AfriCOBRA: Art for the People
Film screening at DuSable Museum of African American History
Moderator for panel featuring AfriCOBRA co-founder Gerald Williams and film producer Deva Newman
Programming for The Time Is Now! exhibition at Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago, curated by Rebecca Zorach. Sponsored by Michael Phillips of South Side Projections, The HistoryMakers, the DuSable Museum of African American History, and the Chicago Metro History Fair.
Honored to share that I have been awarded a Marion Kryczka Excellence in Teaching Award!
Roundtable: Contemporary Practices and Design History
Conversation with Tom Burtonwood, Barbara Karant, Vernon Lockhart, and D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem, Facilitated by Maggie Taft
Chicago Design: Histories and Narratives, Questions and Methods Conference
Chicago Design: Histories and Narratives, Questions and Methods is organized by Jonathan Mekinda (Assistant Professor, School of Design, University of Illinois at Chicago) and Bess Williamson, (Associate Professor, Art History, Theory, and Criticism, School of the Art Institute of Chicago). The conference is part of Art Design Chicago, an initiative of the Terra Foundation for American Art, dedicated to helping people in Chicago and around the world experience, understand, and enjoy Chicago’s extraordinary artistic legacy. The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation is the Presenting Partner of Art Design Chicago. Additional support for the conference is provided by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, the Art Institute of Chicago, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Take Root Among The Stars: Visionary Fiction and the Legacy of Octavia Butler
Moderator with panel featuring Dr. Sami Schalk, A. Martine Whitehead, Huong Ngo, and Chelsea Frazier
Sponsored by SAIC Conversations on Art and Science as part of my Fall 2018 course on Octavia Butler's prophetic and timely novel Parable of the Sower
"Riding Interstellar Waves: Afro-Futurism and Time Travel"
Performance script-article published at Sixty Inches From Center
Intro to Afro-Futurism
Talk for Giovanni Aloi's "Modern and Contemporary Art" class at SAIC
Afro-Futurism and Time Travel
Performance-lecture for Black Quantum Futurism Symposium, Day Two
Gray Center for Art and Inquiry, University of Chicago
Hosted by Antwane Lee and Ytasha Womack with Center for Study of Race, Politics, and Culture, Gray Center, and Oriental Institute at U-Chicago
Afro-Futurism and Speculative Narrative
Talk for Marlena Novak's 3D Experimental Narrative class at SAIC
Fantastic visit with such wonderfully engaged students! Look forward to seeing the work they produce!
Thrilled to be on panel and creating an interactive performance for Becoming Interplanetary: What Living on Earth Can Teach Us About Living on Mars, part of the Decolonizing Mars conference program, panel and performance, hosted by NASA/Blumberg Chair of Astrobiology Lucianne Walkowicz, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
Attendance is free, RSVP recommended.
The Time Is Now!: Art Worlds of Chicago's South Side, 1960-1980
Exhibition curated by Rebecca Zorach at Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago
Featuring garments by Jae Jarrell, co-founder of Africobra, one I assisted in creating at her studio in Cleveland.
NO GUTS, NO GALAXY is a weekly series of artist-curated slideshows that expand upon the diverse subjects addressed in RAMMΣLLZΣΣ: Racing for Thunder, such as, the Downtown scene, early hip-hop and performance, Afrofuturism and cosmology, the mythology of Gothic Futurism, and the coercive power of language.
Event Description: The Ramm Riff is a layered experimental composition, part manifesto, part oriki praise song/citation poetry, a call-and-response with The Rammellzee’s Garbage Gods. Led by Black Light Primal Nun “A” through hallowed virtual halls of Gothic Futurism and Afrofuturity, this audience-interactive lecture-performance weaves through space and time to illuminate histories of African-centered masquerade and mythologies; rituals of the body in clay, hair, soil; assemblage and costuming the cosmic android in the detritus of consumer culture; hauntology and becoming Spirit (in the) Machine; language and code systems as weaponized methodologies of decolonization; and the train as vessel of liberation.
