Translation, Transformation, Transition:
Williams translates and transforms creative theory, process, and practice expressed in African Trans-Atlantic Diasporic arts; whether physical, in rhythmically embodied movement, visual, musical, lyrical, or spiritual; with views toward both documenting and developing artistic and architectural language in the design of object, space, and place.
“Ayiti est á la Croissé des Chemins: Les Projets Nouveaux”
October 2010 – December 2011
This details of this 68 panel collage was presented at CCADI and MoCADA’s “Reimaging Haiti: Le Projet Nouveau” January – May 2011;
as well as at the United Nations, Celebrating the United Nations General Assembly proclamation of the year 2011 as the International Year of People of African Descent.
This ar(t)chitectural exploration of race, place, and spiritually charged space re-imagines Haiti in a series of 68 mixed media collages exploring revolution, re-birth, and re-creation (collage, pencil line, and paint).
This investigation begins with the design of space and place created by translating and transforming conceptions of Papa Legba and Yoru-Dahomey-Kongo creative expression. Architecturally, they are signified, sampled and layered, syncopated and repeated. Spaces are brought to life through the combination of recycled, repurposed, re-mixed materials, objects and images in sliding layers.
At its modular base, an initial, conceptual house for Legba was designed in programmatic, structural and spatial rhythms of three, his sacred number and rhythm. These spaces were organized linearly, in recognition of Legba’s frequent phallic representations. Reflective of Legba’s spiritually charged, infinite powers of transformation, the house is designed to morph in self-remix; able to shift in size and shape, to be open or closed; by incorporating multi-layered combinations of sliding and levered panels of varying structure and opacity. The architecturally transformative ability also facilitates multiple programs, including site specific multi-generational homes, neighborhoods and communities. The spaces are designed to direct family friends, inform or redirect the community, or, reflecting the spirit’s powers of protection, misdirect intrusions of harmful forces, both natural and man-made.
The sacred spaces, places, and objects are elevated and buried, wrapped and hung. They are sited standing guard at the crossroads, the threshold of translation, transformation, and transition. When multiplied, they form all paths and ways. Multi-layered polyrhythmic graphite pencil lines shimmer, illuminating analytical spiritual and spatial lines of spiritual connection, to embody the multi-layered Yoru-Dahomey-Kongo concepts of linear and cyclical time and cosmograms, while encoding the activation of reinterpreted spatial-spiritual signatures/ Vèvès nouveaux.
Bèl nègès tout an blan, (de pijon, de toutrel)
Bel hounsi inosan, Ti nègès ren chantrèl,
Pla men ‘w se oun vèvè, Kote tout liny kontre:
Liny tèr kwaze liny ke, Liny fos fonn ak liny chans.
Plan men’w se oun vèvè, Kot lavi pa gen bout,
kot syel ak te fe youn, Kot lespri tounen moun
Pla men’w se oun vèvè, Lanmou san desepsyon,
Kot tou sa…Tounen jwenn direksyon.
Black woman, all in white, (dove of love, dove of peace)
Ounsi of innocence, Beautiful queen of songs,
Your palm is a vèvè, A point where all lines touch:
Where the lines from the mind, Meet the lines from the heart,
And the lines of courage, cross those of destiny.
Your palm is a vèvè, Where life is limitless,
Heaven and earth are one, The spirits are human.
Your palm is a vèvè, Of the most faithful love,
A place where all…souls can find new directions.
“Translations: Baile Yorukongo Palenke 1”
May 2010 - October 2011
“Translations: Baile Yorukongo Palenke 1,” first presented at the Art in Translation International Conference on Language and the Arts, May 2010, Reykjavík, Iceland, was next installed as part of Translation is Dialogue at the "Culture in Mediation: Total Translation, Complementary Perspectives" in honor of Peeter Torop's 60th birthday at the University of Tartu, Tartu, Estonia, November 2010. “Translations: Baile Yorukongo Palenke 1,” was next exhibited in book form with the first installation of the collage 22 panel series “Translations: Baile Yorukongo Palenke 2” during the Translation is Dialogue workshop and exhibition in Brooklyn, New York. In October of 2011, “Translations: Baile Yorukongo Palenke 1,” was then presented by Adrienne Wheeler Gallery’s “ A Resolution, An Exhibition during the Newark Arts Council (NAC)’s 10th Anniversary Open Doors Studio Tours Celebrating the United Nations General Assembly proclamation of the year 2011 as the International Year of People of African Descent.
