CLINTON, NY.- Senses of Time: Video and Film-Based Works of Africa – on view through December 11,
2016 at the Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College, explores how time is experienced and produced by
the human body. Figures stand, climb, dance, and dissolve in nine works of video and film art by seven
acclaimed contemporary African artists: Sammy Baloji, Jim Chuchu, Theo Eshetu, Moataz Nasr, Berni
Searle, Yinka Shonibare MBE, and Sue Williamson. Characters in these works, and the actions they depict,
repeat, resist, and reverse the expectation that time must move relentlessly forward. Each work invites
viewers to consider tensions between personal and political time, ritual and technological time, and bodily
and mechanical time. Through pacing, sequencing, looping, layering, and mirroring, the works express and
embody diverse perceptions of time.
Simultaneously on view at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art and the Los Angeles County
Museum of Art (LACMA), Senses of Time at the Wellin is the show’s largest iteration yet. The Wellin’s
exhibition features two videos by Kenyan artist Jim Chuchu and a new edition of Theo Eshetu’s installation
created specifically for the Wellin’s show.
Tracy L. Adler, Director of the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art, explains, “At the Wellin, Senses of
Time has had a profound impact on the Hamilton College community. In the lead-up to the exhibition, we
worked with the faculty to integrate the exhibition into their coursework in a range of subjects and disciplines.
Our close collaboration with the curators to make the Wellin’s iteration of the exhibition unique, and to create
opportunities for Polly Roberts and Karen Milbourne to engage with the campus, is resulting in a stimulating
dialogue around the social, personal, and political climate in Africa today. With its additional offerings and
expansive interpretation of the exhibition, including a reflecting pool for Moataz Nasr’s work, the installation
of the exhibition at the Wellin is fresh and dynamic, allowing for new relationships between the works—as
well as broader themes—to emerge.”
Jim Chuchu (b. 1982, Kenya), an artist whose work is exclusive to the Wellin’s presentation of the exhibition,
presents Invocation: Severance of Ties and Invocation: Release, both created in 2015. These two singlechannel
projection videos played in succession explore the relationship between spiritual and cultural time—
while one figure struggles to define himself in relation to his past, the other appears to accept who he has
become both in the present and for the future. The two videos loop in a continuous negotiation of one
generation after another’s struggle for self-definition in the context of the traditions and expectations into
which they are born.
Similar themes around the strain between personal time and cultural legacies are explored in the works of
Berni Searle (b. 1964, South Africa), Theo Eshetu (b. 1958, England) and Sue Williamson (b. 1941,
England). In A Matter of Time (2003), Searle performs a riveting commentary on the slippages of time and
identity as she attempts to walk across a transparent surface lubricated with olive oil—a tribute to her own
“olive” skin. Despite the forward progression of the clock on Searle’s camera, the artist repeatedly glides
forward only to get stuck and fall back again. Eshetu’s Brave New World III (2016) draws the viewer into a
captivating kaleidoscopic space in which cultural images from the past, present, and future converge, while
Williamson’s six-channel video projection, There’s something I must tell you (2013), highlights the gaps
between generations wrought by time, chronicling the struggle of six women who fought against apartheid in
Moataz Nasr’s (b. 1961, Egypt) multimedia installation, The Water (2002), is a study on self and
circumstance, revealing how time is tied closely to one’s identity. Concerned by the hardships of his fellow
Egyptians under the government of Hosni Mubarak in the years leading up to the Arab Spring, Nasr spent
six months filming the reflections of his compatriots in street puddles. The hold that these men, women, and
children have on time appears tenuous: they materialize only briefly before a boot relentlessly stomps into
the water. While this piece is typically displayed on a screen, at the Wellin the video projects onto an actual
pool of water. As viewers peer into the pool, their reflections become a part of the fragmented and distorted
imagery of the film itself, suggesting that we are all in flux as our circumstances outweigh our individual
capacities to create stability.
Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball) from 2004 by Yinka Shonibare MBE (b. 1962, England) interweaves
and subverts the geographies and temporal assumptions that shape narratives of tradition and modernity.
Drawing its name from a western opera about a Swedish king assassinated during wartime, the video
stands as an allegory for the political hubris associated with the Iraq War. European ballroom dancers in
sumptuous African-print cloth gowns dramatize the absurdities of political violence as history continues to
Sammy Baloji (b. 1978, Democratic Republic of the Congo) addresses the recoiling of time in a postcolonial
nation-state in his single-channel video projection, Mémoire (Memory) from 2006. Grainy footage of mostly
abandoned copper mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Katanga province and the soundtracks
of political speeches provide the setting for Baloji’s commentary on the failed promises of past and present
political leaders. The film’s backdrop of a deindustrialized wasteland is juxtaposed with the sinuous
movements of the brilliant dancer and choreographer Faustin Linyekula, offering a close reading of how the
body inserts itself into the rewriting of history and the reimagining of time.
Senses of Time was curated by Karen E. Milbourne, curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of
African Art, and Mary “Polly” Nooter Roberts, professor in the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance
at UCLA and consulting curator of African art at LACMA.