“Senses of Time: Video and Film-Based Works of Africa” will be on view at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art May 18 through Jan. 2, 2017. The exhibition features six internationally recognized African artists and examines how time is experienced and produced by the body. Bodies stand, climb, dance and dissolve in seven works of video and film art. These time-based works by Sammy Baloji, Theo Eshetu, Moataz Nasr, Berni Searle, Yinka Shonibare MBE and Sue Williamson repeat, resist and reverse the expectation that time must move relentlessly forward.

The exhibition is co-curated by Karen E. Milbourne, curator at the Museum of African Art, and Mary “Polly” Nooter Roberts, professor in the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance at UCLA. Roberts is also a consulting curator of African art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).
“Senses of Time” was co-organized by the National Museum of African Art and LACMA. The exhibition opened at LACMA in December 2015, and it can be seen by the public simultaneously in three locations once it opens at the Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., in September.

“Time is never neutral….Our hearts beat to biological time and continents drift to geological time while we set our clocks to the precision of atomic time. Time’s movements are personal, cultural and political. For the artists in this exhibition, time and time-based media become powerful devices for challenging stereotypes and addressing race, identity, government policies and faith, as well as layering riveting imagery.”
– Karen E Milbourne

Sammy Baloji, Mémoire, 2006, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, museum purchase, © Sammy Baloji
Sammy Baloji, Mémoire, 2006, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, museum purchase, © Sammy Baloji

“Senses of Time” invites viewers to consider tensions between personal and political time, ritual and technological time, and bodily and mechanical time. Through pacing, sequencing, looping, layering and mirroring, diverse perceptions of time are embodied and expressed. This focused exhibition brings together a selection of time-based works that address the role of temporality as embodied by the medium itself and as experienced and produced by the body, the senses and the choreographies of memories and identities in motion. It is composed of seven works by six artists: “About to Forget” and “A Matter of Time” by Berni Searle, “The Water” by Moataz Nasr, “Mémoire” by Sammy Baloji, “Un Ballo in Maschera” by Yinka Shonibare MBE, “There’s Something I Must Tell You” by Sue Williamson and “Brave New World I” by Theo Eshetu.

Berni Searle, About to Forget, 2005, © Berni Searle
Berni Searle, About to Forget, 2005, © Berni Searle

The exhibition explores why artists work with time, to what ends and effects, and, in particular, the manner through which artists approach the passage of time as it is experienced in the body through movement and by the sensorium. Embodied dimensions of each of these works provide visitors with vital opportunities to reflect on how diverse, contemporary African artists understand and share their senses of time.

Yinka Shonibare MBE, Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball), 2004 © Yinka Shonibare MBE
Yinka Shonibare MBE, Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball), 2004 © Yinka Shonibare MBE

Shonibare’s European ballroom dancers in sumptuous African-print cloth gowns dramatize the absurdities of political violence as history repeats itself, while Baloji envisions choreographies of memory and forgetting in the haunted ruins of postcolonial deindustrialization. Searle addresses genealogical time as ancestral family portraits are tossed by the winds and waves of generational loss, as well as the slippages and fragility of time and identity. Nasr’s work treads on personal identities distorted by the march of time, and Eshetu draws the viewer into a captivating kaleidoscopic space in which past, present and future converge.

 

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