Curator and Semiotician, Arlene Tucker states “…Translation is Dialogue and it allows transcendence of oneself to another. Regardless of the situation happening organically or consciously it is bound to the subjective state of the translator, yet it is through such discourse where truth or realization is found.”
The title of the piece, Translations: Baile Yorukongo Palenke is a multi-voiced reference to the Black Atlantic experience depicted. ‘Baile’ is Spanish for dance, as the series is a translation of Colombian Alejandra Pineda’s verbal description of a piece of music and her corresponding choreography. ‘Yorukongo’ is an invented combination representing Black Atlantic West and Central African cultural and spiritual expressions of the Yoruba and Kongo. Within the collage, one can find many languages of the Americas as well as Yoruba and Ki-kongo. Palenke (Palenque) is a Spanish term used to describe the historic settlements where escaped slaves often re-established their traditional social, cultural, and spiritual lives. Noted throughout the Americas, they include San Basilio de Palenque in Colombia, Villa Mella’s Brotherhood of the Congos of the Holy Spirit in the Dominican Republic, Mexico’s Yanga, Puerto Rico’s Loiza, Maroon settlements in Jamaica, King Zumbi of the Palmares in Brazil, the Maroons of the Guyanas, and the numerous Garifuna settlements in Central America. Many of these communities still remain, though most have evolved over time.
Pineda describes her choreography as an investigation of circular time in which her dancer(s) move through a space of confinement to a tree by the sea, and finally to an empty silent space.
In “Baile Yorukongo Palenke,” Williams translated Pineda’s choreography into an 84-panel collage series. Through visual sampling, layering and repeating, the collage investigates Black Atlantic culture, theory, and spirituality. “Baile Yorukongo Palenke” explores and contrasts traditional Yoruba and Kongo diasporic representations of spirituality and cosmology and linear and cyclical time. Polyrhythmic lines reveal both conceptual spatial analysis and spiritual connectivity, which then inform new constructs within the collages.
In the first stage, Pineda focuses on the life force, the pulsing movement of blood within the dancer’s body. Evolving feelings correspond with increasing movements of the dancer’s body and changes of light, as the dancer, captured within a space, can only return to her past location through memory.
In the collage “Baile Yorukongo Palenke,” Williams connects Pineda’s vivid description of the pulsing blood to the integral respect and veneration for all life forces in traditional Black Atlantic Spirituality. This first stage can reference the first stage of life in the womb. In Kongo spirituality, birth is the first of four cyclical moments of the soul (sun), which are birth, full development into adulthood, then decreasing development in old age, followed by death and (re)birth. In Yoruba spirituality, birth is the beginning of a linear eternal path. Another reading of the first stage references the Mid-Atlantic Slave trade or Middle Passage, and the captured slave’s journey to the New World. The slave can only return to Africa through memory.
These concepts are ar(t)chitecturally translated; collaged into polyrhythmic multi-voiced, multi-layered inhabitable structures and spaces. The early collages are mounted in layers of paper, pencil, and paint on a newsprint base, which was selected as a reference to the documentation of changes in time. The Baile Yorukongo Palenke collage series can be read as a cultural, spiritual newspaper, simultaneously documenting and archiving visual evolutions. Read linearly, the imagery travels backwards and forwards, cyclically, and in layered juxtapositions compressing time and space elements of the African Diasporic experience.
Pineda describes the second stage of her choreography as a dancer embracing a central tree. The dancer or dancers hang from the branches of the tree and bodies slide into moments of silence in which the body understands the sounds and movements of the sea only through memory.
In “Baile Yorukongo Palenke,” Williams interprets the second stage, on one level, as a lynching. The dancers hanging from trees, sliding in and out of silence, speak to the horrors endured by Africans throughout the Americas. This reading is then layered in contrast with elements of traditional Kongo spirituality, Palo Monte Mayombe (literally tree/stick of the forest), in which the forest is viewed as the place of the spirits and of healing, and sticks and branches enliven spiritual objects. For the Yoruba, Osain, the healer is one of the spirits of the forest. The forest is also the domain of the fierce protective warriors Elegua, Ogun, and Ochosi, all of whom are celebrated in different forms throughout the Black Atlantic. Powerful symbols of eternal life, trees were historically planted at graves, representing the continuing journey of the soul.
