This dialogue took place after two workshops in Accra Oct/Nov 2023 and one workshop in Berlin September 2023 for which Zinzi de Brouwer (Studio Palha — Mozambique/Netherlands) and Linda Valkeman (The OR Foundation – Ghana) facilitated utilising the Secondhand Speculation oracle deck they designed for their South-South based project: Sisterhood/Omutzi/Mabilgu: “Indigenous Craft and Secondhand Clothing as second life for future concepts and materials in Ghana and Mozambique”.

During this verbal exchange they build on their experiences of giving the workshops which they see as a means to radically work with decolonial frameworks for transformational justice.

The Secondhand Speculation Oracle Deck offers a digital illustration on a new working method to explore and probe the reader into working from within the margins, in which the act of assembling solidarity becomes central in an interactive approach to working with a set of oracle cards as a tool to communicate, co-vision and co-play. The oracle deck serves both as a tool and a metaphor for pondering on the tensions between individual and collective identity. The oracle deck will be available for purchase in 2024.

Zinzi (Z): Let’s start with why the oracle deck Secondhand Speculation matters.

Linda (L): Playing with the oracle deck has proven to be an effective way to connect with one another in a natural way. The oracle deck serves as a tool to open a conversation but also as a metaphor for navigating between the individual and collective dynamic and identity of the play of the cards. The practice models willingness to learn from one another and questions the relationship we have as humanity with the planet through different lenses.

Z:  I pick up one of the cards and already the story of the card is speaking to me. About agency, about sovereignty, about responsibility. The cards bring us back to our senses, back to our bodies. They make us aware of the amalgamation of the lived experiences of the body and how that already says so much on how an individual responds to the cards, whether positive or negative. It’s an exercise for your own (re-)positioning, making it interesting when you travel with these cards in different places like you and I have these past few months. For instance, the cards are a natural translation of the work that you do in Accra with the Kantamanto Community and the work that I do with the Tsonga community in Inhambane. To contextualise the readers, we both felt the need for parallel landscapes to exchange with one another and have an – a South-South based interaction, related to textile waste and indigenous technology. From there, we started to explore radicalising spaces where we explore centering and decentering embodied experiences within a decolonial context. One quickly becomes aware of the pluriverse experiences of the body in this way. Especially, because you are constantly being confronted with what is not in the centre. Angela Davis[1] writes about radicalising movements, and how in order to do that there needs to be an intersectional approach to radicalising. In the state of the world, we are living in, this touches deeply. To say that my liberation is tied to your liberation[2]. To see things as intersectional is to confront yourself with your own involvement in a matter that is happening in an entirely different geographical location.

L: This brings me to the card compilation that regarded the element of fire in our last workshop in Accra on the 22nd of November. One card showed a 3D design ‘Utopian Resurgence’. The image shows deteriorated fabrics, caressed by the ocean’s waves and shaped by the earth’s touch and it has a huge wildfire in the background, illustrating the marks we have left on Mother Earth, the disintegration, and the lack of connection to nature. Like a paradise suffering devastation. But to understand what is at stake, looking at both sides of the cards is necessary. You see nature fighting back right through the fire. Screaming: “you humans created the Anthropocene but the Anthropocene is biting back”. The participants came to the understanding that the element of fire is a transitional element. Someone else was holding the cards ‘Transitions’ and ‘Farmers’, and we talked about how you see farmers in Ghana burning their fields to encourage growth. Fire alters the radical availability to fertilise, for new life, for new (alternative) futures.

