Finally language comes....rough inspiration from Kimberli Gant's review in Art Lies of my recent exhibition at WATW. She writes, "Though Ogunji’s interweaving of ancestry and spiritualism is understated and effective, her art-historical appropriation could use some strengthening." True dat. This helped answer a question, or look at a question I've been asking myself since landing here in Abuja. Thinking about the Atlantic's place in my cosmology. Wondering how my metaphors will change, what shifts will happen in my imagination, in the world of my creativity.
What drew me to the Ife heads has something and nothing to do with art history. The power of artifacts, objects, (even people!) encased in museums has always been palpable and it is so ironic that we must come to know ourselves through artifacts. Can we? What draws me to the Ife heads is the sense of individuality in the people, not how these heads are evidence of a great civilization. That question doesn't interest me--if we are or are not, were or weren't great (that was never our question). I am interested in how these faces are portraits of individuals who navigated the world with all the vulnerabilities that I have, with all that makes us human. What is it that I want to know or need to know? That they loved as I do and had doubts and touched the earth and felt the sun against faces and couldn't get enough of the smell of rain against the dusty red roads.
The smallest gestures are so important, that is what I have been looking for, not the epic but the quiet, unseen, embodied. I realized there was nothing massive in what I longed for. A smell. Or sound.
The airport is a subtle combination of palm oil and dried fish I think. It smells like the African stores in the U.S. Familiar and specific. And emerging from the airport reminded me so much of the Dominican Republic, that sweet and smokey smell of burning trash but unending because of the Harmattan. I walked so certainly out of the baggage claim to find my cousin and waiting for her I felt so comfortable after having navigated the Santo Domingo airport so many times.
Though landing here felt strangely common, as if it had happened so many times before. It moved me, but in a slow way. My cousins love me as if they have always known me. Though people in the street call me oyinbo (white person in Yoruba; oyibo in Igbo) wherever I go, I don't feel like an outsider to this place, or even a stranger.
My cousin tells me on a daily basis how much I look like my father. And all my relatives have gaps in their teeth (i used to have one too).
I am enjoying a lovely moment of quiet as I write this, a moment without the sound of generators.
I think about something Stephen Hawking said when asked to name his hero. He said Galileo because he taught us the power of observation. It is a beautiful gift to always be able to observe, to compose with our eyes, to observe our own gestures and responses, to be present to our mistakes and awkwardness as well as voice, difference, commonalities. I love that all this is new and familiar.
Lights off again. That quiet is short-lived.