The mention of the sea is also relevant in Kongo spirituality to mark the transition between physical life and death. The Kalunga line, understood as the threshold between life and death, is represented in images of the Kongo cosmogram as a horizontal line bisecting a circle. Above the line is the realm of the living, below, the spirit realm. The Mpungu, or spirit Kalunga, like the Yoruba spirit Yemaya, rules the sea. Both are understood to have protected the African survivors through the horrors of the Middle Passage. As African culture and spirituality was largely outlawed in the New World, important innovations took place in order to maintain tradition and continuity. Similarly, aspects of Kongo and Yoruba spirituality integrated into the collage series are sometimes veiled in specific spiritually charged visual rhythms, colors and numbers, people and poses, phrases and invocations; as well as objects, spaces and places.
In the third and final stage of Pineda’s dance, the space becomes empty and white, and the music becomes silence, interrupted only by the sudden screams of a singer.
Although there are no completely empty spaces in the “Baile Yorukongo Palenke” collage series, there is a definite linear evolution from the beginning to the final panels. While the early collages are mounted, drawn and painted on a newsprint base, the final panels are mounted on a stark white base which embodies the calm and cool Yoruba orisha Obatala, King of the White Cloth and all Yoruba spirits. The final stage is interpreted in the collage as both the end and theoretical beginning where death gives way to life. This space of rebirth echoes the Kongo Cosmogram. Among the multi-lined, multi-layered images, several characters - spirits of transition, death, and birth -appear to be pointing toward new life. The last image focuses on a rising spirit above a drum crafted by Sixto Minier, Capitán de la Cofradía de los Congos del Espiritu Santo de Villa Mella (Captain of the Brotherhood of the Congos of the Holy Spirit, Dominican Republic).
“Kwil’t’ing I”, “Kwil’t’ing II”, “Kwil’t’ing III”, and “Kwil’t’ing IV”
November 2011- February 2012
“Kwilt’ing I-Kwilt’ing IV,” four separate collage series signify on Black Atlantic quilts, which not only kept people warm, but often archived (her)stories, and were encoded with veiled messages and maps of space and place, spirituality and race. In this exploration, multi-voiced quilts were extruded and extracted, sampled and re-kwilted, collaged into pencil stitch-lined layers of fantasized kwilt-place-spaces.
The “Kwilt’ing” series investigates quilting creative practice within the context of African Diasporic creative process and theory. Black Atlantic quilts often collage a series of horizontally and vertically joined panels or planes that are sampled, layered, and repeated. One layer of rhythm is found in the quilts’ structural stitching which joins the planes, strips, patches or panels vertically and horizontally. These panels create a field of rhythmized space, which can be visually read spatially in multiple dimensions, as solid and void, positive and negative. The visual suspension of rhythm, or syncopated bending and ‘blue’-ing, shifts and slips, create further readings of multiple visual sub-rhythms, spatial echoes, which add layers of translucent and transparent spaces in infinite directions and dimensions.
Cross Words Cross Worlds
2012 The four panel collage series “Cross Words Cross Worlds” is a signifyin,’ visual, lyrical collage, constructed in polyrhythmic layers upon a crossword puzzle base.
Simultaneously exposed and encoded within the collaged visual/lyrical game of crossed words are: cross (angry/curse/cursed) words, spiritual words from the cross, words crossed out, words crossed in, curing conjure words, words of joyful spiritual invocation (that cross planes and worlds), crossing words written in different fonts cross artistic scripts in graffiti; words in an array of languages cross cultures, neighborhoods, communities, countries, and continents.
2012 The 16 panel collage series “Le Danseur” is an investigation of DJ’ing collage composition within the context of the rhythmic embodiment of the Kongo spiritual cosmogram, Dikenga, and, in microcosm, the soul, nduzi. Kongo Angolan Dikenga theory was brought to the Americas by African captives during the four hundred years of the Atlantic Slave Trade. It has been estimated that forty percent of the Africans abducted and trafficked to the Americas were from the Kongo Angola civilization. Once in the Americas, Kongo cultural majority was evident in Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, New Orleans, and South Carolina.
