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What the land experienced, what my ancestors experienced shows up in how I be in the world* , Pelumi Adejumo

What the land experienced, what my ancestors experienced shows up in how I be in the world*

Essay on SIGN exhibition ‘ECHOING LAND’ by Pelumi Adejumo

Upon entering the exhibition space of ‘Echoing Landscapes,’ one is immediately immersed in smog and diffused smoke. A large screen displays the image of a red waterfall, accompanied by an eerie, ghostlike sound amplified by subwoofers, resonating through the space and vibrating within the skin. Red-coloured water cascades downward, synchronised with the pulsating sound of a heartbeat. The shoulder of a faceless woman is juxtaposed against the structure of a building, the brutalist landscape reminiscent of bones, spine, and skin.

A female presence seems entrapped in the landscape, in the film by Charlène Dannancier, yearning for catharsis. Black and grey images of a deserted building and a waterfall transition into shades of red, with the waterfall descending in reverse slow motion, accompanied by the haunting melody of an electronic organ. These visuals capture an Icelandic waterfall, housing the legend of a bride trapped within, her veil manifesting as the cascading water. Charlène Dannancier crafts immersive installations and performances rooted in sonic experiences rather than the physical or emotional. She reveals the body without showing the body—here, embodied by water. The soundtrack incorporates human body sounds, including breathing, heartbeats, and lung sounds, accompanied by the elongated breaths of an electronic organ, creating a floating journey.

It brings to mind an episode from the series ‘Love, Death & Robots’ titled ‘Jibera.’ In this tale, a river adorned with jewels, treasures, and golden coins becomes the target of knights. As they plunder the river, it suddenly comes to life. Emerging from the water is a woman whose body embodies both the flowing water and the gleaming gold. She communicates through piercing screeches. When the knights hear her rupturing voice, they succumb to a watery grave, turning the river red. However, one soldier, partially deaf – the viewer experiences the episode from his unique perspective – survives. Some scenes unfold in silence, creating a serene atmosphere. He engages in a dance with the river Goddess and they fall in love, but this love proves fatal. As his hearing gradually returns, her kisses cut his lips, and her body scratches him. A betrayal occurs when he regains his deafness, prompting him to don his armour and attack her, seizing all her golden jewellery and the treasures within the river. The woman is left bleeding, crying and naked within her water bed. Again stolen, made barren, left to screech until eternity.

What if landscapes, like bodies, bear witness to the scores etched upon them by centuries of wars, genocide, and abuse? All films in Echoing Land are related to the landscape. They are highlighting disorientation and cultural displacement from different perspectives and styles. Giving the landscape a voice; the connotation with personal history and origins is examined.

And if we living beings, made up of the fruit of the earth, look at our own body. What signs and etching do we meet when faced with centuries of atrocity?

The body is a landscape sometimes being silenced. 

 

In the departure hall my womb waits for the airplane to take me back West 

where gynaecologists and therapists try to heal the tissue 

but fail to understand why the soil remains hard and barren.

 

Expert from poem: A visit to ancestral land, by Maureen Ghazal

 

I am lying on the bed of my acupuncturist. A former nurse, who resigned working at hospitals because the work pressure does not allow for adequate care of patients. While massaging my back we share our diverse cultural backgrounds. She was born in Sweden, raised by Indian parents who grew up in Kenia. A flux of Indian migrants worked on plantations in Africa some centuries ago, she tells me. I notice the smell of Brits. Her hands are warm and gentle yet firm. I can feel my back slowly increasing in temperature, a contrast to the cold air present in the old room. She nods. After India’s independence, England gave the migrants an opportunity to migrate once again, to Australia, England or Sweden. Her parents chose the latter. I avoid asking anything too revealing in pain, in relation to settling in a new country. Instead, I optimistically ask about her relationship to India, now. Thinking of my own first return, hoping to find some comfortable ground to stand on. If she’s ever visited.

Never. A massive flooding, some years ago vanished the very town her ancestors and family members lived in. The family, submerged in the water themselves. There was nothing to go back to but ghosts, and the void of memory.