Thrilled to be included in an esteemed group of artists and practitioners invited to contribute work for Notes on Negro Progress as part of the exhibition Theaster Gates: How to Build a House Museum at Art Gallery of Ontario. The beautiful exhibition catalog/publication just arrived!
Great way to start July! Featured on this month's SAIC Alumni News page.
Wednesday, June 20 at 6:30 p.m.
Performance/Conversation with Nyugen Smith "Consecrating the Cosmos: Masquerade, Perforamance and Spirituality in Carnival Traditions"
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Langston Hughes Auditorium.
Featured in Newsweek Tech and Science article by Meghan Bartels, "Should We Colonize Space? Some People Argue We Need to Decolonize It Instead"
May 3, 2018 at 6:00 p.m.
Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP), Columbia College Chicago, 600 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago
Part of the programming for In Their Own Form: Contemporary Photography + Afrofuturism curated by Sheridan Tucker Anderson
Jennifer Scott will lead a discussion with D.Denenge Duyst-Akpem and Ingrid LaFleur on Afrofuturist themes in contemporary art and how they inform artistic practice in photography and other mediums. Jennifer Scott is director and chief curator of the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum at the University of Illinois at Chicago. D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem is an Afrofuturist space sculptor, performance artist, designer, writer, and educator. Artist and curator Ingrid LaFleur founded the Afrofuturist film and art program Afrotopia and was notably a former candidate for mayor of Detroit.
Tuesday, April 24 at 6:30-7:15 p.m.
"Afro-Futurism and Fashion: Constructing Future Forms"
Guest Lecture for Caroline Bellio's Fashion History: Global Perspective course in the Fashion Department at Columbia College Chicago, in connection and reference to the exhibition In Their Own Form: Contemporary Photography + Afrofuturism now on view
Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP), 600 S. Michigan Avenue
Many thanks to Dr. Colbey Reid, Chair of Fashion Department, for support of this programming.
Guest Lecture "Osayin Commemorative Portrait and Camo Project: Protection and Activated Ecologies in Afro-Futurism"
for Giovanni Aloi's "Post-Nature" course in the Department of Photography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Tuesday, April 17 (closed session)
spore sound performance for Cathy Hsiao Movement I, Bloom
Saturday, March 24
D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem presents spore, a sound work for Cathy Hsiao Movement I, Bloom exhibition at Goldfinch 317 N Albany Avenue, Chicago on Saturday, March 24 at 3:30-4:00 p.m. New sound performance is composed in conversation with a score comprised by Hsiao based on the sculptures.
Featured interview for Inverse series on Afro-Futurism by Sam Ridell:
D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem is interviewed in Sam Ridell's series on Afro-Futurism for Inverse online which highlights artists, key themes, and the genre’s links to Black Panther.
Contributor, Notes on Negro Progress of Theaster Gates: How to Build a House Museum, 2017 exhibition at Art Gallery of Ontario, exhibition publication slated for release March 2018
Wednesday, February 28
The Arts Club of Chicago
Sound Installation 5:00-6:00 p.m. | Panel 6:00-7:30 p.m. | Sound Installation 7:30-8:30 p.m.
This day marks a dream come true: not only exhibiting at the Arts Club of Chicago but creating site-specific work for the galleries, activating them with sound (and a few sculptural pieces). 2018 is truly a watershed year since it was 20 years ago that I arrived in this city. Join me and panelists to discuss all things architecture and sound, and arrive early or stay late to experience the sound installations throughout the galleries (and washrooms).
Panel Members: Architect Leigh Breslau, Artist D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem, and Musicologist Ryan Dohoney
How does architectural design and engineering impact sound? And in turn, how does sound affect the space in which it is heard? And further still, how do artists and musicians think of architecture when they think of sound? Join an architect, a sound installation artist, and a musicologist for a discussion detailing the lineage of architecture as an inspiration for music and sound art (and vice versa), culminating with a site-specific interactive sound installation by D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem activating the gallery.
