Barakat Seoul is proud to present Nkisi Nkondi Blolo pombilele: The Arrival of the Gods, an exhibition from Tuesday, July 10 to Sunday, August 12, 2018, featuring works of African sculpture produced by minority tribes in the 19th and 20th centuries. Barakat’s African sculpture collection consists mainly of ceremonial pieces produced in the 19th and 20th centuries by various minority ethnic groups. The Barakat collection is of great value in the way it reveals the distinctive uniqueness of these African tribes. Africans believed figure statues in particular to harbor the power to communicate with spirits. To emphasize that power, they would often use different formative languages shared by individual tribes to stress particular parts of the body, including the head, mouth, stomach, and genitals.
The exhibition’s title Nkisi Nkondi Blolo pombilele comes from a combination of languages spoken by minority African tribes. Each of the words holds a meaning collected to sorcery or the spiritual world. Nkisi is a Congolese word referring to a form of magic or sorcery. The nkisi nkondi is a form of magic doll produced by tribes of the Congo basin, which functioned to ward off evil and protect the tribe from vicious energy. Blolo comes the language spoken by the Baoulé people of Côte d’Ivoire, referring both to the home of their ancestors and the spiritual world. Pombilele comes from the language of the Senufo people and means “giver of life”; traditionally, it has been used to refer to the man and women who were the first human beings and the progenitors of all humankind.
Each of the roughly 3,000 tribes living in Africa today has established its own unique indigenous culture as a result of its geographical environment, ethnicity, immigration, and wars. The pieces in Barakat Seoul’s African sculpture collection represent spirits harboring the people’s hopes for the future; through them, we can reach inferences about Africa’s unique cultures and their mixtures of daily life, faith, imagination, and desire. The artworks are based on a world in which the boundary between the sacred and profane has collapsed and the experiences through such circumstance. In addition to items from the African sculpture collection, the exhibition also features the video The Arrival of the Gods, in which they appear as “gods” in a virtual reality of future set against a backdrop of urban civilization.
In the video the Arrival of the Gods, works of African sculpture from the 19th and 20th centuries are positioned in an imaginary realm alternating between the real and fictional worlds. It is a kind of “time slip,” in which spirits containing the future wishes of African tribal peoples in the past are summoned into an imaginary space. Modern society, with its frequent realization of virtual realities, is based in software that is lightweight and fluid. These phenomena are worth re-examination today—a time when we have passed through the era of clear divisions between “real” and “unreal” to reach a present in which all realms of fluid and “liquefied.” The rate of digital information exchange today is light-speed travel of around 300,000 km per second—fast enough to circle the Earth seven-and-a-half times in a single second. It is a world where individuals can travel “instantaneously” from “here” to “somewhere” far away. Modern technology is thus broadening spatial and temporal experience into the dimension of everyday life. The video starts with the assumption that as the sculptures containing all the beliefs of Africa’s people become utterly liberated and lightened, they will be reborn as free deities unbound by any constraints, reigning over unpredictable situations.
Having transcended space and time and begun their journey to an unfamiliar place, the gods move at the speed of light over the planet Earth—home of humanity, a place of good and bad people of all ethnicities, a place where joy coexists with despair and sadness, a place where an endless cycle of flourishing and collapse repeats itself—before arriving eventually in Seoul. The video may be set in Seoul, but the landscapes of deserts and ruins that appear in it are 3D game engines that do not exist in the real world. There, the African gods confront a forest of high-rise buildings erected ceaselessly in the name of “development,” along with the symbolic ruins and desolate landscapes of civilizations in decline. Appearing in large and small forms over apocalyptic landscapes, the gods sometimes stand or slowly shuffle like figures in a crowd scene. Other times, they approach so quickly that they seem like they might attack the viewer. The gods stand blankly taking in the wasteland. A broad expanse of solitude, as long as the shadows cast over the ruins, alludes the way the prosperity human beings so desperately seek can vanish like a dream. Situated in the exhibition space, the African sculptures must look on at the video showing their “arrival” as gods. With its layering of perspectives, the situation heightens the sense of tension.
Representing distinctive esthetics and contemporary tribal culture, the pieces in Barakat Seoul’s African sculpture collection are important works that visually suggest the unique ways in which the human beings of different areas have formed relationships with the world. As an exhibition, Nkisi Nkondi Blolo pombilele: The Arrival of the Gods is an attempt to broaden horizons in terms of interpreting and contemplating the artwork by situating Barakat’s African sculpture collection within the “digital space” that has established itself one of the chief forms of culture today. The spaces are used mainly as virtual open source software for film production, and the African sculpture that arrive like gods within them gradually and unknowingly form relationships with the strange settings.
The exhibition, Nkisi Nkondi Blolo pombilele: The Arrival of the Gods will be an opportunity to imagine moments of collapse in the real-world boundaries that have constrained human beings, as well as new landscapes to be drawn for the future. Hopefully it will be an occasion for fundamental reflection on the interactions of humanity and life and the process of thinking.