Lisbon, currently based in East London. Most of her interests include curation, graphic design, and architectural research. She previously worked at Wilkinson Eyre, Kengo Kuma and Associates, and 5Plus Architects. 

Wilza's goal for this year is to further delve into the conversation of spatial phenomena, its relationship with societal discourses, more specifically with systemic discrimination of urban structures and the processes of decolonisation. Her experiences of travelling through different countries of Europe, Africa, and SouthEast Asia have shaped many of the questions surrounding this topic. Additionally, whilst studying at the RCA, her current investigations are also towards a journey of self-discovery, further researching into discourses that affect her as a Black woman.

 

Her project this year uses hydroquinone, a toxic substance found in most skin-lightening products, as a gateway into discourses of Race, Urbanism and Architecture in Kingston, Jamaica. By envisioning better Black futures, “Blackness in the Afterlife” suggests progressive types of landscapes and phenomenological architectures, as well as an era where Blackness is the way of living, the way towards Freedom, a state of rebellion against colonised ideologies. 


 

 






 

 

By defining Whiteness as a pollutant of a Matter-less Metabolism, how can we understand the extractive nature of hydroquinone and what its existence means to transformation within Blackness? 

 

Can the act of infringement towards Blackness have an amplifying, augmentative effect in the sense that alters two skins — the skin of the Black body and the city of Kingston, Jamaica, to create different forms of resistance and revival of Blackness? 

 

How to expand that desire for alteration/transformation from one state of Blackness to another? How to visualise, intervene towards a globalised network of transformative qualities of the tonalities of Blackness, both socially and geopolitically? 

 








 

Cosmetic Industry - Hydroquinone


From 2019 onwards, the cosmetic industry started to remove words such as "Whitening," "Fair" and "Lightening" from their skin products, in an attempt to stop sustaining prejudices and stereotypes of beauty ideals. L'Oréal is one of the biggest producers of skin-bleaching products. Upon significant global anti-racism protests, the brand decided to review their skincare products' naming to promote a more inclusive vision of beauty. However, what is the significance of removing "words", when Hydroquinone is still present?

Many of the countries where the distribution of hydroquinone is elevated, such as Jamaica, Nigeria and India, happen to be very tropical environments. High temperatures heighten the risk of skin diseases and the combination of the use of hydroquinone products with high exposure to the sun further accelerates the reduction of the thickness of one’s skin. 

Even with the attempt to stop sustaining prejudices and stereotypes of beauty ideals, this industry and its objectives, have already left a long trail of superficial pressures throughout many generations. In fact, the history of the ideology around beauty has inflicted up the Blackness via many industries and its consequences whether social, political or environmental, were and still are very much significant. 

For instance, the use of ‘Kodak Shirley’ cards represent a technology of photography that was designed on the basis of a global assumption of ‘Whiteness’ as the norm and towards this norm other skin colours were made deviant. There was also the use of Polaroid ID-2 camera for ‘Pass Books’ by South African government, in the time of the Apartheid regime in the 1950’s. This technology was used to maintain a system of racial segregation, and the moment a black citizen was captured by the ID-2 camera this regulation became possible.

Even more generally, the history of Whitewashing for example, in magazines and film, and how the appearance of dark skin was lightened during post production processes. The aim was/is  always to generate more engagement/sales, maximum capitalisation was/is always the main objective, over safety.

In addition,  the emergence of facial recognition and the issues it brought forward, where dark skin is “invisible” to its softwares. These are the very same softwares that mis-recognize individuals in services such as policing, loan decisions and job interviews, lowering their chances at fair identification. 

In all these instances, the industry has made explicit its bias towards global Whiteness. The commercialisation of hydroquinone products, and therefore the capitalisation of the skin, are acts that arise from this notion of the “Normativity of Whiteness”. In this context, Whiteness is used as a way to sell products, inflicting upon the body, materialising such bodies, subsequently creating materialised spaces.

The project will be set in the context of Kingston, Jamaica as it is one of these materialised spaces, it is ultimately part of a much larger selection of contexts affected by Whiteness.

 

Kingston, Jamaica - The Harm of Matter-less Pollutants


By defining Whiteness as a global pollutant, the different readings of the word "skin" are analysed through the architectural and urban context of Kingston, Jamaica, against its social, geopolitical, and geographical context. 