"Corpus Meum represents the first installation by D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem at The Arts Club of Chicago and exists as a one-night-only multi-site interactive sound installation activating the galleries and its intimate spaces in conjunction with the Architecture & Sound panel. Conceived as a self-portrait in space and sound, each space corresponds to a part of the body with the entrance as the “head” and to a point in time within the artist’s aesthetic development including: a composition in the central gallery based on Africobra co-founder Barbara Jones-Hogu’s iconic Unite (1969, now on view at DePaul Museum of Art) comprised of the voices of artists, students and practitioners around Chicago; installation of Wan Chuku and the Mystical Yam Farm “tree” sculptures in the Mies Van der Rohe stairwell with "Super Space Riff feat. DNA Opera" emanating from a Dr. Seuss-ian Lorax-style funnel; a plaintive song of desire and longing inspired by Pipilotti Rist’s 1996 Sip My Ocean; and an enticing homage to Vito Acconci’s 1972 Seedbed."
Corpus Meum sound installation runs from 5:00-6:00 p.m. prior to the panel at 6:00 p.m. and then from 7:30-8:30 p.m. immediately following the panel.
This event is free and open to the public.
Saturday, February 24
“Shape-shifting Across Disciplines: Sculpting Space and Afro-Futurism as Methodology”
"No Discipline" Panel at College Art Association Conference (CAA)
Los Angeles, CA
I'm beyond thrilled to be presenting on the No Discipline panel developed and moderated by SAIC Dean Lisa Wainwright, AIADO Professor and Chair of Designed Objects Tim Parsons and Sculpture Department Chair Dan Price along with esteemed artists and practitioners. We'll present our work in the field of education bridging the boundaries between art and design. I'll be including tales of post-colonial, military-ruled Nigeria and national "discipline" campaigns alongside methodologies of Afro-Futurism to build the imagination muscles.
Tuesday, February 20
Book release date
Written by Peggy Cooper Cafritz, Contribution by Thelma Golden, Kerry James Marshall, Simone Leigh and Uri McMillan.
In 2017 I was curated for the Washington Project for the Arts annual exhibition and benefit by Jefferson Pinder, and my newest piece Wan Chuku's Mystical Yam Farm--an custom mini version of the larger pieces exhibited in 2015 at OSUMA--was purchased by the luminous Peggy Cooper Cafritz, brilliant collector and visionary founder of Washington D.C.'s Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Her collection has now been immortalized in a beautiful new book, and I am deeply honored that my work is featured alongside the greats including Kerry James Marshall, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Mickalene Thomas, and so many more.
In addition, Cooper Cafritz invited me to contribute work to the brand new monumental Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and a new version of Gold Nuggets For Us All!, a sculptural meditation on collective abundance will be installed there, hopefully overhead in the lobby/lounge area of the building's main entrance.
Just after this original post, I was devastated to learn that Peggy Cooper Cafritz passed away on February 18, 2018. She was obaatan, an Akan word that means "nursing mother", for so many artists throughout her life, a shining beacon of light and possibility. This book stands as a testament to the many artists whose studios, hearts and lives she touched. Rest in peace, dear Mother.
Thursday, February 15
"Chicago Archives + Artists Project: Interview with D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem"
Denenge, Portrait, 2017, Garfield Park Conservatory Fern Room. Photo by RJ Eldridge http://www.whoisrjel.com/
This interview with Sabrina Greig for Sixty (formerly Sixty Inches From Center), the online magazine and platform founded by Tempestt Hazel, appears as part of the Chicago Artists + Archives Project, soon to be housed at Harold Washington Public Library. Check out this excerpt and full interview available at CA+AP for an intimate look into my studio, the underpinnings of my work, and new projects on the horizon. (And yes! This interview comes out the same day as Black Panther! #WakandaForever)
Full-length interview is available here: http://
Photo: Costume from Rapunzel Revisited: An Afri-sci-fi Space Sea Siren Tale, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Photo credit: Matt Woods
Blackbox: An Afrofuturist Opus
Exhibition curated by Courtney Cintron and Sabrina Greig
SAIC Neiman Center, 37 South Wabash
April 28 - May 17
Blackbox: An Afrofuturist Opus selected as top exhibition of the week and month by:
Walk by the Lake One: Alter-Destiny 888 with D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem
Join Denenge for a ritual of release and manifestation inspired by National Black Theatre founder Barbara Ann Teer and legendary author Octavia Butler.
