Lébé and His Articulations
Dye sublimation print on aluminum
40" x 60"
DescriptionIn the Dogon system, Lébé was a descendant of the eighth Nommo (a group of androgynous, immortal, bisexual progenitors of humanity). The oldest human of His time, He was the first to die and be buried. After His internment and at the strike of the smith’s anvil, a serpent god descended into His tomb and swallowed His body whole. The god then expelled a massive torrent of water, regurgitating Lébé’s body into colorful stones that formed the outline of His body. The joints were important focal points and represented for the Dogon the most important parts of a human being, and there was a sacred number associated with each one. Exploring a panoply of diasporic African myths (Dogon, Igbo, and African-American), I have selected four photographs from my photographic series Infinite Essence and my film Obi Mbu (The Primordial House): An Igbo Creation Myth (co-directed with Marques Redd) for the All That Glitters exhibition. In my artistic practice, I leveraged my training as an engineer to build a camera flash that only transmits ultraviolet light. I meticulously hand paint the nude bodies of Black models with fluorescent paints that only glow under ultraviolet light and photograph them in total darkness. For the fraction of a second that my shutter snaps, a transfiguration happens: the Black body is illuminated as the starry universe itself. I place these glowing bodies into tableaux that are inspired by scenes from the archive of African diasporic myth, and I print the work on aluminum sheets through a process of dye sublimation. The metal substrate connects me to a deep history of African smithing traditions embodied in figures like the Igbo bronze casters of Igbo-Ukwu and Demme Na, the mythical Dogon smiths that descended from the heavens. Obi Mbu (The Primordial House), which I co-directed with Marques Redd, is the title of the film which will be screened in the exhibition space. This film retells a West African Igbo myth, which focuses on a mysterious pillared chamber (Ozi-Obi-Chukwu) at the center of the Primordial House into which the Igbo deity Chukwu dances and where He performs a secret work that leads to the creation of the world. The film presents a 30-minute dance performance that explores the movement of two Black dancers, Corey Bourbonniere and Victoria Watford, illuminated under a backdrop of ultraviolet light. Summoning these ancestral narratives in the gallery space, my contribution to All That Glitters is a nuanced call for the revival of traditional African knowledge systems and a vibrational recalibration of Black spiritual and artistic production of the early 21st century.
About this Artist
Mikael Owunna is a queer Nigerian American multimedia artist, filmmaker, and engineer from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Exploring the intersections of visual media with engineering, optics, Blackness, and African cosmologies, his work seeks to elucidate an emancipatory vision of possibility that pushes people beyond all boundaries, restrictions, and frontiers. Owunna’s work has been exhibited across Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America and has been collected by institutions such as the Nasher Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Equal Justice Initiative; Duke University Pratt School of Engineering; and National Taiwan Museum. His work has also been featured in media ranging from the New York Times to CNN, NPR, VICE, and The Guardian. He has lectured at venues including Harvard Law School, World Press Photo (Netherlands), Tate Modern (UK), and TEDx. Owunna has published two monographs: Limitless Africans (FotoEvidence, 2019) and Cosmologies (ClampArt, 2021). Owunna’s multimedia practice includes film, and in…View Full Artist Bio