Making Sense – Rashaad Newsome ‘Shade Compositions’, 2007

Rashaad Newsom 'Shade Compositions', 2009, screenshot of :

I came across an article by Hentyle Yapp in Journal of Visual Culture (2018) where he talked about the ‘Sense of Up’, relationality, the presence of women of color in television and film, racism, and racial stereotypes of ‘black women as angry and intense’. He is drawing from references to Melanie Klein and her object relationship, Sigmund Freud’s conception of relationship as finding oneself in the other, and Gilles Deleuze’s conception of difference and repetition alongside a sense of intensity. At the beginning, the article was a bit difficult to understand for me when the author wrote about Spike Lee’s film Do The Right Thing (1989) with the long dance performance of Rosie Perez as a statement against racism and stereotypes.

It became more ‘interesting’ when he started to discuss the performance of Rashaad Newsome Shade Composition (2007). A stage performance of black colored women with the artist as conductor the live performance as well by using a modified Wii controller to direct a video projection at the wall. The 50min – performance (the duration of the video is around 21 min) is a multimedia exploration of the prevailing culture and black women and how tropes are placed onto black female bodies as objects. Starting with close up views on black woman skin in a studio environment, accompanied by a cappella song of ‘Back to Life‘ by Soul lI Soul, it changes to color (>3:06 min) and with a short transition phase to a full view on the stage performance (>3:22 min), and the previous video now a projection on the wall. Yapp considers Shades as a ‘reperformance of upness’ in a Deleuzian sense of intensity

“‘When one tracks sense and intensity, the subject becomes not fully knowable and fractured: ‘[intensity] is an I fractured by this form of time which finds itself constrained to think that which can only be thought'”. (Deleuze in H. Yapp, p.15)

Quite dense but that it triggers in me that I cannot understand fully everything, or makes sense out text. Nevertheless, what resonates with me are ‘fractured’ , ‘not knowing’, and ‘intensity and sense’, as sensations of myself during my work so far, my exploration of drawings and paintings. Perhaps What is Left Behind (Fig. 1), one of my assignment 1 pieces , could actually makes sense in this context:

StefanJSchaffeld 'What is Left Behind', 2018 - collage

Fig. 1: StefanJSchaffeld ‘What is Left Behind’, 2018 – collage[/capt

Besides Yapp’s rather philosophical interrogations, I found a few aspects quite relevant to my work, journey and struggle:

  • Sense: a linguistic play of senses and making sense
  • Sense and Intensity: To live and experience the moment to its full extent To be aware of my movements, the sound of the drawing stick, or other strokes made on a surface
  • Repetition and Failure: the experience of ongoing repetitions, various emotions surfacing e.g. anger and frustration, on a deeper psychological level as am embodied sensation.
  • Trying to make sense out of something – that possibly can not makes sense at all. Like pareidolia or Rorschach blots, illusions of patterns that the human brain tries to make sense of (Fig. 2).
Making Sense - Pareidolia - Rorschach Blots, (c)2016 StefanJSchaffeld

Fig. 2: Making Sense – Pareidolia – Rorschach Blots, (c)2016 StefanJSchaffeld


“Moving away from the impulse to have things make (full) sense.” – H Yapp, p.15

In Shades the stage performers do seemingly have no strict script to follow. Each of them utterings words ‘hmms’, ‘unhuh’, ‘excuse’, ‘really’, ‘child please’,  or ‘girl’. Phrases that according to the author are expressions of racist tropes. The initial laughter turns into anger, and the performance is cut. Through this repetitions of sense Newsome overcomes ‘visual or representational forms of racial critique’. It doesn’t makes sense, the repetition of gestures (and gesture are according to some developmental psychology theory a pre-linguistic expression of intent) ‘directs us to the limits of a theatre of representation’. Eventually, all gestural repetition turns into physical exhaustion that ultimately ‘kill’s the performance. Alongside exhaustion, feelings physical pain, burnout, or ‘internal sadness’ are following.

Here comes it again, the sense of physical exhaustion of repetition, a sense that I experienced during my part 1 experiments on Laundry, Dog Shit Performance, and Folding-Unfolding.

Yapp concluded that ‘intensity must expire’, in order to not become a norm. If this is true than cutting it off, ‘killing it’ is an immanent aspect of any performance or gesture based on repetition.

Reading a bit further, I found an article (Bolah, 2013) with an interview with Rashaad Newsome where he mentioned the impact of making the performance on some of the actors.

“people in the piece realize how they’ve accepted that label, accepted that gaze from someone else instead of owning their own gaze.” – R Newsome


In that sense, I find Shades remarkable, as it overcomes representational models of making sense by comparison and differentiating. The reactions of the actors shows for me how important it is to experience oneself certain performative activities, to experience the body and sensations that come with it. Shades acts here certainly also as a documentary of that experience. the actor of the viewer.

The key question for me, how to explore what I started further? How to build on repetition, concealing, representation, revealing? My tutor gave me some insights to look at the painterly approach to it by e.g. Clare Price or Sophia Starling. I will see how I could take this with me when visiting exhibitions and to see how ‘to make sense’ and to make connections’ – feeling positive that my visceral reaction and bodily interaction will guide me through the process of ‘more – not-knowing’. What I definitely take with me is an overcoming of representational tropes.


  • Featured image: screenshot of video Rashaad Newsom ‘Shade Compositions’, 2009


  • Bolah, A. (2013) ‘The Recontextualist Artist Rashaad Newsome ‘, in: AfroStyle Mag. [online].At: on 12 June 2018).
  • Furnace, F. (2017) Newsome, Rashaad – Shade Compositions (2007),  [online], At:  (Accessed on 12 June 2018).
  • Yapp, H. (2018) ‘Feeling Down(town Julie Brown): The Sense of Up and Expiring Relationality’, In: Journal of Visual Culture, 17 (1) pp. 3-21.
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