Due to inclement weather, this workshop has been rescheduled for Thursday, April 13 at 4:15 p.m.
Meet in front of the MacLean building, 112 S. Michigan.
The Golden Chain travels again!
Panelist, UNSETTLING THE CANON: Decentering Dominant Paradigms / Decolonizing Art Education at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, organized by Lisa Vinebaum, PhD, SAIC Professor in Fiber and Material Studies and ARTHI Affiliate in collaboration with the Flaxman Library Bibliodérive and the Dean's Office featuring visiting artists/writers Eunsong Kim and Gelare Khoshgozaran from contemptorary.org
Thursday, February 23, 2017 from 4:30-7:00 p.m.
January 26, 2017
“Pedagogy. Place. Liberation.”
Salon Session, Ethical Redevelopment
Place Lab Chicago Salon Member Article
Read article on the Place Lab “Ethical Redevelopment” principle, one of nine core areas of focus. I wrote about the connections between Afro-Futurism and pedagogy, highlighting many of my favorite works including recent presentations by SAIC students in the first “Afro-Futurism: Pathways to Black Liberation” course I offered there in Fall 2016.
A partnership between Arts + Public Life, an initiative of UChicago Arts, and the Harris School of Public Policy, Place Lab is a catalyst for mindful urban transformation and creative redevelopment led by renowned artist and University of Chicago faculty member Theaster Gates.
The Golden Chain animated film by Adebukola Bodunrin and Ezra Clayton Daniels featured as part of the Black Rebels 2017 Program of International Film Festival Rotterdam on January 31, 2017 with yours truly as the voice of future scientist Yetunde along with jazz vocals in soundtrack.
"Yetunde, the only crew member on Nigerian space station Eko, witnesses a recreation of the birth of the universe. This journey to the edge of the universe is a revisit of the Yoruba earth creation tale and a collaboration between experimental filmmaker Bodunrin and graphic novelist Daniels."
NEW YEAR 2017
Happy new year! Wishing everyone a fantastic 2017 filled with joy, love, and success!
Despite the impending U.S. apocalypse, I feel really positive about what this new "1" year has in store. Worked my way through January 1 with a project I'm so excited about but it's hush-hush right now so will reveal sneak peeks until the big reveal later this year!
July 2016 through April 2017, I will participate as a salon session member of Place Lab, the ethical redevelopment think tank at Stony Island Arts Bank in a partnership between the University of Chicago's Arts + Public Life and the Harris School of Public Policy, investigating the 9 Principles of Ethical Redevelopment rooted in the work of artist, professor, planner, developer, and Place Lab Director, Theaster Gates, Jr.
This group--comprised of local and national leaders and practitioners in design, sustainability, environmental action, social justice, architecture, and more--will meet through 2017 to share projects and develop cross-national and international networks and projects based on nine principles of ethical redevelopment.
I was a guest advisor along with Myra Greene, Tricia Van Eck, Dan Devening, and others for Mentor Meetings with participants in the FIELD/WORK Residency, Chicago Artists Coalition (CAC). It was great to connect with artists and discussing all things art+life+work! Thank you, Penny and Damon, for the invitation!
Thrilled to announce that my voice traveled to the Whitney! Adebukola Bodunrin and Ezra Claytan Daniels' The Golden Chain premiered as part of the Dreamlands film series along with a roster of amazing filmmakers in African Diaspora. I voiced future scientist Yetunde along with some jazz favorites added as part of the soundtrack/voiceover.
With/Out ¿Borders? II Conference: Post-Oppression Imaginaries and Decolonized Futures
With/Out ¿Borders? II Conference: Post-Oppression Imaginaries and Decolonized Futures
October 20-23, 2016
Conference hosted by Dr. Lisa Brock, ARCUS Center for Social Justice, Kalamazoo College, MI, featuring Adrienne Maree Brown of Octavia's Brood, Valerie Thomas, Stephanie Shonekan, and many more.