Reader with card Utopia, Radical, Farmers, Anthropocene, Ceremony, Disruption

Z: In putting yourself in a position of radical openness the word play also becomes interesting. We encourage people to play with the cards. There is an element of seriousness of course. To engage with them, play with them, reposition them, pick one intuitively, etc. The idea of playing. We went from a pandemic distressed world to a world that is in treacherous state of genocide, all over social media too. There is so much discomfort and so much rupture happening, in the individual and the collective. To play in this kind of atmosphere reminds me of Bayo Akomolafe’s course We Will Dance with Mountains: Into the Cracks![3] in which he offers a provocation on what it means to be well when the world is falling apart. What does it mean to be wholesome when you are witnessing atrocities? This is the ongoing story of global issues that wax and wane. What is our RESPONSE-ability in this? Can we still engage with what is happening within us? And what does it mean to play when feeling discomfort is part of the game? The cards gaze right at you. You posted shortly after on your social media about radical empathy. What did you want to communicate with that?

L: Practising radical empathy, which Terri Givens[4] conceptualises as “moving beyond walking in someone else’s shoes [… by] taking actions that will not only help that person but will also improve our society” allows us to overcome cultural and societal divides while acknowledging our different dispositions and experiences. I started to see the many possibilities of the oracle deck and envisioned it as a tool to practise radical empathy. The cards have a mobilising power and spark ideas and prerequisites for collective action and collective healing. At the same time, they allow us to identify individual emotions and thoughts. As Givens states, “rather than conceiving of ourselves as one humanity, it reminds us of our many humanities”.

Z: Fashion is the lens we look through in our work, yet we touch on so much more. How we are working with women in the field in the Global South, for instance, in their local context, speaking to them and learning from them. The idea of the radical empathy translating into a compassionate gaze, under the frame of a decolonial gaze. We cannot look away. What (exposed) genocide teaches us in 2023 all over the social media is that it is in your face, you cannot deny it. There are people who are playing the part in this, shedding as much light on what is happening in the world. Meeting one another in a different way. It is not about finding solutions. This again makes me think of Akomolafe’s work in which he writes about post-activism[5]. I understand it the following way: To think you are finding solutions can be counter-productive and not even what we are meant to be looking for in the first place. When we are laying the Secondhand Speculation cards on the floor, whether on a rooftop in Accra or on a floor in an institutionalised building in Germany, we are confronting the participants with the world which can be so subjective. Moving past the judgement that whatever the cards will call for you in your senses translates to how you have been experiencing the world. Arguably, creating space for the margin more and more.

Reader with cards The Margin & Cyclical
Kilomba with credits by Joyce

L: Listening to ‘creating space for the margin’ brings me back to a main question posed by Kenny one of the participants of the workshop: Who created the margin, and how are these borders set? In our last card play we used the margin card as an opening to talk about terminology and related power dynamics. Do communities/participants in Accra know in what context they are placed? And who is placing them there? It is a ‘space of radical openness’ as defined by bell hooks and creativity, where new critical discourses take place. It is here that oppressive boundaries set by ‘race,’ gender, sexuality and class domination are questioned, challenged and deconstructed. We questioned the boundaries of the margin, and how these are also internal within the margin –margins existing within the margin, and how these borders are in a way cyclical or predictable patterns. 

Z: To go back to the shadow part, I ponder on how we treat the colonial wounds as portals to connect with the multiverse and deviate from the dominant narratives that plague the world and the monolithic fashion system we know today. Perhaps, it is only in the shadow that we can enter the margin. What use is it to be in the centre, with all the blind spots that come from fear and a scarcity-based mindset? In contrast to all the colonial waste of clothing that is being dumped in the African continent yet the oppressive fashion system is based on creating a feeling of scarcity that there is not enough and there is never enough. This juxtapose is interesting. Addressing the elephant of the room, what some don’t dare to gaze at is the reality of many. I like the idea of safe spaces and how we approach that in the play of the cards in the workshops. How are we, as facilitators, and also as participants, taking accountability in our participation in creating that safe space? To collectively create a safe space, one needs to be so aware of the position one takes up in the world. Who gets to speak? Who gets to speak louder? Who should tone down?

Z: The kind of language we use is important as it can easily become a container of power dynamics. Who are we closing doors for when we choose to use academic texts? How do we understand the different words that we use with the images of the cards in different locations? Angela Davis writes about how the intersectional body reflects on crossing borders, and organising ourselves around crises collectively.

