Monday, 27 October 2014

ERNEST DÜKÜ | Et Dieu Crea La Pintade


Ernest Duku | Et Dieu Crea La Pintade

And God Created the Guinea Fowl

Western ideology is foreign to most parts of Africa in terms of seeing. Art in Africa is participatory, it is like the traditional religion of Voodoo/Voodou, it is the ephemeral for all to enjoy naturally in order to gain a sense of belonging. The beauty of a leaf, a tree, feathers from a bird, a footprint of an elephant on red soil or the cheetah’s majestic coat. Art is everywhere but in the West they have a vulgar way of caging and monetizing almost everything; be it their zoos, their water, light and air, even their walks to their workstations comes at a price. Western art is useless to Africa. It is alien and destined for deportation in every way. What is claimed as valuable is nonsense to most. Images on canvases, usually with factory manufactured oils or acrylics from China are then framed and heralded as Masterpieces by the academic world in their overpriced, high-walled, stuffy and archaic Institutions to which they belong. The ideas are presented perfectly, neatly framed, so too are the minds of the viewers. To the majority in Africa, these images are not seen naturally and therefore serve no purpose as Art, for at no point is there a sense of inclusion. It is more dictatorial with an unhealthy sense of superiority, often blended with a self-righteous ‘I told you so’ attitude attached. Art in Africa is a far more collective affair, a glue for a united community rather than a status symbol or a blinkered state of mind. The sense of sharing knowledge and giving the baton over to others is where Art lives but this generosity is rarely seen in the Art World. we are at a turning point in the History of African Art and never in history has there ever been a more important time to address these vital issues. In the works of Ernest Duku, Africa has a chance to show it's true strength and power.

Early 20th Century Yoruba Divination Board
To begin to understand the concepts behind the art created from the artist, Ernest Duku, we must firstly learn about the source of where these ideas originate. In appreciating the artist's cultural background will lead inevitably, to a more comprehensive undestanding of the works. The visual narrative in Duku's work makes constant reference to his African upbringing and refers to the ancient practices, which remain pivotal to rural societies within Cote D'Ivoire. Although the artist, now lives in Paris, he reaps immense solace in his faith and sacred cognitive heritage, which makes his art authentically African. The days, months and years are mapped out through a series of rituals that poignantly speak to the people living within the villages of West Africa. These indigenous practises are oral rather than scriptural and are performed outside in order to worship the grandeur of nature. Triggering the ascend of the spirits with alcoholic libation they call upon the ancestors for reassurance and wisdom.  This practise is rudimentary to most West Africans as they place so much emphasis on the ancestors. This connection to the past yields a tremendous sense of belonging. The ancestors play a vital role in the personal and collective guidance to those, here on earth, and alleviates the crippling loneliness suffered by many in the developed world. Other major aspects include magic and the extensive knowledge of traditional herbal medicines. These factors are the necessary keys to unlock the heart of the artist's past and are fundamental in appreciating his unique works of Art. In deciphering these primitive nuances we are better equipped in finding our universal humanity. To those in West Africa the role of humanity is generally seen as one of harmonising nature with the supernatural via 'divination'; this phrase comes from the Latin divinare, "to foresee, to be inspired by gods", related to divinus, the divine. In rural Africa this divination comes in the shape of a vessel, which is used in the attempt to gain insight into puzzling social challenges by way of indigenous rituals. Diviners are closely connected to the earth and the spirits that surround us and once contact has been made are then presented with a series of events, signs and omens via the supernatural world. These clairvoyant visions or prophet dreams, which are bestowed on the witch-doctors can be ambiguous but always opportune for interpretations. This process is carried out under a systematic method by which to engineer issues that are often unexplainable; what appears to be disjointed or random facets of existence can then be mentally digested with clear insight on any given problem. These acts have formal or ritualistic elements attached and are the glue that binds the community together. Sadly, these practises are dismissed by the majority in the Western world who have been made sceptics, many of whom live without faith or a deeper understanding of the importance of mysticism.

Let us call upon the ancestors to show their force here with us on earth. We maybe many but we come from even greater stock and our full force has yet to be recognised. Far too often we are standing in the shadows, nervous we are not worthy of note but in reality we are what the world is aching for..bored of seeing the utter dribble shown in the name of Modern Art.

What and who are these Saints? These are our ancestors, our great noble past...good and bad.

Let us now focus on the artwork, Et Dieu Crea La Pintade | And God Created the Guinea Fowl and discuss it's makeup...The idea of art created with a frame is unnatural for Africa. To be contained in that framework makes no sense or nonsense to the majority and Ernest is well aware of these limited he's taking his work out of the frame and making a whole new version of art in his own unique way..
Initially I thought the work was made up of polystyrene, a material used when learning how to swim and denotes that idea of travel.

That idea of water and immigration and overseas adventures...The idea of learning to float, learning to keep up with the sharks and swim with the fishes but in a good way..The idea of leaving the shallow-end and keeping afloat in the deep-end but the artist assures me that the material is his own invention. He tells me it is a mixture of paper, wood shavings and powder along with other secret materials. He blends them all together and creates a paste that is similar to the white plaster used on North African new builds. The paste is then shaped and left to harden in the sun and then once hardened Ernest then goes to work of shaping out his ideas around the mould with different coloured threds that binds the divination and holds the work together. The flashes of red in this piece denotes the sacrifice created and a Guinea Fowl is a very precious animal to give to the Gods...a prized bird indeed. The guinea fowl are a family of birds in the Galliformes order, although some authorities include the guinea fowl as a subfamily, Numidinae, of the family Phasianidae. So why the Guinea Fowl? The speckled hen...what is this bird? Where does it come from? The origins are West African and this spectatular bird is a symbol of safety in childbirth. The Guinea fowl is prized by the French…largely ignored by the British and is a bird of legend that has been used as food for thousands of years.

In the time of the Pharaohs, 2400 B.C. images of the bird were inscribed on the walls of temples and pyramids. The figure takes pride of place on the work and is the central motif and holds the work together as the major theme. Also we see the feet of the bird repeated in the artwork, which depicts luck of a fowl's foot; alongside these feet are different symbols, which are hyroglifics and Nubian signs of Ankh the symbol for eternal life and the staff beside it is to soul-catcher from Eastern and Northern Africa, so the artist pulls from the entire Continent to share his ideas within this work trying to weave a connection into a complex Continent, which is united in similar ideals of creativity, global conciousness and divinity.

Words by Joe Pollitt 2014

Thinking of Ms. Lauryn Hill and she's used a track from The SLITS. Perfect.

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