Akinola Davies’ first solo US show uses stolen artefacts to explore post-colonial African identity
Across his career, London-based photographer and filmmaker Akinola Davies – aka @crackstevens – has committed his work to the idea of asserting identity by tracing different aspects of his Nigerian roots. In 2017, he created an homage to his heritage for Kenzo, with a film shot in Nigeria, alongside photographer Ruth Ossai and stylist Ibrahim Kamara, titled Gidi Gidi Bu Ugwu Ze, (“Unity is Strength”). Earlier this year, he launched his first show, Bootleg, where he shot girls in knock-off Chanel hijabs to show how luxury and fake items are received in different contexts. Now, for his upcoming show at Washington’s Dupont Underground presented by sketchedSPACE, titled HOD, Davies turns the question towards how to reclaim African identity in the face of colonialism, through the lens of stolen artefacts and the symbolism they hold when stripped from their home.
HOD will consist of a five-screen moving image piece and flags that take over the space to address ideas around the repatriation of African artefacts. “The work places emphasis on west African and European shared histories”, explains Davies, “and the energy created from the absence of those objects in their homeland and their alienation within the new places they've found themselves over hundreds of years.” By placing African artefacts that have been removed from their roots in an art context, Davies aims to touch on the consequences and aftermath of colonialism and imperialism. “The work addresses the necessity for those in the global African diaspora to reclaim their narratives be it through actual reclamation or adding to our own mythologies.”
“The work addresses the necessity for those in the global African diaspora to reclaim their narratives be it through actual reclamation or adding to our own mythologies” – Akinola Davies
As his first solo show in the US, HOD is one of the largest works Davies has ever made. Up until now, all of Davies work has been digital and displayed as linear film, but for HOD, Davies and his team shot on 35mm to enhance the work. “Shooting on 35mm gives the image quality both a timeless quality and an emphasis on majesty within the subject matter. In terms of displaying it, I really wanted to create an experience for those who watch the film to feel fragmented but as the full body of work, so I created a 5 screen design together with Joseph Bond. The screen allows the viewer to feel as transient as possible.” HOD also signifies a shift in Davies approach to his work for it’s the first time the artist is working with physical elements, such as the flags, which extend the film physically from the screen into the gallery space.
Underlying the entire show is a message from the artist for people to understand they are entitled to claim their colonised or stolen narratives. “That is their birthright,” states Davies. “Ultimately we are dealing with ideas and the dormancy of the power within the act of reclamation. Our research and understanding of our own cultures enable us to be able to create, be it fictional or non-fictional bodies of work for our own inclusion and self-determination. HOD, in this case, is telling a story of displacement and radically alienated energies. When combined through hundreds of years of amassed metaphysical energy has summoned these custodians to arrive and reclaim what has been taken. The body of work is a metaphor for that, an interpretation through the medium of moving image of what is possible.”