*This essay was written in response to kąrî’kạchä seid’ou’s curatorial statement for Silence Between The Lines: Anagrams of Emancipated Futures exhibition organized by Ɛyɛ Contemporary Art Ghana and the College of Art, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in 2015 (Read statement here, more information on the exhibition here).
Between The Lines: Silence
I flip the title of the exhibition back on itself in order to begin my discussion of the statement “Silence is not absence!”(1) proposed by kąrî’kạchä seid’ou in his curatorial statement. seid’ou outlined three subtopics: ‘Lines and Spaces’, ‘Silence and Anagrams’ and ‘Silence is not absence!’ through which to articulate and advance this provocative ideology. Interestingly, ‘Silence is not absence!’ was left as a charged solitary stanza in the curatorial statement. The statement constitutes an aggressive, impassioned call to action, jolting our senses into awakening to begin to probe beyond what is merely ‘seen’ or ‘present’. Proceeding from the firm, non-negotiable claim, I initiate my interrogation of guerrilla curating and artistic models invented to ignite new life into its social milieu with specific reference to the working context of Ghana’s College of Art in Kumasi.
Silence is, according to the statement, a form of presence and, as such, we are compelled to begin to postulate on the question of what it could be while remaining cognizant of what it is not as the departing point of conjecture. ‘Silence is not absence!’ identifies what silence is not. If ‘not absence’ is the same as or equal to ‘presence’ then we are returned to what silence is by an overidentification and can therefore reconstitute the proposition as “Silence is presence” — the paradox reveals it to be something and not something at the same time.
seid’ou points out this double negation in terms of Lines and Spaces: to him, the spaces that exist between the lines negate the spaces occupied by their respective lines. He further imagined the silent pulses within the spaces between those lines as a second negation, summarizing thus “an entity is always self-identical with its double negation”. If silence is one thing and not another thing at the same time then it has the potentiality of becoming. Silence can be thought of as a state of existence that may, in any given moment, be in reticence (with its Latin root word reticere meaning ‘remaining silent’) and could therefore be used as a tool of resistance, albeit passive, to express its subject’s political will: an ethic exemplified by Bartleby(2).
seid’ou re-examined the Sankɔfa legend in his curatorial statement. He contextualized the spirit emerging from the Kumasi College of Art through a deliberate misreading of this legend and made his new reading through ‘Silence and Anagrams’ by duplicating the image of the lone Sankɔfa bird which twists its head backward. In Akan mythology, the lone bird standing and looking backward privileges a direction from which to look away but in his new [mis]reading, the two birds, facing their respective realities and looking backward in a common direction (and not necessarily at each other), counter the principles of non-contradiction with a dialectic which accommodates the double negation. The dialectic makes it possible for the two birds (if perceived as opposing entities) to exist side-by-side. The two birds, by this gesture and when read through this logic, break down any form of binary opposition toward each other to necessarily invent a common future (one which is not perpetually parked in nostalgia) and a litany of possibilities is born out of the interactions between their respective, as well as collective, pasts — in short, the birds look backward not to return to a past but to unlock and activate a nonlinear destiny.
This future, as imagined by seid’ou, “is not only ontologically different from its past; it necessarily changes the fabric of the past for the negated entity already includes within it configurations of its own past.”(3) This radical idea poignantly expresses the spirit of the exhibition in the varied visions and directions of the seventeen artists who participated — seid’ou himself being one of the artists and who, notably, was the only one who had no physical work in the exhibition. That he curated and ‘exhibited’ in the way in which he did has profound implications of which I will think through below.
I have always thought it suspect for one to exhibit in their own curatorial work merely for the sake of it. For me, the curatorial project is a ‘work’ in itself, albeit theoretical, and enough of a contribution to an artist-curator collaboration for the purpose of an exhibition. However, as seid’ou has demonstrated in this exhibition, a curator may submit an additional work of theirs to an exhibition — in addition to the concepts and framework outlined in the curatorial proposal — in order to advance an ideology or perhaps intend this additional work as a counter to their own argument as stipulated in the curatorial vision. seid’ou states that ““A book which does not contain its counterbook is incomplete…” In my work, I attempt to void existing books of their counterbook… to render them incomplete and keep the promise for revolution alive. I attempt to do same about mine.”(4) His contribution functioned as a self-critical gesture moving beyond mere rhetoric into an active process of implicating oneself and diligently seeing one’s assumptions through to its logical conclusions, where ever it might lead.
seid’ou curated an exhibition of sixteen artists. An exhibition that expatiates a compulsion to interrogate the silences between lines. He contributes no physical work to the exhibition but is named as a participating artist. He leaves out a blank body of text under the heading ‘Silence is not absence!’ in his curatorial statement. If the silent pulses within the spaces between the lines are the locations for questioning, interrogation, manipulation and effecting change, then he consistently and coherently articulated this ideal throughout his curatorial project. By being a curator and an artist in the same show (without a work per se) seid’ou, to my mind, became that silent pulse within the exhibition: the pulse that kept the promise of revolution alive; the counterbook to his own book.
This state of becoming or of the precariously un-defined typifies the revolutionary ideology proposed by seid’ou for this exhibition. Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, in his seminal book Consciencism (1964), outlined that “a revolutionary ideology seeks to introduce a new social system. […] A revolutionary ideology is not merely negative. It is not mere conceptual refutation of a dying social order, but a positive creative theory, the guiding light of the emerging social order”(5). If there is the prospect of becoming, as earlier stated, then there is the possibility of change; of regeneration; in short, becoming presents potentialities. Nkrumah, who similarly infused a dialectical evolution in his deeply materialist ideology philosophical consciencism, noted that “becoming is a tension, and being is the child of that tension of opposed forces and tendencies.”(6)
Therefore to eternally nurture the promise of revolution in art we must cultivate a fitting disposition: to interrogate the nuances within the spaces between the lines that be, perhaps by acquiring what Irit Rogoff terms “the jaundiced eye or the critical eye”.(7)
The spirit of revolt is birthed not outside the social orders it seeks to counter but from within it. In the same way, the silent pulses within the spaces between the lines ought to be relentlessly interrogated in order to realize a new paradigm; a new future. This is the ethos of the “New Contemporary” emerging from the College of Art in Kumasi.
Kwasi Ohene-Ayeh (2015)
1 The phrase is culled from kąrî’kạchä seid’ou’s curatorial statement for Silence Between The Lines: Anagrams of Emancipated Futures exhibition held at Ahenema Kokoben from 20-23 February, 2015. seid’ou, the Artistic Director for the exhibition, is a philosopher and lecturer at the Kumasi College of Art.
2 Herman Melville. Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street (Kindle Locations 544-545). Bartleby the clerk, whose strange willfulness to refuse — even to his death, always insisting “I prefer not to”— led him to be described as “the silent man”.
3 See seid’ou’s curatorial statement.
4 seid’ou references Jorge Luis Borges in relation to his work in his paper titled Égaliberté. My Art Practice As Revolutionary Gesture presented at the OFKOB International Artists’ Residency in the capacity of a Visiting Critic at Pope John Paul II Formation/Training Centre, Ofoase Kokobeng. Kumasi, 25th July, 2014.
5 Kwame Nkrumah, Consciencism: Philosophy and Ideology for Decolonization, Panaf Books Ltd, 1964, p. 34 – 42
6 ibid, p. 103
7 Irit Rogoff in Terra Infirma: Geography’s Visual Culture, Routledge, 2000. p.32