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LONDON — How do you tell a story that does not want to be told?
Artists Larry Achiampong and David Blandy address this question in Media Minerals at South London’s project space DOLPH. Indeed, the story the two artists tell is not an easy one: the history of postcolonialism and its influences on the artists’ own lives.
The exhibition features objects, music, photos, props, and other source material used in Achiampong and Blandy’s HD video Finding Fanon (2015), the first segment of a yet-to-be-released work inspired by Frantz Fanon (1925–1961), a Martinique-born intellectual who studied the psychopathology of colonization and the social consequences of decolonization.
Achiampong and Blandy’s influences for Finding Fanon are vast: from global politics and sociology to hip-hop music, science fiction, comics, and trash TV. The artists organize these materials in the form of a concept board, displayed on two walls, associating key words such as “home,” “me,” and “happiness” with personal photographs, images from magazines, and reproductions of artworks and illustrations related to the history of colonialism. These associations, personally meaningful to the artists, speak a great deal about identity and colonialism — the word “mother” leads to a portrait of American author Maya Angelou, some photographs of the artists’ own mothers, and a picture of “Women of Algiers” (1834) by French painter Eugène Delacroix. Here the idea of maternity is cleverly put in relation to the feminine, exotic imagery painted by Delacroix, casting the shadow of colonialism on Western culture.
The specter of racism, experienced from different perspectives, haunts both artists’ stories. Blandy’s grandfather taught British agricultural methods in Kenya, building a pineapple industry — a plant indigenous to South America that is featured in the exhibition as a bittersweet symbol of postcolonial politics and economic interests. As it is explained further in the script of Finding Fanon, reproduced in full at the exhibit, the growing of the fruit was a way for the British government to retain control over the local population in the 1950s and ’60s:
These pineapples would then be canned in huge factories and shipped to England. This agricultural programme, funded by the UK government, aimed to stabilize a conservative native middle class, and confirm the Mau Mau rebels as landless, in a last ditch effort to retain Kenya as a colony.
While Blandy’s grandfather did, in a way, participate in British colonialism, Achiampong’s uncle — some 40 years later — was placed in a British immigration detention center when he arrived in the UK in the early 1980s, experiencing the humiliation of being an immigrant — a trauma that the artist feels to be at the heart of his family.
Media Minerals also features a montage of the movies that inspired the artists in their creation of Finding Fanon. The montage, which mixes references like the collage-like concept board, includes footage from Spike Lee’s Bamboozled, a scene from the ’70s conspiracy thriller Parallax View, and the voiceovers of Chris Maker’s La Jetée and Sans Soleil. These multiple references work as a collection of media samples, taken from the artists’ personal histories and from our collective memory.
Media Minerals takes topics that we might perceive as outdated and shows that they aren’t at all distant, implying the need to face unsolved issues still coming from a relatively recent colonial past. Achiampong and Blandy’s story is an open conversation: their work suggests that we all are, in one way or in the other, linked to a colonial past. The exhibition highlights the fact that history is not only made by major events, but also by the small, private memories shared by everyone. In this sense the public is invited to participate in the telling of Achiampong and Blandy’s story, because the postcolonial reality and its consequences concern us all.
Larry Achiampong & David Blandy: Media Minerals continues at DOLPH (47c Streatham Hill, Streatham, London) through May 23.