L: It poses interesting questions around borders and how textile waste can freely move across whilst human migration flows are constrained by borders. What does it take to be granted access to the Global North? Why can an old, damaged plastic toy travel (with no passport) 45.000 KM to end up at a market in Accra without its legs and arms? It points out the absurdity of the story behind our stuff…The miles a garment travels in its lifetime in comparison to the reality that many of Kantamanto’s retailers will never have an opportunity to leave Ghana. Waste is a product of social classification systems: what we consider waste is that which does not fit within our ordered system. Kantamanto gives this categorisation visibility and invites us to reflect on how waste became a by-product of our consumer habits and how it forms our identities and social structures. People oppressed with our fashion waste like the Kantamanto community are like waste pushed to ‘the margin’. This illustrates a deeply rooted problem in our society where we classify and move things and people based on a presumed value by ‘the centre’. And who defines this value, fashion brands in the Global North? What are today’s aspects of human value in the fashion system?

Z: This brings me to our project Sisterhood Omutzi Mabilgu focused on ancient innovation that exists in the Tsonga communities (Mozambique) who work with the sacred leaf, palha. We look at both parallel landscapes and how the exchange of both would focus on resource management. 

L: Regenerative systems.

Z: Yes, in First Nation communities. The craft female community of the Inhambane region fosters an act of weaving as a form of building the relationship between the maker and the natural resource, that in their hands transform into beautiful and sacred objects that are part of their daily lives and are part of their ways of being in community with one another. And so, this relationship with the land and with nature becomes so integral, that it creates a true intimacy which is translated into kincentric ecology. Approaching nature as kin results in enhancing and preserving the very ecosystems that these communities are part of. This symbiosis of living in close connection to one another and to Nature shows us an ancient mythology, rooted in its acts of solidarity. Arguably, this kinship upholds regenerative ways of living preventing waste such as textile waste to be made into a reality in the first place.
(a moment of pause)

Z: Returning back to the oracle deck which are now 60 cards with images from the Global South, from local creative practitioners. When you pair the cards, what narratives come forth? So much unexpectedness, in that open end we start to find room for the unexpected what our mind cannot conceive. That is also about radically opening the spaces. To pair things that don’t necessarily make sense at first glance, but they could inform one another in the contrast, complementing and actually finding out there are commonalities. That is also the intersectional body manoeuvring in the world. In constant state of openness and learning, and engage in matters that feel urgent whether understood or not.

L: In our last play in Accra, two former Kayayei women (female head porters) Latifa and Rebekah were partaking. Rebekah pulled the card ‘The Collective’ and Latifa picked ‘Capacity’. Latifa reminded me of a Ghanaian proverb “Two heads are better than one”. It is easier for two people who help each other to solve a problem than it is for one person to solve a problem alone. A simple act by an individual can have an impact on the collective. In Latifa’s translation that’s what carrying ‘Capacity’ by a collective of women means, ‘Sisterhood’. From working closely with the girls I have learned that everything I have is a privilege, including my individualistic mindset. Individualism encompasses a Western value system, with different cultural beliefs and theories on human nature. But living and working here makes me see and understand life as a continuous cycle. Just as in nature, everything is intertwined and in symbiosis.

Z: Which makes me think of a quote by Martin Luther King, “we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”[6].

Kilomba with credits by Joyce

[1] Davis, A. (2015). Freedom is a Constant Struggle (F. Barat, Ed.). Haymarket Books.
[2] Inspired by a popular quote that was crafted by a group of Aboriginal rights activists from Queensland, Australia in the 1970s.
[4] Radical Empathy: Finding a Path to Bridging Racial Divides – February 25, Terri Givens (2020)
[6] APA. King, M. L., Jr. (2018). Letter from Birmingham Jail. Penguin Classics.