From the late 1960s, the increasing numbers of urban poor and the need to secure their vote, made housing an area of both genuine social concern and political potential. The Garrison communities are the urban result of that process. 

In (post)-colonial Kingston, segmentation/fragmentation policies—namely on ethnic, social, and cultural barriers—were among the tactics used to rearrange the town demographically. It was done in such a way that the best neighbourhoods or housing complexes, such as Red Hills, Norbrook, Cherry Gardens and Stony Hill, were for a very long time strictly reserved for the white and mixed-race elites. In contrast, the "others" remained confined to the downtown areas of Kingston. 

However, three different events helped to determine the image of the city today. The first was the migration wave during the 1930s economic depression, culminating in the 1950s. This process severely ruptured the ties of many family lives, creating a sizable subculture of displaced and dislocated children growing up in the looser affiliation of secondary family ties.

The second was the development of New Kingston, started during the late 1960s, following a planned move of the financial hub of the old city a mile northward, closer to the residential web of people it was meant to serve. These people consequently moved yet further away again, into Beverly Hills, Jack's Hill, Red Hills, and so on.

A third element was radical, racially motivated socialism introduced during the 1970s under Michael Manley, whose government attempted to reverse the growth of the underprivileged in Jamaica. 

Since independence, the IMF imposed structural adjustments, which influenced the formal/informal split in employment, the persistent housing deficit, the demise of colour/race segregation, and the enduring significance of class and pluralism in the social stratification, the ghetto as a locale of deprivation, violence, and creole creativity.

Structural adjustments included removing tariff barriers that protected the nascent industry from the post-war period, government expenditure cuts, and the opening to international trade. As a result, squatting has remained a marginal condition in Kingston, long associated with the lower class.

The colour-class segregation no longer rules in Kingston. It reduced after the 1960s, especially during the 1970s, but it is broken in a post-modern sense into various microorganisms, urbanely proximate or even juxtaposed. Rastafari has provided a platform for cultural creativity beyond the anti-white, anti-establishment stance of the movement in the late colonial period. Class stratification remains steeply hierarchical, and non-blacks are disproportionately concentrated in the city's elite parts, which is a reflection of its colonial past.

The national achievement in the arts in Jamaica is mostly due to Kingston's Uptown/Downtown dichotomy, two distinct Creole class-culture colour complexes. To feel the void created by colonisation, and subsequently decolonise themselves, they came together. Through the local awareness of each cultural complex's authenticity, both national political parties are multi-class, multicultural coalitions, and finally irrespective of social or cultural characteristics, they have mutually recognised one another. The fundamental spatial distinction between Uptown and Downtown Kingston manifests in many aspects of city life, such as speech and popular culture and the attitudes towards, and the management of, the environment. In part, Kingston has been decolonised not through a systematic state policy but rather more casually through education, the arts, the improvement in the quality of urban life, measured by housing and the sheer absence of whites.

 

Black Futures

 

By experimenting with different readings of the word “skin”, the project uses Afrofuturism as a vehicle to represent future visions and architectural interventions on urban spaces, and the different social environments in Kingston affected by the globalisation of Whiteness.

As a mode of operation, Afrofuturism aids in interrogating the architecture and urban networks constructed over the years, over many neighbourhoods. It allows for a conversation that transgresses time and space, so by interrogating its intersectional relationship with Transhumanism, the project speculates on ways human skin can become a translation mechanism which exudes Blackness, infiltrating and shifting the context in which it resides, creating new integral urban landscapes.

 


