Black Body Radiation: Rescripting Data Bodies

Ama BE (GH), Ameera Kawash (PS)

Black Body Radiation: Rescripting Data Bodies is a collaborative art project by Ameera Kawash and Ama BE. The series consists of propositional performances that explore tobacco—materially, ritually, and as a form of value. The project incorporates body sensor networks and blockchain architectures to generate and rescript data bodies as agential forces emerging from the physical expressions of the performance, such as choreography, gesture, and repeated movements.

During these performances, Ama BE wears three body sensors that track her heart rate, body temperature, and blood oxygen levels. This data is then uploaded to a server, where it interacts with algorithmic processing and blockchain architectures. Ameera Kawash, collaborating with Ama BE, designed this backend to produce digital intimate assets and reconfigure the data layer to explore new possibilities for choreography, documentation, and funding for live performance artworks. Ama BE’s embodied metrics are programmed to interact with blockchain infrastructures, modulating the value of linked NFTs according to the performer’s breath, exertion, and duration of the performance.

The work’s simple, repetitive choreography engages tobacco as both commodity and sacred material in the process of transfiguring Ama's body through ceremonial costuming inspired by West African masquerades like Zangbetor. Embedded with body tracking sensors, the performance positions spiritual and digital technologies on equal ground to enlist generated data as an agent for establishing new formations of value.

Performance-based NFTs use embodiment to generate value, contradicting hegemonic forms of value creation rooted in histories of racialized capital and alienated labor. The technical structure of the performance establishes “commodity” and “indigeneity” as metrical inversions of each other, and authors a new syntax through which generative exchange in performance can be articulated.

Digital designer, video editor, concept: Ameera Kawash 
Performance art and design, concept: Ama BE 
Camera: Enrique Huaiquil 

Ama BE (GH/US) is a transdisciplinary artist who explores African relationships to land cultivation, labor, and migration. She works with botanical materials that carry antithetical ties to hegemonic trade, (violent) labor migrations, spirituality, and holistic remedy. Her practice probes at porous spaces between time, materiality, sentience, and memory to propose nuance in the performance of African cosmologies and embodiment of African futurity.

Ameera Kawash (PS/IQ/US) is an interdisciplinary artist, writer, and start-up founder whose digital work addresses discriminatory tech and develops place-based approaches to sustainability.  Currently, she is exploring painting patternmaking in relation to diasporic identity as well as researching representational justice in the context of generative AI. She is Palestinian-Iraqi American and earned a PhD from the Royal College of Art in 2022.

The Black Body Radiation project has two powerful lessons from the experiences of Africa, but which also have global relevance, as we grapple with technological advancements. These two lessons are on consent and memory. 

On consent.
We see that using the devices placed on the artist's body, some biometric data is being collected. The artist has given explicit consent for this data to be collected as she labors. She is unambiguously consensual.  

On memory. 
As the data is collected from the artist’s body, we see that an immutable record is created of every single metric of data. These are stored on a blockchain, in the cloud. So a precise account of how much effort the body has exerted exists.  

The work tackles the reality of non-consent where our interaction with technology is concerned. Through wearable devices and as we navigate our smartphones, data pertaining to our movement and activity is recorded. We do not view this as work because we are simply going about our daily lives, but we are in fact engaged in extremely valuable work, that of creating data.  A lot of this is non-consenting, sometimes completely veiled so that you may not be aware that you are doing it. Of course it may be ambiguously consensual, in that we are prompted to agree to various terms and conditions, but these are intentionally dense to veil the true intentions in the collection and use of data.  

This work is unvalued despite the fact that it goes on to create great value for those who aggregate the plethora of our invisible efforts. As the value is realized, the input of the many is downplayed. There is no remembrance or acknowledgement.

Black bodies have been used, misused, abused. They have always been the least valued.

As our world evolves, so do the ways in which bodies can be used, misused, and abused.