D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem
Afro-Futurism Breakout Session: "Alter-Destiny 888: Breaking the Legacy, Conjuring Futures"
Friday, October 21
We carry legacies in our DNA and stones in our wombs. Join D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem in a series of steps inspired by Sun Ra's sonic healing; National Black Theatre of Harlem founder Barbara Ann Teer's self-love and de-crudding exercises; concepts of Black futures and "Superhero Self"; and Octavia Butler's journal manifestation "So be it! See to it!", culminating in a participatory ritual performance of release.
WITH/OUT-¿BORDERS? is here! Join us tomorrow live at 9:30am! Naomi Klein's keynote address and all four plenaries will be live streamed at:
Use #KzooWOB on Twitter to follow and share all conference news and updates. [And use @DenengeTheFirst handle for any tweets connected to my conference contributions or anything you'd like me to check out.]
Our sustainable conference guide is now available on the Guidebook app.
Download the conference guide today at http://guidebook.com/g/kzoowob to preview of all the conference speakers and events.
Costume design for what the body knows
by Barak adé Soleil
October 28 & 29, 2016
Stony Island Arts Bank
Chicago Dance Foundation and 3Arts Awardee and Dorchester choreographer-in-residence dancer Barak adé Soleil presents the premiere of what the body knows. I designed and produced the costumes, joining an illustrious group of contributor/collaborators including DJ Sadie Woods who created the sound.
3Arts and 6018North present VIP: Very Important Performances
2nd Floor | 300 level
Rashayla Marie Brown discusses contracts and artistic value with lawyer Patrice Perkins and artist D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem, hosted by Tricia van Eck of 6018North in connection with Rashayla Marie Brown's installation and Thursday, September 22 Vernissage EXPO opening night performance featuring Fo Wilson and other special guest performers.
Had a wonderful weekend as a participant in the B.A.R. Black Artists Retreat hosted by Theaster Gates and Eliza Myrie at Rebuild Foundation and The Dorchester Project. It was fantastic to reconnect with friends and colleagues and to meet new artists, to build relationships and expand the network. It's been beautiful to watch this retreat--a work of art originally hosted by Carrie Mae Weems and Sarah Workneh with Myrie and Gates--shapeshift over the years.
I was invited to contribute a letter as work of art for Theaster Gates: How to Build a House Museum exhibited at Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada from July 21 - October 30, 2016.
CHICAGO ARTISTS' COALITION LAUNCH INVITATIONAL RESIDENCY
The Artists' Lifestyle
Presentation and Discussion with co-panelists Damon Locks and Matt Austin
Friday, June 24, 2016
Comfort Station, Logan Square
I am happy to announce that, through student-nomination, I am the recipient of an inaugural SAIC Diversity Advisory Group 2016 Teaching Award for Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion. This award is even more wonderful because it reflects the support and enthusiasm so many students have shown for my teaching and courses and in their unwavering commitment to social justice, to "balking at their own balking", and to the infinite possibilities of shapeshifting.
What time is it?
April 14-16, 2016
Honey Pot Performance
Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, Chicago
(Featured photo above) Abra Johnson as Wonder in headdress designed by D. Denenge Akpem, underlay textile featuring painting by Euzhan Sims, and Oracle sculptures. Photo by Lani Montreal from Honey Pot Performance facebook.
Ma(s)king Her (2015/2016) is a dance theater work addressing the absence of women of color in speculative fiction as empowered future beings and journeywomen. Aligned with AfroSurrealism and black feminist thought, this modern folktale emphasizing the urgency of creating alternative worlds and economies of value and need, particularly for women of color in a world that often subjugates their collective presence to silence and/or invisibility.
Selection Panelist for 2016 ACRE Residency Program Artists
It was a pleasure to join other esteemed panelists from Chicago and beyond to select the 2016 ACRE residents. ACRE is an incredible incubator for an international group of artists and I am proud to have been part of the selection team.
