Between 1978 and 1980, Hubert Fichte traveled to New York to engage with a city that he perceived to be a center of Afro-diasporic culture and tradition. This research trip was part of Fichte’sproject to develop a diaristic form of ethnographic writing that accounted for his own subjectivity and embeddedness within a given context. Fichte’s novel Die Schwarze Stadt. Glossen (1990, The Black City: Glosses) features several sprawling long-form texts and interviews related to his encounters with artists, scholars, activists, spiritualists, everyday citizens, and queer communities in New York.

Taking Fichte’s text as a starting point, the exhibition Journeys with the Initiated, curated by Yesomi Umolu, unfolds along two registers across both e-flux and Participant Inc. The first is a reading room featuring selected texts, photographs, and other documents that contextualize Fichte’s sojourn in New York and highlight his writing, as well as the work of other key thinkers that ground his perspective on ethnography and writing. The second component of the exhibition includes a selection of existing and newly commissioned works across video, sculpture, performance, and sound by artists Malik Gaines, Evan Ifekoya, Grada Kilomba, Tiona Nekkia McClodden, and Virginia de Medeiros that offer contemporary perspectives on themes covered in The Black City.

At the heart of The Black City and many of Fichte’s other writings was an awareness of the past and present struggles of African-American and Afro-diasporic communities against western hegemony and oppression. In response, Fichte locates a ‘utopic potential’ for poetic and political revolution in the cultural heritage and contemporary life of the African diaspora. Fichte’s affinities with the African diaspora were at once physical and philosophical insofar as he openly explored his sexual attractions to men of African descent while claiming an affinity with expanded notions of gender and sexuality that are present within African and Afro-diasporic spiritual practices, such as the Yoruba religion. Moreover, Fichte’s own queerness and his staunchly anti-academic approach, which he perceived to be in solidarity with various communities that have been marginalized on account of their race, gender, or sexuality, established him as an outsider within mainstream western society. Fichte’s writing in The Black City provocatively exposes the complexities of its author’s subjectivity, affiliations, and tastes in a manner that underscores the singularity of his writing while prompting compelling questions about how notions of exploitation, authority, and authenticity manifest themselves in pseudo-ethnographic practices.

It is from this constellation of affinities, desires, misrecognitions, and projections that the contemporary works in Journeys with the Initiated take their cue. Verging on a journalistic approach, Medeiros’ video installation at Participant Inc pieces together a complex narrative that intersects São Paulo’s queer and religious communities, alongside McClodden’s reflections on the intersections of her personal spiritual practice and its relationship to international ethnographic research regarding the Orisha Shango. On view at e-flux, Kilomba uses narrative storytelling and performance within moving image to address the politics of omission and misrepresentation in the postcolonial era, while Ifekoya’s sound-led mixed media installation offers an auto-ethnographic reading of the body, sensuality, and spaces of intimacy. Working through installation and performance, Gaines extrapolates a textual image from The Black City, combining this with various collected symbols of misrecognition to invent a non-hierarchical ethnology of the self. Together, these works open up the terrain of artistic practices that deal with themes of auto-ethnography, spirituality, queerness, and black subjectivity, each variously drawing connections with, and offering a counterpoint to, Fichte’s writing.