Uptown Kingston and William Grant Park in 2093 — Kingston has been buzzing lately. Due to Summer, the levels of concentration of Melanoness have increased, making the city an environment full of intense vibration. At the William Grant Park, in the centre of New Uptown Kingston, which used to be a park named in celebration of Black activists, you see yourself in one of the hotspots of the city, where residents congregate to live the everyday life, interact and communicate.
Coronation Market in 2093 | Living through Blackness I — These areas, like Coronation Market, are around the city; this is where everyday life happens, generating higher concentration of Melanoness matter. People are becoming more and more attracted to these spaces of Blackness, their inner desires made visible with time.
Living through Blackness II — This phenomena growing from one’s skin, moving with one’s body, manifests itself in different tonalities and opacities, fluctuating throughout the city.
New(Re)born — This is influenced by what has been shown in the recents studies on the composition of skin. The embedded nano-network has become efficient in turning people’s desires into data that activates the exuberance of Melanoness.
New(Re)born Skin at Molecular Level — Being able to perform various tasks, such as circulation, sensing and actuation, nano-networks work in conjunction with Human beliefs, a source of data with which people are born with. The body is completely in sync with itself, other bodies, not only human but also the city, its infrastructures, social behaviours and the landscape.
The Architecture of the New(Re)birth of the Skin — Essentially, this matter is not only a translation mechanism within people’s skin but also infiltrates the city of Kingston, shifting the context in which they reside spatially, socially and geopolitically. It was discovered last year that the beliefs one had back in 2021 for example, are in fact part of the data with which one is born with now, transformed into the data. If such data shows a desire for all things Black, that becomes apparent in the amount of Melanoness one produces.
Hydroquiness vs Melanoness — Those whose beliefs didn’t align with Black ideologies, presented that the presence of Hydroquiness in the depths of their skin, interfered with the production of Melanoness. When that happens, people develop a disease which causes the body to slowly break down, deteriorating, becoming matter with time.. The same way people’s values in the last era can influence the presence of Melanoness, the lack of such values can manifest itself as a disease today, namely the Hydroquiness disease.
Here is some background on the time society had to deal with a similar issue… — Back in 2021, Kingston was one of the cities where the beauty industry would distribute and sell products that mainly contained Hydroquinone, a toxic substance extremely harmful to the human skin. This industry gave birth to a set of imposed yet inhuman rules within society, especially in the realm of beauty standards. Today there isn’t such a thing as a standard, but back then the industry was perpetuating this prejudice through the capitalisation of the skin.
Hydroquinone Metabolic Pathway — Hydroquinone decimated what used to be called melanin, the complex polymer that produced Blackness in one’s skin. As it could be injected or ingested, hydroquinone's reactivity and acidity caused serious illnesses, including skin diseases.
Melanosomes at Microscopic Scale | Capitalisation of the Skin — This compound used to create a skin tone by inhibiting a vital enzyme called tyrosinase, which caused cells to produce fewer and more abnormal melanosomes. The industry behind its production and distribution was highly profitable, reaching over 20 billion US dollars every year, and owned by western stakeholders who refused to consider the damage these products could have. Their only interest rested in extracting economic value from their commercialisation, and, from targeted groups, physiologically.
Jamaica, 18th Century — In that era, Kingston was in fact one of the cities in the world with most Hydroquinone users. As well as persuading the city into the consumption of such products, Whiteness was ever-present. It had colonised the city through the creation of Garrison constituencies, the introduction of colour-class segregation, or class in the social stratification.
Mapping Stakeholders in the Production and Promotion of Hydroquinone — The colour-class segregation reduced after the 1960s, especially during the 70s, even though it was later broken into various microorganisms. On the other hand, Class stratification was still steeply hierarchical, and no-blacks were disproportionately concentrated in the city's elite parts, a reflection of the colonisation of the city.
Decolonisation through the Creation of New Cultures — However Kingston and its communities found Liberty in resistance. In part, Kingston had started to decolonise itself through education, the arts and the improvement in the quality of urban life. They created avant-garde subcultures, lifestyles, religions, all-Jamaican musical urban genres... All these phenomena became intrinsic to global popular culture and everyday life.
Blackness in the Afterlife - The Interventions — And it is in that same way that Jamaicans looked for Liberty in resistance, that the Communities of today almost choose to live within Blackness, as a form of resistance. Today, in 2093, Blackness is a way of living, the way towards Freedom, a state of rebellion against ancient colonising ideologies.
Safe Havens - Occupation — From the scale of the landscape, to the city, and back to the landscape… However many Communities have come together and taken refuge in the New Downtown of Kingston, deciding to resist Melanoness. These main sites of congregation are curiously ancient colonial buildings, spaces whose very presence perpetuated slow violence towards Black histories. This has become their safe haven, they rather live slow into deterioration as they suffer from Hydroquiness disease.
