Divine Southgate-Smith is the Togo-born multidisciplinary artist best known for her utopic, architectural renderings that are at once traditional and futuristic. In her latest work, aptly named TAKE A SECOND TO BREATHE, Southgate-Smith joined forces with Brandon Saunders, Bad With Phones and Jawara Alleyne for a cinematic short for Browns, in a bid to celebrate Black creativity and joy.
Manifesting as an immersive installation at Browns East, a gender-neutral augmented retail concept boutique based in Shoreditch, London, the film features seven minutes of original and archival footage superimposed with a hypnagogic, sonic composition, and is available for viewing until the 13th of July.

TAKE A SECOND TO BREATHE opens with a low frequency tone characterised by the uneasy oscillation of its volume and permeated by the distinct acoustics of vintage voices: fitting as these vocal impressions are woven throughout the track and found, film fragments. “Where are the African Gods?” asks the renowned jazz singer Abbey Lincoln, whose powerful spoken words are wreathed around the score. Composed by Bad With Phones, the avant-garde audio is a harmonious blend of electronic synths, softened beats, primal shrieks, and poetry.

On the screen, a grayscale extract of an African pair emerges from the black. Grins stretch across their chins and their glistening eyes tell a tale of love, introducing us to the idyllic world of Southgate-Smith. Flash forward to an accelerated clip of a Black blues singer in a flat cap before capturing the fleeting moment of a boxer’s fist being thrown in the air at the revelation of victory, an evolution of being seems to transpire.

Frames shift swiftly, bringing to the fore the seeming spinning of a scene, revealing ephemeral fragments of bare branches in a winter wood intermixed with clinically evocative lights, that provoke a dizzying sensation within the viewer.

Cut to an imagined space, littered with dusty rose-coloured monolithic columns and archways cascading down from a bleached sky, Southgate-Smith’s short moves between archival clips, dreamlike configurations, and the surreal. Playing with perspectives, suspended spheres hang overhead, creating what appears to be a limitless utopia. Like a dreamer levitating through the animated landscape, the shadow-work, intricate detailing and diminuendos all contribute to the oppositional alienation and warmth which permeate the piece.

Soon after emerges an unblinking CGI figure, created by Saunders, adorned with charcoal tribal markings whose spiky scalp ripples and swells.

Each clip juxtaposes the next in purpose and aesthetic, finding harmony in the expression of both community and possibility, delicately unifying the heritage clips and providing a sense of nostalgia and agency.

The film concludes, mischievously intertwined with its start, showing the same uninhibited spiral that disregards any one focal point. Flowing through abstract environments with such retrograded layers and a hypnagogic soundscape, the film becomes the perfect vehicle to navigate what it is to be Black.

TAKE A SECOND TO BREATHE is a distinctive experience blurring the lines between the physical and the digital with each fortified frame. Time is distorted, joy is realised and reality seems to fade, but for Southgate-Smith, it encapsulates expression; freedom of speech, freedom to love, equality, change, and above all, Blackness.