Kambui Olujimi: The Rock that Cuts the Night in Two

Kambui Olujimi: The Rock that Cuts the Night in Two

University Galleries of Illinois State University

Kambui Olujimi, Walk With Me (detail), 2015–20. Ink on paper, 11 x 14 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

September 27, 2023
Kambui Olujimi
The Rock that Cuts the Night in Two
September 28–December 10, 2023
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University Galleries of Illinois State University
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The Rock that Cuts the Night in Two features Kambui Olujimi’s expansive and diverse output, including videos, drawings, paintings, photographs, silkscreens, sculptures, installations, and textiles made by the artist from 2005 through 2023. Embedded with a sense of duration and exploration of memory, the exhibition demonstrates Olujimi’s long-term interest in both the construction and deconstruction of mythic spaces, via memories, monuments, and other forms of memorials. In the artist’s words, he “mines the collective psyche as a source of social and political commentary and brings them out of the world of the implicit. Once given gravity, weight, and shape, it becomes possible to reveal their incongruities and illusory nature.”

The exhibition includes work from multiple series, many of which were long-term projects ranging from three to ten years. By presenting these bodies of work simultaneously, it becomes possible to glean the overall weight and significance of Olujimi’s practice over the past two decades. For example, this exhibition traces the evolution of Olujimi’s research related to the history of Depression-era dance marathons in the United States. Lasting for weeks or months at a time, these marathons were described by curator José Carlos Diaz as “acts of performative desperation.” For over a decade, Olujimi has created works that explore the underlying implications of these events and examine how dance marathons embody, in his words, “endurance, defiance, and a desire to live beyond the capacities we have internalized.”

Watercolor paintings from Olujimi’s series When Monuments Fall attempt at grappling with the impact of historical monuments worldwide that were created to mythologize and perpetuate global white supremacy. The artist depicts them in various states of revision or removal; for example, a bronze equestrian statue wrapped in ropes and about to be toppled from its pedestal, or a cloth draped over the bust of a Confederate general who was also the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Small-scale ink drawings from Olujimi’s QUARANTINE series capture his reactions in real-time during the Covid-19 pandemic as he processed events such as Minneapolis’s Third Precinct on fire following George Floyd’s murder, mailboxes removed during mail-in voting for the 2020 election, and mass burials of unclaimed bodies on New York’s Hart Island. Seen three years after the events took place, the works from QUARANTINE provide an opportunity to reflect further on the urgency, grief, and unresolved questions of that period and the reverberations still felt today.

Sixty ink drawings from Olujimi’s five-year series Walk With Me sensitively memorialize the artist’s mentor and “guardian angel,” Catherine Arline. She was a beloved pillar of the community in the artist’s neighborhood when he was growing up. Begun after her death, Olujimi created the series to honor her memory and legacy and to process his own mourning. A video that includes Olujimi’s interviews with Arline is featured with other videos created since 2005.

Olujimi’s ability to weave together his personal experiences with global, and even cosmic, trajectories can be seen in Wayward North, a three-year interdisciplinary project rooted in cartography, astronomy, navigation, and storytelling. Olujimi wrote a novella, which he describes as a “mythology” that is “a mix between personal biography and historical as well as current events.” Through twelve monumental textiles, each representing one month of the year, Olujimi explores the constellations of the northern and southern hemisphere. For this exhibition—which is titled for a quote from the novella—three of the twelve textiles are on view at a time, so an entire season is visible at once. They will be switched at even intervals until all four seasons have been exhibited.

The Rock that Cuts the Night in Two is curated by Kendra Paitz. This exhibition is supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Illinois Arts Council Agency, Alice and Fannie Fell Trust, Harold K. Sage Foundation, and Illinois State University Foundation Fund. Workshops are supported by the Lori Baum and Aaron Henkelman Community Fund.

Kambui Olujimi artist lecture:
 September 28, 4–5pm
Opening reception: September 28, 5–6pm
Wayward North Reading: October 6, 7–8pm
Drop-in artmaking workshop: October 14, 12–2pm
Stop-motion animation workshop: November 10, 5:30–8pm (sign up here)
Performance by Experimental Ensemble: December 2, 2–3pm

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University Galleries of Illinois State University
September 27, 2023

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