We summarily end at one of the locations where we began a year ago to investigate area shows, exhibits, and performances that might fall within our critical tastes and thereby qualify as a “Flicker of the Week.” This preview will not pour over the current installation in question as much as its (digital) analog from the spring of 2016, but we encourage you to spend some time with it at the University of Illinois’ Krannert Art Museum, 500 E. Peabody Dr., Champaign, IL, so you may contemplate culture, place, ancestry, and the encroachment of world influences. Videos comprise the bulk of “Did You Know We Taught Them How to Dance?”, a collection of recent creations by the British-Nigerian artist and teacher Zina Saro-Wiwa, which has taken residence in the first floor East Gallery of KAM since November 17. Raised and educated in the United Kingdom and United States, Saro-Wiwa is based in Brooklyn, NY, and regularly returns to her birth country to document regional history and mythology using several media forms including photography, sculpture, audio, and projection. The artist also produces documentaries and short films in the overall drive to “map emotional landscapes.” Her focus here is on the residents of the Niger Delta, a small region in south Nigeria, and Ogoniland, a home within that region to an indigenous people numbering less than two million who have weathered human rights issues for decades, including massive oil-related pollution.
It is clear that Saro-Wiwa observes instead of screams, breathes instead of asphyxiates. The only English language can be found in her artist’s statements and little is vocalized all told, but she wields conversation with precision and the presentation otherwise speaks volumes. There is visual clarity in how she explores the resilience of her homeland’s fabric even though recovery from outside influences is long from over. Motion pieces include: Karikpo Pipeline (2015, 28 min., five-channel), a meditation on local customs, the environment, and pipeline remnants featuring three dancers in ceremonial dress; Prayer Warriors (2014-2015, 33 min., five-channel), an intense experience presented in a darkened room using five monitors hung vertically in which native spiritual leaders deliver impassioned Christian-derived sermons; Kuru’s Children (2015, 9 min., fullscreen), a collage juxtaposing the Ogoni legend of a wise but mischievous tortoise named Kuru and two young girls whose strong presence feminizes the retelling; and Niger Delta: A Documentary (2015, looped, widescreen), a deceptively static landscape of a shoreline, depicted on an enormous monitor, in which a lone and symbolic red plastic lawn chair sits in the foreground while fishermen row past in the distance, casually scooping up industrial waste from the waters instead of anything resembling nourishment for human beings or the delta itself.
Open to the public through a week from today, Saturday, March 25, “Did You Know We Taught Them How to Dance?” is the first solo show by Saro-Wiwa and a co-presentation of KAM and the Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston in Houston, Texas, curated by Amy L. Powell. Turn to the gallery’s official page of the exhibit for more information and look for a high-quality monograph – filled with essays, interviews, and “recipe-stories” reflecting the artist’s interest in food growth and consumption within the Ogoni community – at the show. All that said, “FOW” is now rewarded a rest until we decide if and when our trusty department might return to a Weblog near us. Fin, and we really mean it.
~ Jason Pankoke