She makes tiny cuts in my lower back, some on the left. Some on the right. Some in the middle. Wet cupping: an ancient Chinese traditional practice. The prophet in the Islam also practised this to heal its people. The small cuts bleed out into the cup that is placed on top of them. New white blood cells will be rushed to my lower back, this regenerative creation of new blood flow, will release old pain that had nestled within me. Two to three sessions, and I should feel more relief.

She lives in the Netherlands now, a third family-migration carried on her shoulder. This time for love.

During my teenage years, I often experienced a profound sense of existential dread. It was as if I had been dropped onto Earth, surrounded by a random and arbitrary reality. I found myself in a town that felt arbitrary, within a family that felt arbitrary, in a city that felt arbitrary, and in a country that felt arbitrary. I was following a religion that felt arbitrary as well. It seemed that if the wind had just shifted slightly, my life would have taken a completely different form. In such a scenario, where could I possibly find meaning? Neither the natural world nor the people around me sparked any genuine interest. Everything felt abstract and detached.

Depression among migrants can be explained in a number of theories; however, I would like to highlight the fact that geographical relocation induces a sense of loss and the reactions are similar to grief. There are two types of losses: physical, which refers to tangible loss, such as loss of a loved one; and symbolic loss, which refers to abstract loss, such as loss of a homeland, status, social environment, ego strength and social identity in which indeed immigrants experience the most.

Only recently have I come to understand this feeling of uprootedness and alienation as a consequence of our migration from Lagos to Oss, a small town in the Netherlands. Even the existentialists, whose philosophical school emerged in the aftermath of the First World War, were shaped by experiences of dislocation, destruction, and detachment. What I once perceived as abstract was, in fact, rooted in tangible circumstances. The separation from my homeland resulted in a separation from meaning, plunging me into a world of disorder.

As I distanced myself from Christian theology, breaking free from the dogma of institutionalised religion and its mistreatment of women, children, and LGBTQ individuals, I found a newfound liberation. However, this liberation also brought forth a deep sense of loneliness and inner turmoil. Unlike many others, I couldn’t find solace or contentment within nihilism, atheism, or even an agnostic stance toward life and death. Despite the promising prospects of a bright future that lay ahead after our migration, a great deal was sacrificed, and much was lost. And without a prescribed purpose or theology to follow, this led to a profound sense of grief.

The absence of resonance with the language and rituals that once defined our home, combined with feeling like an outsider and marginalised within Dutch society, further contributed to a sense of meaninglessness. This lack of resonance, recognition, and purpose in life eventually led into a state of severe depression. Or perhaps this state could be likened to a prolonged form of mourning. Being detached from most family members and lacking the experience of physically losing someone dear to me, I never anticipated that I would be capable of experiencing grief or mourning. I was familiar with loss and nostalgia, but the profound and time-shattering experience of grief was foreign to me. This was especially true at the age of five when I was expected to adapt to new situations, languages, and environments without fully comprehending the magnitude of what I had lost. I had no recollection to help me understand what I was missing, let alone the concept of grief itself.

Loss of any of these will bring about the grief stage. As Parkes (1965) states, grief is completed in four stages: numbness, yearning and searching, disorganisation and despair, and reorganisation. Nevertheless, it is not always easy to reach the last stage of grieving where an individual feels interest in life and moves on in life without what has been lost. If the grief is unresolved or there is a prolonged mourning, there will be an internalisation of it that will lead to depression. In other words, they are stuck in the second phase of the grieving process. Now I know better.

I have only returned to my place of origin twice. It’s interesting how people often use the word ‘back’ when referring to the place of origin, even though the actual movement is in the future. The aspirations for the future always revolve around the notion of going ‘back’ or ‘home.’ Perhaps this disconnection resulted in a state where neither backward nor forward existed, but rather an in-between space where reality was altered. For instance, it was during my second trip when I went back home that my grandfather mentioned the plots of land to be inherited from both my mom and dad. This made me realize that the sacrifice of moving continents was never solely for a future ‘there,’ but always with the intention of moving back in mind. In this sense, my life ‘here’ is like a capsule, awaiting a safe landing back home.

