Kosisochukwu Nnebe at articule, Montreal
By oualie frost
I want you to know that I am hiding something from you / since what I might be is uncontainable, the solo exhibition at articule by Nigerian-Canadian artist Kosisochukwu Nnebe, makes use of engaging installations to draw attention to the ways in which lived experience, specifically that of racialized people, helps construct one’s perception.
Large prints of seemingly abstract and densely layered red, pink, and yellow squiggles rest on opposing walls of the gallery’s first room. Between them is a simple wooden platform reminiscent of an auction block. The second room is illuminated by a LED bulb hanging from the ceiling like a tiny sun dwarfed by its planets. Suspended by clear cord and occasionally twirling languidly in their stationary orbit are disembodied limbs – photos of Black hands, feet, arms, and legs, cut to shape and printed on clear plastic. Shadows of varying hues splay across the walls and ceiling. I think of mobiles, dew on spiderwebs, and Strange Fruit. It’s beautiful, despite a sense of violence underneath.
A small corner speaker repeats declarations of Blackness: “Black is black, Black is blue, Black is brown, Black is you…”. Invisible spectators clap and cheer. The audio is evocative of Black church, racially charged political rallies, and the freedom songs of the 1960’s civil rights movement.
Nnebe communicates through layers of intentional obfuscation; offering the key to only one cipher still leaves much to interpretation. Though the prints in the first room appear abstract from the floor, upon climbing the platform and looking through the transparent red panels suspended in front of them, hidden images are revealed. On one, “I have / (been) / withheld” is written; on the other, a spider – Anansi, the cunning trickster god of Ghanaian folklore – appears. Perhaps it is the red, or the exploration of the impacts of race as a social construct on racialized bodies, but I view this work as in conversation with Carrie Mae Weems’ From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried.
Stepping onto the platform is uncomfortable and exposing. The viewer is elevated, put on display, and made visible through the large windows of the gallery storefront; yet one must do so in order to experience the works as intended. Through this, Nnebe demonstrates how positionality affects one’s worldview, one’s knowledge. To stand on the platform invokes recollections of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, connecting epigenetic threads of Black past and present. Ever since human categorization by “race” as we know it was revised to justify Africa’s colonization, the experiences of “Black” people cannot be truly be understood through non-Black lenses. This creates grounds on which Black people can find solidarity and community, but also face identity-based violence.
Visibility is a double-edged sword, especially when racialized. The more visible I feel, the more I wish to cultivate privacy. I feel the need to be excessively clear on certain fronts and intentionally evasive in others. I want you to know that I am hiding something from you / since what I might be is uncontainable embodies those conflicting experiences, especially the tug of war between visibility vs invisibility and openness vs obfuscation. Aware of these paradoxes, Kosisochukwu Nnebe is generous with visual elements and points of reflection, whilst only offering what she wishes to, with a clear sense of agency.
Kosisochukwu Nnebe: I want you to know that I am hiding something from you / since what I might be is uncontainable continues until October 28.
The gallery is accessible.
oualie frost is a casual artist, writer, and activist currently based in Tiohti:áke/Mooniyang (Montréal) whose writing centers primarily around the art and experiences of Black, mixed-Black, and other racialized people, as well as loose cultural critique. They are a former founding member of the Afros in the City media collective, with writing published on various platforms, including Akimbo, the Rozsa Foundation, and Canadian Art.