What is the aesthetic of the ritual?
Last October, The Showroom hosted Tahjèsè #3i / barɨŋ báchɔ́kɔrɔk #4 an immersive, multifaceted environment created by artist Em’kal Eyongakpa. Organic, electronic networks and acousmatic rhythms interwove in an evolving soundscape, in which the drumming echo of water dripping onto self-made instruments reverberated in the walls of our building, transforming it into a shrine of ancestral beliefs; a vessel of intergenerational vernacular knowledges, in which creatures in the form of entangled sculptural strands of plant fibre, low-tech wiring devices and high-tech sonic interfaces produced a mode of storytelling that, if listening closely, would have brought the visitor to another time and place.
For those willing to give it their time and soul, the work, which took shape as a conceptual art installation, constituted a space of reflection and wonder; a portal to a different realm. Drawing from mechanisms of ritualistic imaginaries and stories known to those familiar with the indigenous cultures of Southwest Cameroon, the work was an invitation to bathe one’s ears with the sonority of both the unknown and the quotidian. At a deeper level, the piece was an allure, a sort of initiation into an aesthetic experience, formulated as a space of resistance to the imminence of the present, in which something else about the self and the world could be revealed.
It was also a reminder of the futility of wars, like the one in which this area of the world has been engaged since 2017 – known to the public as the Ambazonia War or the Anglophone crisis – the lives lost, the villages looted, the anguish of communities subdued. A poignant reminder of the aftermaths of unresolved colonial divisions and borders, such as is the case of the Mungo border between former Southern Cameroons and French Cameroon after the defeat of Germany in World War One.
These histories and their consequences are a source of Eyongakpa’s artistic and aesthetic experiences; a practice that encompasses numerous preoccupations, including a questioning of cultural identity, the formulation of communal and individual agency, the recovery of indigenous sonic power and instruments, environmental awareness, and the acknowledgement of the role in our lives of what he names non-human collaborators.
This special edition of our Fortnightly Highlights follows aspects of Eyongakpa’s body of work and its evolving nature, not only as an artwork – which we follow here from his studio in Biljmer, Amsterdam, to the streets of Lagos in a recent collaboration with the Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos – but also as the formulation of a new cultural setting in the absence of institutional frameworks that could host and support his existential queries; an experimental collective space that he opens up to artists, musicians, poets and other practitioners; and most recently to azura pataku, whose work we feature in this edition.
Each Fortnightly Highlight involves a deeply collaborative process, rich in exchange and opportunities. To every one of them, our colleague Elliot Anderson brings an attentive, innovative spirit. Thank you, Elliot. This edition would not have been possible without the care and rigour that distinguishes Assistant Curator Lily Hall’s approach to curation. Our curatorial dialogue with Eyongakpa has continued since the show, and it provides the content that both the artist and Hall sign below.
Lastly, I would like to dedicate this Fortnightly Highlight to our late beloved friend, CCA Lagos Founding Director Bisi Silva, whose wisdom and labour of love felt intensely present in Eyongakpa’s kɛrakaraka #3-i / mɔ́ ntaï bɛrrɛ rendition in Lagos.
I invite you to challenge yourself into taking this journey. One that, as with all rituals, demands of us a subjective approach and a total commitment of our being. A pure embodiment.
Elvira Dyangani Ose
Director, The Showroom
Image: Em’kal Eyongakpa, kɛrakaraka #3-i / mɔ́ ntai bɛrrɛ, documentation of an inter-session at CCA Lagos Library, 30 January 2020. Courtesy of the artist, Bɔ́ Bɛtɔk and CCA Lagos. Photo: Kene Nwatu