February 22, 2018

Objects of African heart songs: Frontiers and Firmaments – Jude Akudinobi

Objects of African heart songs: Frontiers and Firmaments –  Jude Akudinobi

Hammerhead Ethnika’s current project titled Objects of African Heart Songs, in heightening awareness of the relationship between psychical spheres and creativity, invites expeditions away from familiar, arguably shopworn, terrains to the creative unconscious and fecund expressive fields.  This resplendent project, insofar as its subtleties gesture emblematic modes of expressions, with premiums on creative liberties, however, signals something more compelling than wistful searches, say, for essences. In imbuing concrete forms with evocative stirring of the heart and soul, the project resonates with musings on artistic realms, modes of representation, and, crucially, constellations of relationships between identities and meanings. Notably, it invites broader contemplation, too, on the tensions inherent in romanticized notions of ‘authenticity’ ‘tradition, apprehensions about ‘contamination’, and such likes.

Arguably, the project is not merely about the prerogatives of self expression; fundamentally, it is anchored in self-definition, as mirrored in the eclectic elements of each piece. In inviting explorations of the provinces, contours and visions of contemporary African creative impulses, the project juxtaposes socially committed art with unapologetic, hybrid, cosmopolitan inflections. Key, here, then, beyond the reiteration of passion as an important category in the reclamation of heritage, are, literally and figuratively, (re)construction of African furniture and their (re)positioning in eclectic spaces. These spaces, remarkably, open up critical points through which certain networks of influences are negotiated, shedding critical light on broader configurations of possibilities for ‘refurbishing’ African art, especially pieces of furniture, within fraught systems of commodification, patronage and proclivities of the ‘marketplace’.

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Insofar as furniture, however rudimentary or provisional, generally, constitutes parts of the everyday experiences, inextricable from living conditions, their settings and architectural practices, the ‘heart songs’ of the thematic framework, in their plausible spontaneity and cadences, make the ‘objects’ more tangible and vice versa. In linking the exhibition to expansive ranges and realms, the relationship between the recesses of the heart and the public, origins and representations, the poetic, esoteric, discreet elements and multilayered principles through which the objects are, very subtly, conceptualized emerge. Similarly, its sub theme, situating the postcolonial within the contentious, underscores the impetus to rethink African art and its histories, as well as boundaries between centers and peripheries.

This exhibition points to the expanding significance of awakenings and consciousness within African cultural production, and the abiding need to frame African art beyond exotic, merely decorative, props and status symbols. As such, construing ‘heart songs’ here, exclusively, in terms of the solemn or melancholic, misses the energy, circuits of introspection, social narratives, artistic grids, symbolic assets, creative verve and capitals it generates. Remarkably, while, firmly, anchored in discourses of specificity and sovereignty, the project is neither cynical nor apprehensive of cosmopolitanism. Through nuances, premised on intrinsically shifting dynamics of culture and identities, the conceptual undergirding of the works collapses myths about ostensibly unbridgeable divides between ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’.

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  • Dr. Jude Akudinobi teaches at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
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