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Black Power Naps
Photography Xeno Rafaél, courtesy of niv Acosta and Fannie Sosa

Black Power Naps is an installation about the power of doing nothing

Fannie Sosa and niv Acosta’s Madrid Pride event is raising awareness of (and rectifying) the fact that black people get less sleep

The luxury of relaxation is usually reserved for the wealthy and fortunate. A part of the modern aspiration to become rich is that we all dream to one day be able to stop working ourselves to the bone and find more time to rest. There are countless studies highlighting the capitalism-driven epidemic of mass sleep deprivation. Others have also found that there’s a racial sleep gap, and that black people are regularly getting less sleep than white people.

Black Power Naps, a two-month long installation which has kicked off with a festival at Madrid Pride, aims to redistribute and reclaim rest. It seeks to subvert the idea that taking time to do nothing means that you’re lazy. “‘Stay woke. You snooze, you lose. If you work hard you can achieve.’ Everything about progression for black people is deeply centred on constant labour,” says artist and performer niv Acosta, who has set up the installation with creative partner Fannie Sosa. “This is about allowing yourself to stop.”

The pair has created a haven for people of colour in the middle of Madrid dedicated to being ocioso (which means “idle” in Spanish). There will be beautifully shot images pinned to the walls, evoking the type of cut-out magazine style collage you may see in a bedroom. Alongside these will be a bass-powered waterbed: bass to massage and soothe, water to evoke the oceans that “carried most African-descendent folks” to the both artists’ previous home of America. There’s a healing “pelvic floor” room, copies of a specially curated book entitled Siesta Negras (nap black) and lots of Instagram opportunities. “The holy procrastination station is a giant bed with tie-dye sheets and a giant mirror above it with bulbs on the perimeter. It’s a beautiful selfie opportunity, but the message is to see yourself, you have to lay down. To self-actualise you need to take time to process things.”

For the rest of June, the installation at the Matadero will see performances from Spanish musicians Consuelo, Somos Pareja, Las Sexy and Dazed 100 alumni Nadine Artois (of Pxssy Palace), and BBZ. We caught up with the duo to talk about the installation and festival.

What makes sleep a black issue?

Fannie Sosa: There’s a race gap in sleep, which I believe is a remnant of colonialism and slavery. Sleep has always been used as psychological warfare against us. Slaves would work 18 hours and sleep for maybe four, or five to break their will so they wouldn’t escape. Black people would just fall asleep in the fields, in the kitchen, they'd just fall asleep which propped up an entire stereotype that black folks were lazier, and that we needed more sleep than whites.

But Black Power Naps is also (about) the idea of who gets to rest and where. The Jim Crow laws kept the black population submissive and broken, because they were heavily monitored in public spaces (where they could sit, which waiting rooms they could use, or hotels they could stay in). We’re typically confined to noisier housing projects and less safe neighbourhoods. We get lower quality work with anti-social hours, longer transit, or hard labour. All these things affect how rested and settled you feel.

“If anything, reparations need to be not just an economic ask, it also needs to be an energetic ask. We need to repair” – niv Acosta

As a politically engaged artist, it’s important you don’t burn out – but despite all the rhetoric around activism and self-care, a good night’s sleep is never really mentioned. Why do you think that is?

niv Acosta: Unfortunately, there’s still respectability politics which ail our activist communities. As a trans person, I'm hyper-visible, so personally, when it comes to protests I do not want to deal with that energetic exchange. I have other frontlines that I'm fighting on. I have had so many encounters with other black activists, trans black activists, who are deeply in opposition to saying that we should rest.

Fannie Sosa: They need you to stay woke.

niv Acosta: The whole “woke” narrative is obviously anti-rest. Self-care is cute and everything, but it’s just become a structure to spend time and money. It’s consumerism, it really does leave out so many people. You’re told “if you work hard enough, you'll get it”, which is so intensely misguided. Then when you’re tired you should buy something, buy bubble bath, or go spray tanning with your friends. You’re never encouraged to just stop.

Going at the pace that the world goes at is something that is deeply transphobic, homophobic, and deeply racist because we cannot take moments to rest, and enjoy, you’re just going hard, hard, hard, all the time. I feel the denigration of my soul. I feel that if I have children they will also feel my exhaustion in their blood. I feel the exhaustion of my ancestors. If anything, reparations need to be not just an economic ask, it also needs to be an energetic ask. We need to repair.

Even the words “working class” suggest that the lower down you are in society, the less rest you’ll get.

niv Acosta: Let's put it really frankly, the world turns because we labour to exhaustion for little to no pay. I know many people labour to exhaustion, but in the experience of indigenous, racialised people, there's such a vast disparity. There's no mystical reason why. It’s very much structural, it’s very much policies and structural racism. My family has had to work to the bone, and have still accrued little to no wealth on this planet.

Have you found it hard to get people on board with this idea?

niv Acosta: We've been on the frontlines of a white institution, and it’s been such a mindfuck to sell black rest. They’re accustomed to black art as performance, if you're not “going HAM”, “popping your booty”, and doing something that involves labour – because labour is more celebrated than anything – they don’t understand it. Ironically it's been a very tiring process.

The ultimate goal for the next two months is to be ocioso, that means idle in Spanish. So much of black expression that is acceptable is sweat, blood and tears, but I felt really compelled to create, or see represented, black art that is about pleasure and celebrates “not doing” rather than doing too much. That is already obviously hard to sell to a society, to a dominant narrative that is glorifying mania. Art is supposed to make you feel something, and the way we’ve taken over this space, you have to come ready to recharge.

Black Power Naps is open from now until July 2018, the Black Power Naps Festival is June 29-30 at Matadero Madrid in conjunction with Pride Madrid