Opening at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center March 1st 2020.
Reception and book reading from 12 pm to 4pm
Storytelling Beyond Any Singular Form
Essay By Moses Kilolo, February 2020.
Fables have been written for many generations. The writers who created such little wonders must have hoped that a child, a young person, an adult from somewhere in the world beyond his or her knowing, would be enthralled by the words, images, experiences and the lessons their fables evoke. Some of these fables, such as ‘The Tortoise and The Hare,’ go on to become legend. They become a part of human traditions of storytelling. The journey of these fables, from language to language, culture to culture and sometimes from one medium to another, facilitates the flow of the moral and expands beyond its origin to create universality in storytelling.
Originally written in Gikuyu under the title ‘Ituĩka Rĩa Mũrũngarũ: Kana Kĩrĩa Gĩtũmaga Andũ Mathiĩ Marũngiĩ,’ Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s famous fable, ‘The Upright Revolution: Or Why Humans Walk Upright,’ is now available in 92 languages from 5 continents. Depending on how the represented cultures tell stories, this fable can be dramatized, made into a musical, or become the basis of visual translations. In these many ways, the fable finds a life of its own across nations, cultures, languages and mediums.
Jimmy Centeno curates the current exhibition as an imagination of the fable’s ability to travel from the medium of text to visual art. He brings together Latin-American artists and a Nigerian painter to a form a collective visual interpretation not witnessed before in relation to this fable. Each painter comes to the work with a different aesthetic approach and from a different artistic background. However, one is moved by the communal desire among them to stay true to the message of the story even as their interpretations vary in form, shape and color. With their different perspectives, they look at the fable from varying points of view that allow them to offer deeply felt visual interpretations.
The concept of unity runs as a single unifying thread in all the interpretations. In this, the artists want us to see that despite the chaos and human struggle to dominate, true progress can only be achieved by the human race if they are united. The fable gives this message and suggests that the strength of one part of the body, no matter how advanced, cannot be sufficient to make it exist as an independent entity. For instance, Laura Vazquez Rodriguez, in her painting, ‘Enlightened or Awakening or Rise up 20” x 20” Acrylic on canvas,’ captures the power, and powerless, of a body which when any parts are disconnected and crumbling, it cannot function. This is true of the human race, the more disconnected our cultures are, the less we can become a global force for unity, love and equality. Yaneli Delgado’s piece, which draws from the source culture, Gikuyu by focusing on water, fertility, and nature, reimagines and demonstrates the ways in which the world has a shared human heritage.
Perhaps this shared struggle for a more functional world united by the will to overcome disaster, disconnectedness, and terrible pasts is best illustrated through the contribution of Mario Avila. His creation of art is borne from his first language, much like Ngũgĩ’s. But beyond this, they are connected by a shared history that though experienced in different times and in very distant places, affected their lives in very similar ways. Both men were imprisoned by governments that did not wish for them the space to fully exists as human in the conscious manner in which they wanted. The creation of his pieces for this visual interpretation was a moment of reflection and unity of memory with Ngũgĩ. For a Jalada Africa publication, he wrote a moving letter to remember his 1967 imprisonment in Guatemala during the military junta. About 10 years in that continuum, Ngũgĩ’ would be arrested and detained by the Moi dictatorial regime in Kenya and send to the Kamĩtĩ Maximum Security Prison in Nairobi for close to a year. Beyond the fable, the visual interpretations became a process of remembering, of sharing in the continued cry for those around the world that face a similar fate.
When Jimmy Centeno first exhibited at the Jean Deleage Art Gallery, Los Angeles in May of 2019, one of his esteemed guests was Prof Ngũgĩ himself. Ngũgĩ has since severally spoken to me of how special each of the artists imaginative but very personal interpretation of the story was. To him, this work put Africa and Latin America in conversation through ‘deeply felt and carefully crafted visual interpretations in the form of paintings and sculpture.’ In this exhibition, I see a collective interpretation that says that we can imagine storytelling beyond any single form, and with incredible results that call for the unity of imagination in liberating ourselves as the human race from divisions that tie us down.