the explosion will not happen today
Opening Reception: Friday, March 31 at 7 - 9 pm
the explosion will not happen today is a new solo exhibition by Kosisochukwu Nnebe that builds on the artist’s 2019 exhibition I want you to know that I am hiding something from you / since what I might be is uncontainable.
Both inspired by the opening passages of Frantz Fanon’s fifth chapter of Black Skin, White Masks, the explosion will not happen today is concerned with what happens after the ‘explosion’ that is the process of racialization – what Fanon viscerally describes as a feeling of being “burst apart”. Wanting to imagine and be part of a world in which the concept of Blackness is more than its violent origins, the exhibition re-imagines how, as Fanon describes it, “the fragments [are] put together again by another self”.
Setting the stage for a new large-scale project that Nnebe will be creating in 2024, in the explosion will not happen today, this other self that pieces the fragments back together is the shape-shifting figure of the trickster that appears in both West African and Caribbean folklore. Positioned here as a hero figure, the exhibition asks what ways of seeing, knowing and being open themselves up to us when we root ourselves in such alternative imaginaries.
Kosisochukwu Nnebe is a Nigerian-Canadian visual artist. Inspired by postcolonial theorists Frantz Fanon and Edouard Glissant, Nnebe’s practice is invested in unraveling the process of racialization and re-thinking the politics of Black visibility. Moving across installation and lens-based media, Nnebe creates works that shapeshift and transform to reveal a glimpse into new ways of seeing and understanding Blackness. Undergirding Nnebe’s practice is a desire for reconnection and dreams of otherwise Black futurities rooted in non-Western ways of knowing and being.
Exhibtion Review by Nura Ali
In Kosisochuku Nnebe's work, disembodied limbs speak not to the rupturing of Black subjectivity and fractured objecthood, but to the possibility that one's body can be made anew beyond binary registers of visuality; in line with otherwise understandings of what it means to be and be seen in this world. Her work invites us to co-fabricate a speculative cosmology that embraces the transformative potential for worlding contained within acts of reassembly and reconstitution - what she terms a ‘trickster aesthetics’. Her own arms and legs which have multiplied themselves and decentralized from the discreet borders of her fleshy body are brought together and reconfigured into interlocking, floating sculptural assemblages that allow her body to occupy space with a new and divergent form of spatiality.
These sculptural reconfigurations engage her body in a different kind of proximal relationality to itself, to the multiple ways a body is able to be situated in place, and to the plurality of one’s interactions with others. With forms that oscillate somewhere between visible and invisible, her sculptures call up and call upon an alternative mode of looking. A mode of looking capable of emolliating and expanding our ability to perceive each other’s many human variations of existence
Steel, plexiglass and mirrored versions of these multi-limbed sculptural assemblages are interspersed throughout the room. They hang suspended from the ceiling and sit in clusters on the floor. Kaleidoscopic light bouncing off the reflective surface of the limbs gives a different kind of spatial activation to how our own positionality conditions how we can see and perceive one another. These light-shifting sculptures mirror the concept of “opacity” developed by Edouard Glissant as a framework for understanding the power dynamics underlying the terms for comprehension that a monolithic white gaze sets for legibility.
Under a white supremacist logic system, comprehensibility is predicated on an erasure of any supposedly unintelligible or impenetrable cultural singularity and difference until the non-white subject is able to achieve a flattened homogeneity that, unsurprisingly, maps neatly onto whiteness. He argues that this expectation of indiscriminate and unlimited access to non-white interiority is not in the hopes of achieving a greater understanding of non-white subjectivity, but that unfettered access is employed as a tool in the service of disciplining racial difference into alignment with a singular, and wholly white, experience of the world.
Both the reflective surfaces of the sculptures and how their movement keeps shifting their vantage point, materially and spatially enact this absence of a homogenous, singular experience of the world that Glissant’s theory posits. The sculptures suspended from the ceiling in particular, with their flat, transparent and mirrored surfaces that come in and out of view as they rotate, form a direct relationship between where we are positioned in the room and what that viewpoint allows us to see. What the shifting visibility of these sculptures draws our attention to is not whether non-white subjects have a right to determine how much and to whom they grant access to their interiority, but the very notion that this right is bestowable rather than essential.
What we are able to see, understandably, colours the stories we create out of the things we perceive and is another facet of how Black subjectivity is able to remain unseeable even within its hyper-visibility. Along one wall in the gallery, we see a video work where a fictional young enslaved woman stands in a kitchen and works her way through the process of turning a cassava plant into a poison. The domestic space of the kitchen and the task that will presumably result in the death of her slave owner becomes a window into the complexly affective and intimate dimensions of racial slavery. We are presented with the question: When faced with real and immediate threats to one's life and safety, who has the right to use force to protect themselves?
The work's depiction of the ways enslaved women repurposed the agricultural products of slavery to poison their captors counters the prevailing narrative that enslaved women did not revolt or fight back against their enslavement. Despite the actions of rebellion by enslaved women being as intentionally secretive as their male counterparts, misogynoir narratives consistently erase the contributions of women to slave rebellion and cast resistance to slavery as inherently masculine, bloody, and violent. By contrast, the incipient daily acts of resistance women performed, when they could not be ignored altogether, were presented as interpersonal acts of retaliation.
The video work demonstrates another way to tell the story of where resistance can emerge from and what forms it can take. The domestic kitchen draws our attention toward how the misogynoir presumption of enslaved women’s lack of agency did not actually mean that they were not involved in abolitionist activity but that in fact, women were afforded and used a greater range of opportunities. This underestimation of their agency gave them everyday acts of refusal and resistance.
Directly across from this video work, a group of small black figures are lined up on a floating shelf. Unlike the interlocking limbs of the sculptures, these figures are bodies made up of limbs that have been fused together into arachnid-like forms with arms and legs sprouting outwards from a headless midsection. These figures are three-dimensional printed figurines of Anansi, the shapeshifting trickster god of West African mythology who was often depicted as a spider. Like the young enslaved woman in the video work, these Anansi figurines also reconstitute plants cultivated under slave economies and are constructed from a bioplastic derived from fermented plant starches such as cassava, sugar cane and corn.
In some senses, the young woman in the video and these Anansi figures can be seen to twin or mirror one another. They are both disobedient, refuse to blindly adhere to social laws, and remain ungovernable and disruptive within toxic systems. The cassava that was meant to kill one body in the video work, reaches across the room and creates another body in the Anansi figurines. Like all good change makers, the young woman and the Anansi figures do not simply adopt a counter-stance to unjust systems. Instead, they repurpose and enlist the materials and conditions that have been tethered to Black death and reorient them towards otherwise resonances that are not predicated on the foreclosure of Black futurity.
Nura Ali is a visual artist, writer and curator, living and working in Calgary, Alberta. She received a BFA in Visual Art from Emily Carr University of Art and Design, a BA in English Literature, Art History and Italian from the University of Leicester and a BA in History from Goldsmiths College, University of London. Her wide-ranging practice investigates the linguistic and cognitive scaffolding underpinning the ways in which we create meaning. Nura has shown her work across Canada and internationally, received numerous awards and grants; most recently from the Canada Council for the Arts, The Arts Canada Institute, Calgary Arts Development and the Rozsa Foundation and has taken part in various national and international residencies. When she is not curled up with a book or pottering around her garden, Nura is dreaming up ways to dismantle oppressive structures and for this reason became one of the founding members of the Vancouver Artists Labour Union; a unionised workers cooperative whose mission it is to transform labour practises in the arts sector and create fair, equitable and sustainable working conditions for artists and cultural workers.