Sunday, February 18, 2018

John Akomfrah: Precarity at the Ogden Museum; Odili Donald Odita: 15 Flag Installations (P.4)

New Orleans is often described as “mysterious,” but much of that may have to do with the mystery surrounding some of its most influential figures. The sudden rise to fame of Charles “Buddy” Bolden, the legendary “inventor” of jazz, whose supersonic wailing cornet blasted him out of the Storeyville bordellos and into the limelight as Nola's most popular musician was even more suddenly cut short in 1907 when he was, at age 30, institutionalized for schizophrenia.

He left only a few old photos and many vivid legends as his legacy. Despite that dearth of detail, John Akomfrah’s Precarity three-screen video is often cited as one of P.4's most emblematic works for the way it evokes Bolden's brief presence among us by immersing us in the sights and sounds of his New Orleans as he wanders amid vivid figures in period garb in scenes interwoven with vintage images of his old riverside haunts and modern views of the city. Accompanied by a ghostly voice-over based on his fragmented ruminations, Precarity functions as an extraordinary example of intuitive time travel by Akomfrah, the Ghana-born, London-based winner of Britain's 2017 Artes Mundi Prize.

Those of us who are New Orleans natives grew up amid the legacy of the Anglo-American South's attempts to redefine our Creole heritage via laws and monuments, but Creole sensibilities were always more welcoming. In Prospect.4, Nigeria native Odili Donald Odita articulates that inclusive sensibility in the form of flags where interwoven bands of color reflect the intermingling of gravitas and buoyancy that characterize Creole values here and elsewhere. Located at 15 historically fraught sites like the spot where Homer Plessy was arrested, the school first integrated by Ruby Bridges, and the ferry to Algiers, where African slaves were held before being sold, they reflect Odita's expansive philosophy of social aesthetics –  a vision of a world where flags celebrate the contributions of all ethnicities rather than simply marking off national boundaries in an endlessly futile game of defense and conquest. ~Bookhardt / Precarity: 3-Channel Video on the Life of Buddy Bolden by John Akomfrah, Through Feb. 25, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600; Indivisible and Invincible: 15 Installations of Flags Designed by Odili Donald Odita, Through Feb 25
15 New Orleans Sites, Prospect.4, 689.6091.