Ancient Traditions, Future Possibilities

Hausa Cloth, Nigeria.

Improvisation: Hausa Cloth, Nigeria. Courtesy Eli Leon.

"Three Sixes," 1996-97. Pieced by Rosie Lee Tompkins, Richmond, California, 1987.  Quilted by Willia Ette Graham and Johnnie Wade, Oakland, California, 1996.

“Three Sixes,” 1996-97. Pieced by Rosie Lee Tompkins, Richmond, California, 1987. Quilted by Willia Ette Graham and Johnnie Wade, Oakland, California, 1996. Courtesy Eli Leon.

“For me, the most important instrument of thought is the eye. It sees similarities before a formula has been created to identify them.” –Benoit Mandelbrot, best known as the founder of fractal geometry

When describing black techno-vernacular (coined by Rayvon Fouche) and it’s connection to STEAM learning I use the words bricolage and improvisationBricolage flourishes in the art of sub-cultures where experimentation is part of daily life, access to resources are limited, and there is a political or social drive to seek individuality (e.g. rap music, drummers’ circles, quilting bees). Ethnic quilters created a form of bricolage that would later be appropriated by corporate advertising and utilized by other artists. They wove textual and visual elements together to solidify a powerful pictorial form of public and personal meaning-making.

The use of quilts as textual sites is evident in African American quilting, where complex visual forms were wedded to both Nsibidi symbology and to natural or cultural remnants. African American quilts are historical, cultural, and religious maps, directing the way from the past to the present. These quilts enact alternate views of the world based on “polyrhythmic, ‘nonsymmetrical,’ nonlinear structures.” These quilt texts provide a rhetorical space for creating African American culture, using a shared visual code. Cheryl B. Torsney & Judy Elsley. Quilt Culture: Tracing the Pattern (pgs. 118-119).

Sanford Biggers. "Quilt #28 (detail)," 2013. Courtesy the artist and Eric Firestone Gallery.

Bricolage: Sanford Biggers. “Quilt #28 (detail),” 2013. Courtesy the artist and Eric Firestone Gallery.

El Anatsui. "Earth’s Skin," 2007. Aluminum and copper wire. Courtesy of Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. Photo by Nettrice Gaskins.

El Anatsui. “Earth’s Skin (detail),” 2007. Aluminum and copper wire. Courtesy of Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. Photo by Nettrice Gaskins.

In Who’d a Thought It: Improvisation in African-American Quiltmaking author Eli Leon explores the creativity at work in the African American (“Afro-Traditional”) quilting, and finds the distinctive quality of improvisation to be a crucial link to Black music and African aesthetic traditions in general. West African societies such as the Yoruba, the Akan and the Ibo possess musical forms that use multiple layers of rhythms. While European classical musicians developed complex harmonies of tones, West African musicians developed a complex interweaving of contrasting rhythmic patterns. The African musician strives for the occurrence of at least two different rhythms at once, and it is precisely this juxtaposition of opposing rhythms that creates the vital spark of African music. You can hear these patterns in rap music and you can see it in contemporary art. Ancient symbols and images are either subtly or explicitly embedded in artwork, or they are re-purposed in the work to suit the author’s/artist’s imaginations. Scholar Saki Mafundikwa talks about this development, as well.

African polyrhythmic symbols and music: Ituri women from the Congo.

African polyrhythmic symbols and music: Ituri women from the Congo.

What is mbè? v.1.0 by crashdburnd

Coded narrative: “What is mbè?” v.1.0 by crashdburnd

After reading these texts (visual and otherwise) and watching the film Elysium over the weekend it hit me: I’m constantly documenting more diverse ethnic techno-vernacular creative projects in a broad way. Hip-hop sits in the field with D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself culture), African American quilting and polyrhythmic sounds (drumming, sampling). This collection extends to include Diné Navajo eyeDazzlers, bar coded Mapuche textiles, and other coded, cultural narratives. Next: maybe we can get into improvisation with images, objects, math concepts, music, and coding for software, or tools that simulate or augment these practices and artworks.

Jose Pablo Cantillo (right) and Matt Damon in Columbia Pictures' "Elysium."

Jose Pablo Cantillo (right) and Matt Damon in Columbia Pictures’ “Elysium.”

Wagner Moura (left) and Matt Damon in Columbia Pictures' "Elysium."

Wagner Moura (left) and Matt Damon in Columbia Pictures’ “Elysium.”

Street DIY technology in Columbia Pictures' "Elysium."

Street DIY technology in Columbia Pictures’ “Elysium.”

Can you see it now?

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