As for example that in the mourning for the death of a loved one the beloved person disappears, in the migration no one disappears but there is a separation from the country of origin, which is still there, interacting with the emigrant. And since that country of origin always remains behind, it causes migratory bereavement to be recurrent, prolonging the migrant’s entire life. the closer I get, the further I am

This thought can be considered a fantasy, a form of magical thinking. A comforting narrative to ease the bereavement and reality of my parents struggling an entire lifetime to remain in debt. A story to cover up the fact that I will never be able to pay them back with a better future, because it is their debt, my loss, I will inherit, and I cannot be grateful for since I never asked them to bring me ‘here’ in the first place. This thought of being encapsulated is a way of dealing with grief.

Both ‘returns’ had been life-altering. ‘Home’ demanded that I reconsider not only my social class, privilege, and status, but also my understanding of ‘self’ and my memories. This led to a reordering of my perception of ‘self’ and the world. The closer I get, the further I am.

It is also explained that another characteristic of migratory grief is that it is multiple, that in reality there are 7 duels, or that it is transgenerational, affecting also the children of immigrants, or that it modifies the identity. the closer I get the further I am

A significant part of this realisation was understanding that the arbitrariness of my life was, in fact, not arbitrary. There was a reason why we left. I encountered it. There was a reason why we practised Christianity. They forbade our religion. There is a very, very specific reason why I live in this particular immigrant neighbourhood. They wanted us separated.

While I had a theoretical understanding of the effects of colonialism and had personally experienced racism, I could no longer dismiss the presence of history even in seemingly mundane aspects, such as the fact that all roads are paved ‘here’ for easy flow, while ‘there’ they are filled with potholes and missing sections, causing hold-ups and disruptions. The reverberations of history became strikingly literal.

Everything that once felt abstract became tangible. This transparency no longer provided solace through fables and hypotheticals. Instead, I carried it as a weight within my body for several more years, manifesting as an existential crisis on a philosophical level and as dysthymia on a psychological level.

In Vida and Amirs film displacement is not a form of continuous grieving but a modus-operandi, a welcomed state of being. The narrator speaks: “If faith leads me away from this place, I know that I will find a new place that will embrace me.”

The film takes inspiration from the concept of ‘liquid modernity’ coined by Zygmunt Bauman. A sociologist and philosopher, who uses the metaphor to describe the constant mobility and change in different aspects of modern life. Not post-anything but “unable to keep any shape or any course for long…” and “…prone to change…”. This can be applied to modern relationships, landscape, identities and global economies. In the film ‘Labyrinth Of Disorientation’ this form of liquid living is interpreted poetically. It presents images from landscapes in Italy and Iran on two screens, where the visuals move and blend into each other. The same landscape may appear on one screen, focusing on a detail, while the other provides a more global view. Alternatively, the same shot may be displayed on both screens, capturing different times of the day.

The sound and music composition is made by Canadian composer and sound artist Noah Sherrin. They used live recordings of moving sounds such as the steps of horses, a tracking train, the tides of the ocean. And human breathing mixed with electronic music, which turned into a distorted choir.

At times, the landscape undergoes distortion, transitioning from natural to digital, pixelated, and trippy, only to return to a still life. The disorientation unfolds before your eyes, inviting you as a viewer to embrace a liquid state of perception. The soundscape is transcendental, ever-evolving and blurs the boundaries between sound design and music. Vida and Amir are an Iranian artist duo interested in spatial design and time based moving image.

my chest lies exposed flesh stripped away skin skinned shifted inches toward my chin, a new nipple formed from the remnants of old, same shade, same texture, same flesh. I’ve inhabited for decades, played within. the terrain of my body, inching towards its own integument. the transparent thread knitting skin together will dissolve, eventually, allowing the landscape to attach seamlessly once more.