At the base of the collage series “Le Danseur” are prints of Kongo Kuba and Shoowa textiles which are DJ’d (visually sampled, layered, repeated) into a re-contextualized remix. Each of the 8 major textile patterns sampled creates a rhythm throughout the piece. Each textile measure displays unique sub-rhythmic patterns encoding derivations of the Kongo cosmogram, Dikenga, in diamonds, crosses, circles, and rectangles. The eight bar patterned rhythm is then repeated, creating the 16 measures, panels, or bars. The syncopated ruptures scratch visually, joining the vertical seams of the sampled textile patterns, and suggesting aspects of kala. Horizontally, across the bottom of the collage series flow a mix of mini-rhythmic syncopated samples of music and textiles, textures and colors. These effectively form a watery Kalunga line, that joins the multi-textiled collage together.
The background dancer marks the syncopated rhythm along another lineal datum. Others inhabit the spirit of the textiles, igniting solo improvisations in the dance. Each inhabitant encodes aspects of the Kongo cosmogram through rhythmically embodied movement, gesture, and pose. Similar reference to the cosmogram is well documented throughout the Black Atlantic in competitive dance and combat traditions such as Brazilian Capoeira, Cuban Mani, L’Adja in Guadaloupe and Martinique. In the United States it is manifest in innumerable African American dances including Ring Shouts and Hip Hop Culture’s Breakdance; as well as common, vernacular power poses and gestures including hands raised at high angles in spiritual exaltation, hand(s)-on-hip, and talk-to-the hand warnings and dismissals.
DJd, danced, and posed, the collage “Le Danseur” is encodes, embodies, and ultimately evokes the Kongo cosmogram.
Kongo arts are all layered in a highly developed codified spiritual vocabulary. Many images in Kongo arts, built or found, drawn or danced, incorporate the cosmogram to encode an activation of the spirit and testify powerful spiritual points in space and time. The Dikenga, embodied in Kongo altars, focus on major points of physical and spiritual transition in both micro- and macrocosm and document life’s intersections and disruptions, beginnings and ends. Conceptually, these altars, minkisi are an extended transformation of the cosmogram. While images of quadrants mark the four moments of the soul, the image of an individual with arms held out horizontally often reflects the kalunga line. In contrast, the vertical axis is marked with a black line, kala, representing a spiritual power with the ability to open or close points of intersection.
Manifestations of Kongo spirituality physically embodied in one’s pose can take many forms. An image of a person in low angular pose may imply the diamond representation of the dikenga. One can also physically embody the angular, diamond shaped reference to the soul, nduzi - minature sun, understood to be sited in the head. The image of nduzi is well documented in powerful physically postured communication in dance, fight, and play throughout the Black Atlantic.
Down Home Spirituals
2012 The 22 panel collage series “Down Home Spirituals” is an exploration of visual memories, both real and imagined of Back Home, Down Home, Cross Fresh and Salt Water Home, Bush Home, Forest Home, Spirit Home, Foreign and Familiar Home.
This series sparks distorted memory images, compressing time and space of imagined rural summery moments from Fellowship Rd., Harvey’s Lake, Delaware, coastal Wilmington, NC, coastal Islands and the Caribbean; in a hybrid West and Central African Black Atlantic overlay. “Down Home Spirituals” archives memories of sweating and swaying in churches with no books where wooden pews, walls and ceilings seem to call and respond with the congregants; as well as the lakes, rivers, and forest places, charged spaces, and places of the spirits.
Mambo #1 an Egun Tune; Caminando Con Los Ancestros
The 15 panel collage series is a celebration dance (Mambo); walking with the Ancestors (Egun). Within the piece are a rhythm of dancing figures and various phases of danced exaltation. A rhythm is developed through layered, syncopated repetitions that bring together real and surreal figures.
“Negrita” is an 8 panel collage series which challenges hegemonic depictions of ‘Mammy’/servant images both in art and mass marketing. The project was a direct response to the constant barrage of similar demeaning slave, servant, and ‘Sambo’ images while living in Europe, but that have assaulted my sensibilities on all continents. At its base is the appropriation of the Negrita Rum label, re-imagined to serve, if not justice, poison to Master. She is further surrounded by images of other empowered women from all corners of the African Diaspora. Each panel rhythmically remixes text into charged chants and slogans of r(e)volution which include: “REINVENT Negrita Revolución,” “REMIX Negrita Revolución,” “REBEL Negrita Revolución,” “RIOT Negrita Revolución,” “RIOT riot NEGRITA ¡GRITA!,” “RIOT Ne ¡GRITA!,” “¡NEGRITA GRITA REVOLUCION!”
