Grace Ndiritu is a Kenyan artist who uses film and photography in her work. She currently has a show at Nottingham contemporary called ‘our silver city’ created with a group of curators, with some of her work featured in it, favourably reviewed in the Guardian.
During the artist talk, Ndiritu was asked a range of questions to give us an idea of the ways she works and the thought processes she goes through which I found interesting. Summarised answers to these questions will be listed below:
Question One – why do you work the way that you work?
She has a background in textile art (origin study subject) then went to work in Amsterdam for a postgraduate study where she started making video art and experimenting with different things. This was a key factor, within textiles she felt restricted and knew that she wanted to work with a range of mediums so she bought herself a video camera and was self-teaching.
Family background – from rural Kenya and working-class Birmingham, lots of contrasts culturally and historically in her head, feminist family (political household) which shaped the way she made work from the very beginning.
After she graduated she started living a double life, rural with wild animals starting to affect art practice but there wasn’t much room for discussions about spirituality in the art world at that time and so she felt people were rude or made fun of it. Doing guru spiritual things as well as having contemporary art shows. 2012 was when her art completely changed direction – started to add spirituality into her work and mix that with the political side of things.
Question 2 – what is your ambition with your work?
Grace Ndiritu wants her work to always tell some sort of truth, authenticity is key but can have some added humor. Always thinking about some sort of truth. ‘the nightingale film showed at the icon in 2005 was made through a process where she had started to put herself into a state of trance which allowed the performative aspect to be more authentic as she wasn’t focused on acting or being theatrical. That’s how she got into video art.
This image is from the performance series ‘healing the museum’ authenticity key in live performance work too.
These are some images of live shamanic performances with different audiences in museums this aspect of having to tell the truth or be true is vital, comes through in her social practice projects working with different types of people like refugees, migrants, people working at UN or NATO or parliament. Ambition is important.
Question 3 – who/what are you fighting against in your work?
Grace said this was an interesting question. Depends on what is making her angry at the time. In her ‘Healing the museum’ series she was fed up with museums and felt they were disconnected from the outside world both politically and socially so she came up with an idea of wanting to reintroduce non-rational methodologies into museums such as shamanism or meditation and to reactivate the museum back into being in a way, new audiences and energies.
This came to a head in one example – a project from the GERT institution who were investigating the restitution of objects back to Africa (debate surrounding that) so a group of scientists, academics, museum directors, actors, and artists were brought together from Africa and Europe and had these close workshops over 2 years – African museum in Brussels, an ethnographic museum in Barcelona, Italy, and France. Idea was to debate and look at this issue, a very complicated issue. What was really fascinating was the interception of the social and the political and spiritual coming together, especially within her practice.
In the background of this, remember in 2016 there was a thing called the macron report which was given to the French president about restitution of objects and then Merkle she wanted her own report so the gerta institute was involved in this new report, so she’d be involved in conferences in the mornings involving academic opinions and she decided to bring everybody into the general room (a room full of gems, minerals, precious stones, known as blood diamonds as they were materials taken from the Congo when it was colonised by Belgium) she got everyone to sit on the floor including the museum director who had never sat on the floor before so it was a big thing for him to do, but then for them all to meditate in that room together.
This image was taken in the museum of modern art in Paris – an example of what they were doing, not at the time though) some of the scientists and artists and activists from the Congo who were part of the project started to get very upset as they were tapping into the energy of the horrific nature of how the objects got to the museum and so the whole process became very cathartic and after the performance when we went back into the normal conference mode it made the conversation much deeper because it bonded us and we went through this thing together, so when we were discussing very practical things like the legal ramifications of sending objects back together to Africa, all the practical application of doing it. Been through a psycho-spiritual experience had a group bonding although you had people who were a very anti museum and people who were very for museums in the workshop so she found.
This image was taken from a project in Vancouver called ‘healing justice’ where we wrote love letters to strangers. Found and formed different methodologies by working with different types of people, for example doing holistic reading rooms where you read texts and meditate. Spent a few years coming up with ways of activating audiences in museums.
Ndiritu discussed how at the beginning of her artistic career she did one or two things a year but recently it has become very full-on (at least once a month).
Question 4 – where do you see yourself in five years? What does success look like to you?
Possibly moving away from social practice as it can be exhausting, she would like to publish more books (first book called ‘…modification’ which is a book of interviews with radical women, a hacker, a photographer, an artist, activists, we talk about everything including sex, money, interracial relationships and the art world. This is a project that is dear to her heart as she began it in 2013 and started doing the interviews self-funded and getting them transcribed one by one but it was really hard to find a publisher for them as not everyone is famous in the book. Found the stories really inspiring, worthwhile conversations)
Recently she started making films, many years she focused on video art
This was a nice, fun evening, retrospective. Showed many pieces of video art at the cinema in London, price Charles cinema – in 2009. Over the years been working with Lux a lot (in London) but now she’s started working on longer films, films with scripts, and working with a team, much more technically challenging but you can do a lot more cinematic things. One of the films is in Coventry at the minute so if anyone is going to Coventry to see the turner prize it is in the same building, worth going to see as it is a lot about social practice and community groups whereas currently, the film is more time based, object-based which is a good contrast in the same building.
The reason why she would like to continue those two things is that her favourite types of artists such as Mike Kelly, Jimmy Durham who don’t care about what medium they’re using, it’s more about the idea and so she really likes being able to work whether it’s writing, film, textiles or performance.
She likes a more wide ranging point of view.
These are some tapestries that she has recently made, as she got back into textiles her origin art medium.
This is an image from the show at Nottingham where some of her tapestries are and other people’s tapestries are exhibited. Created a space called ‘the temple’ on this wooden structure, kind of a museum display but as a place where we can have spiritual gatherings.
So for the inauguration of that, she did a shamanic performance called ‘Labour’ where she invited ten pregnant women to come in on the second and third trimester to go on a shamanic journey. Called ‘labour – the birth of new museum’ and the idea was to connect with the unborn audience and to think about different generations as obviously the show is set in 2094 ‘our silver city 2094’ so it’s about the end of the century.
All the babies born today are going to be alive and in 94 the world will be quite different. Interested in how to work and tap into that kind of energy and mind focus even now, even before they’re born to see how that develops as they grow up. All women felt the babies very strongly and got messages of what they needed to know the very powerful experience. The nice thing about the gallery, the temple space, is that when you go in you have to take off your shoes, quite a quiet contemplative place where you can sit on beanbags and sit for a while
Success is being alive and being able to maintain her practice and live off of it. Just keep going
My opinion of Grace Ndiritu’s work and significance:
Although I am not involved in video art, film, or performative art, I found Grace Ndiritu’s exploration of different mediums very interesting and something I can relate to as throughout my personal artistic experiences, I have never been able to just use one medium and I often like to dabble in different mediums depending on my intentions.
I hope to start exploring different mediums in the rest of my third year as I feel that I have gotten stuck in a rut of using the same materials and I would like to make art exciting again.
Learning about Ndiritu’s use of different processes has inspired me and has reminded me that although we have subjects we specialise in, we don’t have to limit ourselves to those and can cross boundaries.