August 18, 2016
As we approach the peak of 2016 Create Change season, we have been checking in with our artists-in-residence as they make progress on their projects. We most recently had a site visit at The Bedford-Stuyvesant Museum of African Art (BSMAA), which will host 2016 Create Change Artists-in-Residence Salome Asega and Ayodamola (Ayo) Okunseinde’s project, “The Iyapo Repository.”
Our visit started at the main entrance of BSMAA, where we were introduced to Vira, founder and owner of BSMAA. Vira explained how the museum came into existence and how its collection comprises of masks and other sculptures, most of which represent female fertility. She has collected these pieces from various sources over the years and some date back to the 1930s-40s! Vera’s vision is to make BSMAA an educational, world-class museum, and though the museum currently occupies only half of the first floor of a residential building, Vira plans to expand it into the entire first floor.
After Vira completed her introduction of BSMAA, Salome and Ayo spoke about their purpose for the site visit, which was to have us help brainstorm how “The Iyapo Repository” would be implemented into the BSMAA. “The Iyapo Repository”—named after the protagonist from the Lillith’s Brood series by science fiction writer Octavia Butler’s—was conceptualized by Salome and Ayo to create a black future through a resource library of artifacts. Among the artifacts are some phenomenal pieces such as a sensory suit that gives the feeling of being underwater and is able to cure individuals of trauma or a phobia of being underwater. Another noteworthy item is a portable device that can fit in the palm of a hand or be worn around one’s neck that picks up negative vibrations and warns the wearer if they are near the scene of a police shooting. We were split into three groups for the brainstorming session, and group one had the task brainstorming ideas for the activation of the front of the museum. Group two created ideas for the curation of the actual exhibition, and group three brainstormed how the to develop “The Iyapo Repository” which starts in the back room of the first floor and continues into the garden.
Group one came up with some great ideas to activate the facade of BSMAA. With the museum still being new, there are many people who walk by and do not know of its existence, so the group thought it was key to create a visual that will instantly draw passersby into the space. The group proposed a mural as a visual that could contain images that symbolize what the entire museum represents. As the individual enters, the idea is to make the experience as immersive as possible with interactive masks or electric faces to create an augmented reality. Group one did also incorporated the use of technology such as smartphones and visual codes, as a way for guests to access information about the art on display in the museum.
Group two was presented with the challenge of considering the space available compared to the growing collection of art. They thought about implementing shelves for the display of the pieces of art presented in the exhibition. They also played with creative and visually appealing ways of displaying the work, such as stacking the art into totem poles and placing the beaded chairs into a circle around the poles as a way to also conserve space. The group also came to realize that an issue a lot of people have is referring to “Africa” as if it were a country. People will refer to places like Italy, Spain, France, etc., as these countries pertain to the continent of Europe, yet many people rarely mention countries such as Ghana, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan, when referring to the continent of Africa. From this realization, group two presented their idea of separating the art on display by country and region, and into relevant cultural themes such as beauty and fertility.
Group three presented ideas of how to space the artifacts in “The Iyapo Repository” and utilize the smaller space in the backroom. They also proposed that the garden hold chairs and tables for workshops while visitors and observers could be given clipboards to walk around with, similar to the experience at a larger museum.
Our site visit with Vira, Ayo, and Salome was very productive and left much to look forward to once their BSMAA exhibitions come to fruition. After we completed the brainstorming session, everyone headed over to Ayo’s home for a potluck in typical LP Create Change site visit tradition.
For more about “The Iyapo Repository,” click here.