2016 Annual Midwest Art History Society Conference
Presentation of paper on the "Women of AFRICOBRA" with highlights on the work of Jae Jarrell.
On panel with Rebecca Zorach and Marissa Baker.
D. Denenge Akpem
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism
“Women of AFRICOBRA: Highlights and Reflections on Art, Motherhood, and Community”
This presentation revisits highlights from the “Women of AFRICOBRA” panel in October 2015 offered in conjunction with the course “Power to the People: Revolution and the Black Arts Movement” for the 50thAnniversary of the Black Arts Movement. Akpem will look at the artistic practices of women in this legendary collective through the lens of “process and product”, considering artistic concerns, motherhood, and visions of family in everyday life and as reflected within their work. She will consider the roles that feminism, entrepreneurship, the collective process, and Chicago as site played on the development of their work as revolutionary artists, trailblazers, and renegades.
2016 SAIC Faculty Enrichment Grant
Rock and roll! I was awarded a 2016 Faculty Enrichment Grant to support work toward my first book and toward developing the Osanyin Project!
"Afro-Futurism: Pathways to Black Liberation"
Black History Month Guest Speaker
Wilbur Wright College
City College of Chicago
Thank you to Myrna Favors, a former "Black Arts Movement" student and graduate of Columbia College, for the invitation and welcome; library faculty for organizing this event; faculty who brought classes; students who envigorated the conversation; President David Potash, PhD; and Vice President Nicole Reaves, Ed.D for the warm welcome and invitation to return.
The campus--with its historic Bertrand Goldberg spaceship-esque architecture and newly-completed modern pyramid library--was the perfect location for this talk, very inspirational. I felt as if I landed in another land within Chicago, to a welcome space of Afro-Futurist possibility.
Saturday, February 27, 2016
Thrilled to attend the Launch party for a year-long celebration and commemoration of Octavia Butler with members of the Octavia E. Butler Legacy Network and dear former-Chicago friend, classmate and artistic collaborator Stacy Goldate! Happy reunions with Erin Cristovale of Black Radical Imagination and Savannah "Savvy" Wood of Clockshop LA!
"Sculpting Space for Afro-Futurism as Methodology of Liberation: An Interview with D. Denenge Akpem" with Florence Okoye of Afrofutures UK for her series on Afro-Futurism for How We Get To Next.
Featured in article "Afrofuturism 2.0 and the Black Speculative Art Movement: Notes on a Manifesto" by Reynaldo Anderson for Afrofutures UK series at How We Get To Next. Image: The Mega-Scope, from the novel “The Princess Steel” by W.E.B Du Bois. Image credit: Stacey Robinson
So excited to announce that the first complete screening of The Golden Chain by Adebukola Bodunrin and Ezra Claytan Daniels will screen at Flaherty NYC on January 19, 2016! I provided the voice for Yetunde, the Yoruba scientist who is one of two key characters in the film, representing my first time voicing an animated character! A dream come true! Buki and Ezra are two of my favorite artists on the planet so please, any NY-based peeps, check this out!
Happy New Year of the Fire Monkey!
From my Luscious Garden to yours:
Wishing joy, love, peace, health, abundance in all forms, cash money aplenty, & dreams come true to all in 2016 and beyond!
Magnetic Electro Masquerade: An Evening of Afro Electronica Music and Afro-Futurist Cosplay
Saturday, October 31 at 10:00 p.m.
3429 W. Diversey, #208
David Boykin and Ytasha L. Womack host an evening of Afro-Futurist music and cosplay - featuring performances by Moor Mother Goddess, Julia Price, JayVe Montgomery. D. Denenge Akpem presents "La Fantaisie Ibeji", a costume-and-installation video compilation to accompany djs and dance.