Safe Havens - Deterioration — There has been new evidence in regards to what exactly happens to that matter that results from literal deterioration of the bodies and of the buildings they reside in. These buildings they reside in, are colonial buildings of the ancient era, defined as tropical buildings that were born out of the merging of British Georgian Architecture and the need for functionality to withstand Jamaica’s tropical climate.
Hydroquiness Matter — Researchers have concluded that Hydroquiness in fact deteriorates the materials of these buildings, as well as human skin. Hydroquiness attacks matters such as Titanium dioxide, one of the predominant substances present in the envelope of these buildings. And with time these start to show slow deterioration, leaving the buildings stripped, exposing them to concentrations of Melanoness, slowly turning them into ash that feeds into the soil.
Terra Preta Landscapes - From Colonial Sites to Intelligent Lands — Blackness shifts the landscape of the city to once again become intelligent, prosperous. That resulted in an experiment similar to the Amazonian “Terra Preta'', a black earth mixture created by Black ancestors, composed of charcoal, ash, bone and broken pottery, a product of indigenous soil management.
Terra Preta Landscapes - The Ancient Site of the University of the West Indies — Due to these findings, the research group continued exploring the idea that the ash, and other composite materials from these deteriorating bodies and buildings, can change the current landscape to once again be rich and fertile like in the ancient times, instead of just a site of refuse. They have started by analysing the soil of an archeological site near the hills to gather findings. There is surely a future in these ideas of the past.
Melanoness is the Light — A future of the past. This concept is further emphasised by the emergence of Melanoness Centres. As one starts living a purposeful life where Black ideologies are the focus, to change their inner beliefs, they choose to have Melanoness, they choose Blackness.
Melanoness is the Light - The High Street — The Melanoness centres are situated in one of the busiest high streets in New Uptown Kingston. They are community wide spaces, accessible to all, bringing the community together whilst producing and distributing Melanoness, allowing those who suffer from the Hydroquiness disease to cure themselves.
Melanoness is the Light - Electricity — These busy streets back in the day were also highly reflectant of one of the most predominant issues of urban management of the city: the inaccessibility or mismanagement of electrical supply.
Melanoness is the Light - Melanin — So these centres now cover this universal need, by transforming the surrounding Melanoness into electricity, the surrounding Blackness into lightness, with the use of conductive materials.
The Birth of Melanoness Centers — All in all, these spaces have become the new suns.
Inside Melanoness Centers - Everchanging Translucency — Covered in thousands of translucent films, the centres are non-static sources of light, as these meshes dance with the surrounding concentrations of Melanoness.
Inside Melanoness Centers - A Space of Commune — Building spatial phenomena, where humans, space and light become part of one metabolic pathway.
Inside Melanoness Centres - Surrounded by Dancing Films — An interlinked system connected by Melanoness, a multi-scalar agent.
Melanoness Centres - Radiant Suns | Movement Paths — Materialising into radiant suns, self-altering and ever-present. They spread across the new city of Kingston, mostly aggregating around old sites where the ancient cosmetic industry used to distribute hydroquinone products.
Floating Melanoness Centres — They float between locations overnight, in accordance with the need for community space or electricity supply, working as a closed network that responds to the needs of its citizens.
Melanoness Centres - Electricity is one with Melanoness — And of its city. Melanoness is the source of life - light by being transformed into electricity, circulated to the adjacent buildings, then supplied to the rest of the city.
Melanoness Centres - Day to Night — Whilst during the day the city is alive with events, concerts and performances, at night all the Melanoness generated by the concentration of people is collected by the translucent mesh. It then travels to adjacent buildings via its structure and turns into electricity, through the process of annealing.
Melanoness Centres - Layered Skin — This is in fact a space of many layers, just like the human skin, a structure of adaptability, and transformation.
Melanoness Centres - A Balanced Supply of Life/Light — Its deployability is allowed by retractable arms for a balanced supply of Light/Life throughout the city.
Melanoness Centres - Production and Distribution | Entrance — All these elements come together to become the new urban centres of Kingston where Black(ness) Matter (Melanoness) is versatile, celebrated, essential. Where all are welcome.
Blackness in the Afterlife - The Everyday — Those ancient discourses around Blackness do not exist today in 2093. This city is now filled with ambiguous tonalities and opacities, Blackness exists as a gradient in many scales.
Blackness in the Afterlife - Interventions on the Urban Landscape — It conducts the city physiologically, humanly, culturally and urbanely. The world has thankfully transformed and altered in ways that were once unimaginable.
Blackness in the Afterlife - New Uptown Kingston in 2093 — Isn’t it curious that the world now demolishes those ancient ideas, that it completely eradicates the existence of Whiteness as a pollutant of a Matter-less Metabolism, through the Emancipation of Black bodies?