arebyte Gallery presents SHE KEEPS ME DAMN ALIVE, an exhibition by artist Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley that uses video games, animation, sound and voice to capture, preserve and archive Black Trans Existence.
The exhibition uses the artist’s recent series of DOTCOM works blacktransarchive.com, blacktransair.com and blacktranssea.com as a starting point for furthering the archiving of Black Trans experience via interactivity and storytelling. The exhibition encompasses a new body of work that positions gaming at the forefront of ideas surrounding action, inaction, relation and archiving experience.
SHE KEEPS ME DAMN ALIVE presents visitors with an immersive point-and-shoot style arcade game that asks them to question how their choices and actions (or inactions) affect others directly. The exhibition positions the player at the heart of a situation demanding a reflection, an action and ultimately a stance to protect the lives of Black Trans people.
By taking part in the game the player also participates in forwarding the ideologies of the Black Lives Matter and Black Trans Lives Matters movements that took precedence worldwide during the pandemic. The movements speak of solidarity, honouring lives lost, and creating spaces where it is “easier for us to breathe”. These are recurring themes throughout the artist’s work and this show presents the power of holding space for memory and legacy.
Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley says:
This exhibition is my way of archiving. I am trying to build upon something real and expand it so that it can never be forgotten. I see archiving as a way of storing a person in the present so that future generations have something to look back on. Traditional archives have forgotten black trans existence so we need to build our own techniques to store bodies like ours. These have to come from us and be done by us.
On entering the gallery, visitors are confronted with a how-to-play guide that asks “Can you protect Black Trans people with a gun?” and requests them not to “SHOOT BLACK TRANS PEOPLE”. This call to action forms the narrative of the game and is part of a larger framework to promote accountability surrounding the black trans community and beyond. It also suggests an alternative history of what arcade games could have been: an anti-violent gun game that questions the use of guns to prevent harm.
Each player experiences a unique set of obstacles in their quest to protect the main protagonist on three separate levels; water, city and dungeon. The game forces each player to take ownership of their situation, whether they choose to play as a protector or destroyer, and whether they choose to centre themselves or another as the player.
As SHE KEEPS ME DAMN ALIVE asks: “Do you think you have the power to protect others?”