By Tajudeen Sowole
From the communication essence of sculpture, a Burundi-born artist, Serge Alain Nitegeka takes the functionality to viewer’s participatory realm with his choice of site-specific medium. Nitegeka's work, currently showing in a group art exhibition at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), U.S is monitored via email chat with the artist.
Installation, Configuration in Black by Serge Alain Nitegeka
Apparently, Nitegeka is taking full advantage of the widening window provided by contemporaneity, even in a global art space that is collapsing barriers through flood of imagery on the Internet. For his installations and sculptures, functionality, he explains, is a target. Visitors to the SCAD exhibition who may want to have interactive experience with Nitegeka's sculptures and installations would have the novelty of sharing the same space with the works, physically. "The spectator’s involvement- action of walking and being in the space of the sculpture or installation functions to complete the work," says Nitegeka who is one of the few artists of African descents sharing the same space with other international artists in recent times. "The spectator becomes the performer- acting out an experience or constructing one."
Other artists showing at the SCAD's yearly deFINE ART till July 3, 2015 are, Michael Lin, Nari Ward and SCAD alumnus Caomin Xie, Ryoji Ikeda and Istanbul-based artistic duo :mental KLINIK. Also exhibiting is a 2015 honoree of US State Department Medial of Arts, Xu Bing, who will have a major solo exhibition titled, Things Are Not What They First Appear at the SCAD Museum of Art/
Beyond the aesthetics and dimensionality of sculpture, Nitegeka has a futuristic perspective. "My vision for sculpture is that it has to be something confronted, not just looked at- that sculpture could be a bodily experience that evokes those experiences already had and provoke new ones."
In thematic context, movement of displaced persons is one of the artist's areas of interest in the group show. "I am fascinated by the mechanics of fleeing- how people behave, how they deal with the chaos of fleeing; for example: evacuating loved ones, sourcing and transportation of food, water, firewood and valuables, resting and the transformation of a given space to shelter and the consequential erection of a refugee camp." One of his works titled Structural-Response II depicts the dilemma of emergency situations that breed management of displaced persons. In the work – viewed via the Internet, Nitegeka distills art content that probes the pattern in which refugees and asylum seekers disturb spaces that offer transitory point of relief.
Dissecting the effect of displaced persons on the environment they occupy, the artist who is currently based in Johannesburg, South Africa traces the spontaneity of most similar movements of people to desperation for survival. "The manner in which the refugees and asylum seekers deal with found space emanates from fundamental primal and survival strategies that are ambiguously harmonious, conflicting, haphazard, calculated and spontaneous." He notes how they determine the use of spaces "that are negotiated on the lines of efficiency and necessity."
Nitegeka's thoughts on displaced persons' use of space as a transit goes beyond the usual suspects caused by civil unrests in Africa or natural disasters in Asia. In fact, natural disaster like hurricane in the U.S is also on his mind, building the body of works. "The transformation of spaces by this group auto replays, once more, the conventional imagery of refugees in stadiums, community halls, schools and churches that the media has accustomed to the world. Among the examples: the occupation of the Louisiana Superdome by victims of hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, US, 2005; or the Zimbabwean economic refugees/asylum seekers/ migrants who took shelter at the Central Methodist Church in downtown Johannesburg, South Africa, between 2008 and 2011."
In contemporary context of art of African origin showing in a space shared by artists of other cultures, the blurring of individual native African contents is growing, particularly in artists of Nitegeka generation. But faintly, his installation titled Configuration in Black, appears loaded with spirituality of life, suggesting a native or cultural perspective to the issue of challenging ‘destiny’. A text explains his thought on the site-specific installation, noting how the work "invites viewers to decide their own passage through the space."
Other features of the event, according to the organisers include Bing’s "1st Class" (2011), a seminal work from the Tobacco series, employing more than 500,000 cigarettes in the monumental depiction of a tiger-skin rug; Ward’s work “We The People” illustrate the opening declaration in the U.S. Constitution with found and repurposed items including shoelaces that allude to the phrase “to pull yourself up by your bootstraps; and Xie’s spiritual abstract paintings such as “Brahma #1” will ponder the magnitude of the universe.