Collage X-scapes Night Colored(s)
The eight panel collage series “Collage X-scapes Night Colored(s)” focuses on slaves escaping captivity at night, slipping as silhouettes and shadows into unknown landscapes led by secret songs, signs and prayers; moons and stars; ancestors and spirit guardians.
Collage NA 01-14
The fourteen panel “Collage NA” series follows my New York City path from living in Harlem to living in Brooklyn. Though begun in a sketchbook before taking life, at its base are fragmented images that begin to tell a more complex story of culture, communities, and African diasporic migrations.
Hip Hop Ar(t)chitecture Investigations; “Hip Hop Housing,” “Hip Hop Sidewalk,” and “Hip Hop Under the Over (Elevated)”:
The “Hip Hop Architecture” collage series are part of a multidisciplinary investigation of the creative processes and history of a subculture and its translations into architectural and artistic expression. This involved the research of the key expressive elements of Hip Hop Culture, which include, but have not been limited to Hip Hop Music, Hip Hop Lyricism (rap and spoken word), Hip Hop Dance (Breakdance and Double-Dutch), Hip Hop Visual Arts (Graf), Hip Hop Turntablism (the DJ). Each of these elements share in their signified creative process and expression the use of Appropriation, Layering, Repetition, and Rhythm, Call and Response, as well as Syncopation, Disruption, and Improvisation (freestyle). The goal then would be to utilize these creative processes as a basis for creating a form of Hip Hop Architecture.
The collage series Hip Hop Ar(t)chitecture Investigations; “Hip Hop Housing ,” “Hip Hop Sidewalk,” and “Hip Hop Under the Over (Elevated)” are ar(t)chitectural designs, visual samples and precedents, lyrical text appropriations, audio and visual samples, and historical precedents to create architectural soundscapes of a subculture and substructures re-contextualized, re-mixed and re-sited Uptown...Hip Hop’s birth place; though it speaks to Hip Hop as a New York City phenomenon born of the Black Atlantic experience. Much of the work is mixed media, like the culture: mixing and sampling, overlapping and quilting, rhythmic visually syncopated cultural appropriations into rhythmically improvised, multi-layered freestyle collage.
The 5 panel collage sub-series “Hip Hop Housing” investigates re-imagined urban housing complexes that hide from street view. Appropriated, re-mixed subway cars and abandoned buildings are up-cycled and re-contextualized to create re-mixed HH Housing and thriving neighborhoods. Some of the precedence samples are conceptual remixes of graffiti-era subway cars, the Underground Railroad, Black Atlantic shotgun homes that dance on African/Caribbean stilt legs, and Harlem Renaissance era Speak Easies. The intention is to re-imagine, remix, and reclaim places of disuse, displacement.
The 12-panel collage sub-series “Hip Hop Sidewalk” investigates the appropriation of the urban sidewalk and the many abandoned spaces below them in order to create buried DJ booths.
The booth would contain turntables and act as a subterranean inhabitable speaker that would visually glow in the evenings. In contrast, above these underground sound systems rise elevated individual stages where lyricists, MCs, and activists can raise their voices to be seen and heard; the sidewalk would be re-mixed and re-claimed as a place of community. Some of the precedence samples are conceptual remixes of the Underground Railroad, traditional African diasporic spiritual veneration of the ancestors, as well as the inverse of a lynching, bringing life from the buried to elevate oneself to the sermon of the street.
The 26-panel collage sub-series “Hip Hop Under the Over” (Elevated) is an investigation appropriating the waste space below elevated trains, where DJ pods hang below the tracks.
Some of the precedence samples are conceptual remixes of raising the Underground Railroad, the inverse lynching with the hanging Black spaces, as well as the use of the hanging object as spiritual/ ritual/altar and elevated pulpit. The sites of movement are remixed and transformed into places to gather. The non-spaces become recycled into imagined community places.
This investigation led to a broader understanding of Hip Hop culture and creative processes and practices less as an individual phenomenon but in the greater context of a contemporary expression of similar creative theory, processes and practices throughout the Black Atlantic; as a continuum in African Diasporic culture.