Door prize for best costume
Suggested Donation $7http://elasticarts.org/event/magnetic-electro-masquerade-an-evening-of-afro-electronica-music-and-afro-futurist-cosplay_31st_oct_2015/
"Women of AFRICOBRA" Panel featuring Jae Jarrell and Carolyn Lawrence in conversation with curator Arlene Turner-Crawford
Friday, October 30, 2015
LeRoy Neiman Center, 37 S. Wabash
D. Denenge Akpem
"Wan Chuku and the Mystical Yam Farm"
Featured artist for WÁKATÍ: Time Shapes African Art
Curated by Moyo Okediji, PhD.
Oklahoma State University Museum of Art
October 2015 – February 2016
Installation and Performance Description
In Tiv, my paternal language, "wan” means child and "chuku" means little. Something or someone really small, a tiny child or baby is "chuku chuku." Tiv are also the yam farmers of Nigeria, located in the fertile farmlands of Benue State. “Wan Chuku and the Mystical Yam Farm” references being in a mystical wonderland, connecting to Amos Tutuola's book My Life in the Bush of Ghosts about a boy in colonial Nigeria who becomes lost in the mythical bush of ghosts and all of his wild adventures there. It also connects to the child in Dr. Seuss' The Lorax who is entrusted with the last truffala seed, full of all possibility of building a new, beautiful, and healthy future for the earth.
The black and white stripes for the abstract, ornamental tree forms rising from each yam mound are based on Tiv anger cloth (prounounced “ahn-gair”)--a mark of prestige that reflects Tiv loom-weaving traditions. They also reference "dazzle camouflage" used for wartime ships to confuse the enemy via optical illusion. I am not encouraging war, just the aesthetic use of this concept to create a slightly disorienting atmosphere that, along with the shifts in architectural scale.
My families have traditionally been farmers--specifically tree farmers--on both sides of the Atlantic, in the central California Dutch immigrant community and in Shangev Tiev, our home district in Tivland. Grandpa had orchards of peaches, plums, nectarines, and even walnuts and almonds as well as dairy cows, the primary economy. I remember being very small and picking strawberries with Grandma, so small we could lay between the rows of strawberry plants and see the sun dappling in between the leaves, the way the earth looked up close. Eating warm, freshly washed California strawberries—there are no words to describe what a happy experience that was. Dad has orchards of oranges, lemons, mangos, cashew, and all kinds of vegetables including groundnuts (peanuts), pineapple, beneseed (sesame seed), and of course, yams**, and my parents always enjoyed collecting new plant cuttings and trying them out at the compound.
I sculpt trees because I love their form and because they are such an important part of my heritage and reflect the concepts of growth and persistence; growing trees takes time, love, patience, and skill.
Benue State, Nigeria carries the same name as the Benue River that flows into the Niger River, emptying out into the oil-rich delta region to the south. Benue contains very fertile farmland and in the ‘70s during the heady post-independence years, it was referred to as "the breadbasket of the nation." Tiv people are, among many other skills and talents, known as yam farmers.** A yam seed or cutting is the truffala seed; in it lies all possibility. If you have not eaten pounded yam, you have not eaten (yet). Thus, the mystical world springs from the yam mounds which have been ritually oriented north-east-south-west in honor of the directions and centered with a clay pot of sculpted clay fruits, familial bounty, over which dangles precious crystal pouring down through a canopy of leaves.***
For the performance, I painted the walls using a mixture of paint and soil with abstract designs—somewhat reminiscent of dwellings, architectural spaces--referencing the style and ritual manner of the Akire mothers. Visiting curator, art historian, and artist Moyo Okediji, PhD. has done extensive study and training with the Akire painters in southern Nigeria (Yoruba) and offered this video so that I might play it over top of my live painting. The projection, slowed and ethereal, reflects their presence painting along with me.
A soft soundscape of crickets, water, Saturn’s rings, and cicadas plays softly and intermittently in the background.
*My paternal language from Benue State in southeastern Nigeria
**African yams used for poundo (fufu), not sweet potatoes
***Leaves printed from my sketches of abstract leaves
Many thanks to the amazing staff at OSUMA for assistance in bringing this installation and performance to life and to Moyo Okediji for featuring my work in this exhibition. It was an honor to include projected film footage of the Akire mothers painting as I did the live painting in the installation on opening night.