"Senses of Time: Video and Film-Based Works of Africa” is on view at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art (NMAA) through January 2, 2017. The exhibit shows six internationally renowned African artists’ films that explore the ways that the human body experiences and produces time. Sound like an odd and intriguing concept? I thought so, too.
The exhibition is co-curated by Karen E. Milbourne, curator at the NMAA, and Mary “Polly” Nooter Roberts, professor in the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance at UCLA. Roberts also works with African art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), which partnered with the NMAA to produce this exhibition. The exhibit originally opened at LACMA in December 2015, and it will be on display for the public in 3 places once it opens at the Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., in September.
Here’s what Milbourne has to say about the exhibit:
“Time is never neutral. Our hearts beat to biological time and continents drift to geological time while we set our clocks to the precision of atomic time. Time’s movements are personal, cultural and political. For the artists in this exhibition, time and time-based media become powerful devices for challenging stereotypes and addressing race, identity, government policies and faith, as well as layering riveting imagery.”
I found it interesting to visit the exhibit with Milbourne's words in mind. In my opinion, Milbourne says here that time is constantly challenged and redefined because it manifests in infinite ways across personal, biological, cultural and political realms. Since these realms always overlap, the artists' diverse and creative approaches to their own senses of time tell powerful, personal messages that each viewer may appreciate.
The videos range from interview excerpts to completely abstract, almost apocalyptic and surreal works. For instance, Sue Williamson's "Something I Must Tell You" includes two video stills and a video projection that presents clips from interviews of six women who fought against apartheid in South Africa. Another example is Theo Eshetu's "Brave New World," a multi-media video installation that explores the relationship between ritual and technological time. His piece is a TV set positioned inside an angled box of mirrors that produce a kaleidoscopic illusion of past, present, and futuristic images converging. If you stand directly in front of it, the mirrors reflect the TV screen to make it appear as a perfect sphere. As you move to either side, you see the fractionalization of time as the images extort inward and outward.
"Senses of Time" is exhibited in a dark room. The videos vary in duration, and they simultaneously run on loop. In my opinion, the initial experience of the physical exhibit, solely viewing and hearing without trying to decipher each video's meaning, was overwhelming but captivating. After this initial impression, I found it necessary to spend a good amount of time focusing on each video and the artist's intentions.
It's worth a visit. At the exhibit's entrance, you may also pick up a brochure that explains a bit about each artist's life - something I did not touch upon in this post but that's essential to know as a fellow museumgoer. The NMAA is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. As always, admission is free.
Below are my photos of the exhibit that will hopefully spark your interest enough to visit it!
Theo Eshetu's "Brave New World"
Berni Searle's "About to Forget"
Sue Williamson's "There's Something I Must Tell You"
-Haley Moen, Summer 2016 Studio Arts Intern