Glodi Bahati at TakeHome BIPOC Arts House
By Chukwudubem Ukaigwe
Within Otherness is an intimate invitation into Glodi Bahati’s journal. The dreamlike exhibition, guest curated by Mahlet Cuff, is the second gallery presentation at TakeHome BIPOC Arts House. The space has been taken over by photographic installations within the setting of a bedroom where the viewer is optically plunged into an illusion created by controlled and dimmed spotlights that are directed at photographs suspended in air. In this vast and tuned darkness, one is confronted by the moonlit florescence of images strategically spread out to morph into the temperament of the architecture as well as orchestrate movement through the gallery.
On restless spokes of porcupine Quills.
On front porch, lay me stretched.
Bahati attacks the poignant feeling of loneliness from various personal and theoretical positions in intersection with prevalent themes of contemporary art. The concept of this show was harvested from the artist’s life experiences, particularly as a response to the encompassing loneliness she felt during the COVID 19 pandemic. Her concerns exceed social restrictions, although the pandemic certainly exacerbated her despondency. With the slowing down of conventional time in relation to production, she was made to face herself fully and contend with suppressed feelings. The extra time also provided the clarity needed to ruminate on the underlying causes of this wall of loneliness that was closing in on her.
The vibrantly lit figures within the photographs wade through vast black backgrounds void of props. In some photographs, the fully adorned and ornamented subject acknowledges the presence of the camera and engages with it; in others, she is caught unaware, floating within the overwhelming emptiness of a bare field. Bahati employs studio lighting as well as shutter speed adjustments to achieve a blurring effect that suggests movement: the photographs come alive and can be perceived as paused sequences in-between action. The fully made bed amongst other bedroom paraphernalia recalls Tracey Emin’s My Bed. Just like Bahati’s exhibition, Emin’s work was inspired by an acutely depressive phase of her life, where she stayed in her bed for days, turning to alcohol and sex to cope with her emotional breakdown. The bed served as an indexical documentary of her psychological decay.
I will spin these vessels until they are spun’,
I will seize all my grudges in an envelope –
mail them to myself.
In 2020 Bahati showed her first comprehensive body of work titled Girl’s Night in the group exhibition Embodied: They Hold Their Own alongside paintings by Brazilian Canadian artist Bria Fernandez. These photographs were stringently contradictory to her present work. They explored the joys and beauties of friendship and companionship, carrying visual weights parallel to the photographs of African American artist Mickalene Thomas, as they depicted colourfully dressed young Black women intimately basking in camaraderie, filled with bubbly joy, and surrounded by a confident saturation of flamboyance. The absurdity of this contradiction will push anyone to ask why an artist who comes from a large family and enjoys the fellowship of cool girlfriends would feel lonely, but we come to understand loneliness is a nuanced phenomenon that supersedes being alone.
Born in 2000 to cleric parents, Bahati is the youngest of eight siblings. At the age of two, she fled Bukavu, Congo to Kampala, Uganda with her family, where she lived for ten years before immigrating to Winnipeg under a refugee status. Over the years, she and her entire family have been able to pursue entrepreneurial aspirations in diverse fields so as to plant themselves successfully in Canada. Immigrants often find themselves sacrificing genuine connection to place and people in pursuit of stability, but create isolated communities of fellow immigrants for emotional support, amongst other reasons. Revisiting Girl’s Night, most of the women portrayed are Canadian by birth, although they are all of African descent. Perhaps Bahati feels more disconnected to some of the foundational ideologies that are familiar to the other ladies? Perhaps she is swept by a flood of cultural nostalgia that is concomitant with her unplanned displacement during her youthful years? Could there be shades to othering? Is it probable that some of the girls in Girl’s Night were also undergoing versions of loneliness? Familial? Romantic? Geographic? Seasonal? Financial?
In Within Otherness Bahati successfully conveys this difference and uniqueness of experiences with coloured light. Using monochromatic blues, reds and greens, that recall Carrie Mae Weems’ Untitled (Coloured People Grid), she is able to simulate a spectrum of probable circumstances. Weems employed Chromatic tones to subvert monolithic notions of identity, therefore opening the floodgates for a more expansive way of approaching portraiture. Bahati is able to use colour to complicate the idea of loneliness into shades, giving way to interpretations that are public and at the same time private.
Collect the slippery storm in raffia baskets.
Who needs strobe lights to return to Ithaca?
Within Otherness is a solemn act of self-scrutiny and self-understanding. The show takes an interesting spin on self-portraiture as the artist comes out of herself to study herself. The person depicted is not the artist; rather, she simulates the character of the artist. Bahati’s friend Candance becomes a visual narrative medium of what the artist underwent. This out-of-body study is employed extensively by African American photographer Lorna Simpson. In her bodies of work Five Day Forecast, Time Piece, Bio, and She, Simpson employs the repetition of a singular muse, framing, and text to make symbolic self-studies pertaining to gender, identity, and so on. Taking a few steps back to have a better and more complete view of things is certainly an efficient method for genuine study. Bahati escorts herself into this lonely putrescence, holding up a censer as her own acolyte.
Drift in our waters towards a plausible mirage of shore
Chukwudubem Ukaigwe is a Nigerian born song, dispersed by a transient Atlantic breeze, currently passing through Canada. He consciously uses a variety of mediums to relay a plurality of ideas at any given time. He approaches his art practice as a conversation, or a portal into one, and in some instances, as an interpretation of this ongoing exchange. He operates as an interdisciplinary artist, curator, writer, and cultural worker, and is a founding member of Patterns Collective.