The Cross-roads as Catalyst

By Jo Phillips

    Love token woven in cloth or ‘Kushuthara’ in Bhutanese. Director, Karma Deki combines eastern Karmic ideologies with western cinema aesthetics, to portray an endearing romance between two people and indeed two cultures, within his film ‘Kushuthara.’ Released in 2016, the film has gone on to win a number of awards such as best foreign narrative film at Laughlin international film festival. Don’t underestimate this film, it is not simply a boy meets girl love story, that is reminiscent of ‘eat, pray, love.’ but an example of the thriving Bhutanese film industry and the benefits of looking outside of your own region for inspiration and greater depth to your work. Deki’s ‘Kushuthara’ serves as an example of the great benefits of cultural synergy. It is perhaps where the best kind of Art is made, when the artist works by looking outside of their local regional and cultural influences. The art can become both educational and entertaining. This practise of being open to inspiration not confined to one place has been an enduring one, however there a multiple contemporary examples that are most definitely worth mentioning.

Within music , Four Tet’s eighth album ‘Morning/Evening’ combines his typical emotive electronics with traditional Indian instrumentals.

Our January theme of cross roads, is remarkably in tune with this way of working. The Artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby is another wonderful example. With all the anxiety one might associate with being at a cross roads, she inhabits the space with artistic elegance and power. Crosby has created an innovative form of artistry, through the cross-cultural context she works in. She is an artist working in multiple spaces at the same time. Born in Nigeria and coming to America at the age of 16 in 1999, she brings to her work the experience of possessing a sense of place both informed by her country of birth and her current home in Los Angeles. For example, Crosby has described creating a piece that features stencils of plant life she has found both in Los Angeles and Nigeria. Through bringing both American and Nigerian features of the landscape together, she produces work that forms points of contact between regional boundaries and creates a space in which cultural identity is fluid and always expanding. Akunyili Crosby’s collage work is vivid, multi layered and meticulous. She creates intensely personal works, depicting family scenes and tender moments between her husband and herself. She has gained a vast amount of international recognition and has recently been shortlisted for the future generation art prize, 2017! If you are interested in work that is rich in texture, possesses confessional elements and political edges, then Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s artistic genius will be for you.

  The notion that the cross-roads is catalyst for artists, also exists in contemporary literature, such as the work of the brilliant Teju Cole. Cole has produced a vast amount of prolific writing such as ‘Open City’, ‘Every Day is For the Thief’, ‘Blind Spot’ and a collection of essays named ‘Known and Strange Things’. He was raised in Nigeria, then moved to the United States at 17 and Cole now lives in Brooklyn. His writing is intensely focused on New York City. Within ‘Open City’, (perhaps his most widely read) Cole’s protagonist Julias describes a year in his life, living and working within the city, whilst recovering from a break-up. His protagonist is at a personal cross-roads, that one might feel after at the break down of a relationship. The novel ends up as an accumulation of details on urban life, that you and I may never have noticed. Julias’ recorded thoughts span from heartbreak, the nature of Manhattan to Nigerian culture. It takes Cole’s highly eloquent use of language and observant eye, to make ‘Open City’ a work of quiet elegance. Cole has stated that he strives for ‘the ability to always be surprised by where you are’,  similar to Akunyili’s focus and consistent use of the small details within her environment (such as stills from Nigerian pop music videos to her Aunties wedding decorations). Phillip Dodd in his bbc radio 3 interview, described Cole as ‘a man for most seasons’. Cole’s ability to turn his hand to photography, work as an art historian or essayist proves this.

 S0… these artists who work at the crossroads or write characters at personal ones, prove the contested space is in fact a rewarding one. Crosby and Cole look at the idea of belonging, home and identity and they do so in a way that proves being at the cross-roads can be an opportunity of unrestricted exploration. To listen to Phillip Dodd’s full radio interview with Teju Cole go here.



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