Neil Cooper reviews Grace Ndiritu’s A Return to Normalcy: Birth of a New Museum on Scottish Art News 1.6.16

Grace Ndiritu – A Return To Normalcy: Birth of a New Museum

Reid Gallery, Reid Building, Glasgow School of Art until December 12th

“The things people think about Africa,” says the down to earth and very English sounding voice of Grace Ndiritu in her video piece, Raiders of the Lost Ark (2015), at one point, “and they never go to Africa. Fuckin’ Hell, man.”

Filmed on location at the Wusha Mikel Church in Ethiopia and the Samyeling Tibetan Monastery, Raiders of the Lost Ark’s prosaic observation sums up everything Ndiritu’s vast catalogue of film and video works, paintings, photographs and performances are about. Raised in Britain and with a Kenyan heritage, as Ndiritu bridges the shadow line of cultural assimilation, appropriation and fetishisation of the exotic, a transformative visual poetry emerges that fuses shamanic ceremonial with trash pop notions of ethnodelic glam chic and ancient future ritual.

This is made most explicit in Holotropic Breathing for the Masses (2015), a film of what in September of this year Ndiritu styled as ‘An Afro-futuristic Performance’, in which she set herself up as a high priestess overseeing a form of rebirthing of GSA’s Mackintosh Building following the recent fire that destroyed part of this most iconic of buildings.

The film is screened beside the set on which Ndiritu performed, with a circular yellow rug at its centre flanked by mock-ups of giant crystals and vividly coloured sculptural shapes. In this recreation of Ndiritu’s temple-like construction, the film itself finds her banging a drum as she attempts to conjure up the Egyptian God Osiris.

Even more hypnotic is the singing bowl-like drone composed and performed by Ndiritu that forms the soundtrack for Journey’s North: Pole to Pole (2009), a twin screen video installation in which adaptations of Native Alaskan poems by Melody Jackson are beamed alongside images of a snow-driven landscape.

With the paintings that make up Workers: Post-Hippie Pop-Abstraction (2015) exploring New Age totems co-opted by fashion victim cultural tourists and the ongoing photo-based installation, AQFM VOL.6 GLASGOW SCHOOL OF ART an ever expanding archive of multi-cultural mash-ups, this is as much a personal spiritual quest as anthropological excavation.

‘Today I am more Native than yesterday’ are the first words onscreen in Journey’s North: Pole to Pole. ‘I see I am more Native than tomorrow’ are the last in a telling meditation on how identities can shape-shift depending on where you’re at as much as where you are.

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