Mare Monstrum by Austrian-Nigerian artist David Uzochukwu powerfully reclaims the realm of fantasy and fable for black our bodies. In visualising a world populated by Black merfolk, Uzochukwu constructed a visible philosophical treatise on otherness, the place the alienness is well known, as critic Ekow Eshun observes, “as pure empowerment“.
The title refers additionally to the Mediterranean sea, and to the dehumanizing approach migrants have been portrayed by media and politics for too lengthy, and likewise to the connection between the African diaspora with water. In his photographs, Uzochukwu seamlessly merges totally different worlds, aquatic and terrestrial, pure and supernatural, making a group of highly effective hybrid creatures that beam with freedom, bravery and dignity. Right here is our Q&A with the artist.
How did you select images as your main creative language?
I stumbled into it – already being fascinated by gathering, sketching, and dancing, all it took was a crush being into images to push me over the sting. It was a satisfying course of as a result of it was comparatively simple, and considerably mixed my earlier pursuits, whereas drawing upon the world round me.
Do you assume images is a common language?
I used to assume so, I don’t anymore. Visuals do appear rather more accessible than written or spoken languages. However images at all times emerges from a particular context, a selected standpoint, and though these nuances and codes would possibly typically be more durable to select in visuals than in language, images is inherently biased. In a approach, that’s what makes it enticing – a option to share one’s view of the world, actually. The route of our gaze, what we have a look at and what we don’t, it’s so deeply influenced by what we deem fascinating, what we all know how you can see, and contains emotional, political, cultural codes, nuances, presuppositions far past what the photographer would possibly intend to point out. What makes images work is that it transcends the literal, and I can’t anticipate the method of translation from picture to conclusion to at all times occur in the identical approach for everybody.
What’s the primary picture that struck you and why?
I don’t keep in mind what the very first picture was. I did discover Laura Zalenga’s self portraits early on, I keep in mind one specifically. From underwater: a girl dives right into a concrete pool. Her head is thrown again, arms prolonged as if in flight. It charges actually courageous, daring, and susceptible – the dimensions of it, the clear function of the determine delving deeper into this scientific, sterile nicely. Solely after a break up second, I notice that the picture is turned the wrong way up. Solely a sliver of water covers the bottom, the individual is dancing within the house – and the pictures magic isn’t damaged, simply prolonged.
You studied philosophy and are curious about biology – how do these disciplines affect your creative follow?
I’m actually drawn to ethics, and really feel like I’m doing primary floor work of questioning instinct till it’s logically sound. What do I take with no consideration, and why? What to do in moments the place my instinct fails me? What kind of argumentation evokes ideas which may really do hurt in the long term? Realizing that the physique and our notion of it’s not ahistoric, studying about other ways during which it’s biologically and culturally interconnected with others – this may proceed to drip down into my work. I’ve begun pondering extra in regards to the relationship between individuals and landscapes in it, about anthropocentrism. Do I strategy nature as stage, is there a option to visually depict the human as one acutely aware a part of the universe? What are the risks of evoking photographs of an untouched nature, of wilderness – significantly when entangling them with Blackness? Can I draw parallels between the vulnerability and energy of bigger ecosystems and the ecosystem that’s the human physique?
How essential is the storytelling/narrative side in your photographs?
I’ve at all times been single picture oriented, making an attempt to construct one massive world with countless summary sides moderately than focussing on coherency. I’ve been having fun with that images doesn’t want a earlier than or after to perform. However it’s fascinating to be taught extra about letting one picture spill into the subsequent, to determine new balances between the express and the implicit, be it by means of sequencing or the aim I really feel a single picture should fulfil.
How do Austrian and Nigerian cultures affect your creativity?
I largely grew up away from each as social circles, having at all times lived in Europe, and away from Austria since I used to be six. I do discover it inspiring to consider my ancestors of their respective villages, continents aside, and the similarities and variations of their historical past, social practices, world views, even when it’s only to proceed to grasp my dad and mom and myself higher.
Within the stability between fantasy and actuality the place do you place your artwork?
Up to now into fantasy that it finally ends up being actual once more.
How did you develop the idea behind Mare Monstrum?
My fascination with merpeople dates again to my first Barbie. The characters from my first selfportraits with webbed fingers and fins felt too lonely, one way or the other, I needed to construct them a group.
Are you able to broaden on the that means of the title and the way you selected it?
It references „mare nostrum“, the Mediterranean Sea. I made the primary photographs round 2016, individuals arriving at European shores round that point had been perceived as if they’d gone by means of a monstrous baptism that conveniently stripped them of their relatability.
How does it cope with tradition, identification and historical past?
Telling a narrative of Black merfolk who carve out a house someplace between shore and the depths of the ocean, letting Black our bodies shift and develop into new types felt like highlighting their energy and group whereas asking: What tales are spun round them and by whom, in what moments are they seen as fantastical or scary? How can these sentiments be claimed by us? In gentle of the continued humanitarian disaster on the European coast, fantasizing about tangible means to bend water additionally took on a considerably bitter contact. European governments let and make individuals die within the sea if they aren’t white, and the lens that blurs clear sight of humanity is fastidiously polished daily. After making the primary photographs, I learnt extra about techno-duo Drexciya from Detroit. Certainly one of their album ideas requested – might the pregnant ladies thrown overboard throughout the Center Passage have given beginning to infants that by no means wanted air?
What would you prefer it to convey to the viewer?
For Black viewers, I needed to forge a connection between water and Black our bodies that felt like new lore, like a blessing, a second of distraction no less than. I might love for them to think about themselves driving a heat present with family members, gentle glistening on scales and mushy buzzing of their ears.