Dina Mimi explores fluid living through the notion of ‘escape’. A joyous rebellion seen in her two-chapter series, “The melancholy of this useless afternoon,” exploring questions around escape and fugitivity through online-collected video material and some self-shot footage. In Facebook groups, videos show people attempting to smuggle birds through the Jordan-Palestine borders. Customs guards, upon catching them, release the birds in abundance. Meanwhile, Dina poses questions about revolutionary acts, intertwining the tale of two friends reuniting after years—one who left and one who stayed in the same region. Underneath the images and unfolding of the story, a group of children are heard singing and playing a clapping game, while birds chatter, sing and their wings flutter continuously. The music has an relentless effect on my body, not of a body ready to dance, but a feeling similar to the moment warm water starts to boil.

In one segment, we hear Zakaria Zubeidi, a Palestinian scholar imprisoned since the age of 14, reading. Zakaria, a co-founder of The Freedom Theatre in the Jenin refugee camp, escaped a high-security Israeli prison in 2021 using a spoon to dig through the ground. Despite his body marked by nine bullet wounds and eyesight severely damaged, Zakaria advocated for cultural resistance and introduced young people to theatre as an alternative reality. It is a life shaped within the disparities and conflict that initiates a revolutionary, Mimi argues. As Zubeidi says himself, “I didn’t want to become an armed resistance fighter. But this is what life gave me. I wanted to be an actor. I wanted to be Romeo.”

Both chapters of ‘The melancholy of this useless afternoon’ incorporate scenes of people smuggling birds across borders. Part one shows birds being released from cages—those captured at customs and later set free. Part two depicts men concealing birds in their pants. Dina learned about bird songs from a group of Surinamese men engaged in bird singing contests. A female bird is placed in a white cage to arouse male birds, competing to produce the most varied songs. Birds easily fall asleep in dark spaces, which facilitates their smuggling and transfer to different locations. The birds – the sequences of them being captured, hidden, smuggled and then released, repeatedly – are a poetic metaphor for the resistant spirit of the people from Palestine.

have you considered rebirth?

no, I was born into a world

I cannot raise a child in.

 

no, I am

barren.

no, I cannot give birth

to a future here.

 

no, I was born into a world

that tried to extinct my race.

 

no, I survived

genocide.

 

no, my mother wanted to

abort me.

 

                                                            yes, in the past

                                     but I have found faith.

                                               

                                                            yes, in the past

             when I read about existentialism

                        

                                                            yes, in the past

                                                when I lost Faith.

 

no, but I am on line

with the otherside.

 

no, I dream of a life

worth living.

 

In the misty haze, a man is glimpsed swimming in the river, moving away from the camera/island.
Another shot captures a shed sinking underwater, with a man in his underwear standing atop it, attempting to reach the land.
On the river, a lighthouse circles, casting its overpowering light for all to see.
In the closing scenes, the island refuses to fall asleep, illuminated by bright city lights and the continuous movement of cars.

In the short film ‘Residual Light / Beneath the Floating Land’ by Dachen Bao, we embark on a visual journey through black and white images captured from within a boat navigating a city atop a mountain. The film unfolds along the Chaotianmen Dock and riverbank in Chongqing, showcasing the daily landscape. The lens delicately zooms in and out, caressing the river and capturing details of plants on the mountain, the inhabitants and the tourists.

Simultaneously, voyage letters from the 19th-century British merchant-adventurer Mr. and Mrs. Archibald Little are read, recounting their exploration through the Three Gorges into West China. The voyagers express wonder and excitement, noting the differences in flora and fauna from their familiar surroundings.

The 19th century was a pivotal era for Chongqing, marked by intense interactions with British and French forces during the invasion of China. Chongqing, positioned like an island in the middle of the sea, became a fascinating terrain. The film intertwines historic moments and images from the diaries, bridging the past with the present. It highlights the contrasts between historical descriptions and the city’s current state, transforming from a temple to a skyscraper.

The descriptions fall short in truly capturing the essence of what lies before them, instead reflecting the Western gaze upon a Chinese landscape, veering towards exoticization. Dachen Bao tries to accentuate this disparity by working with different translations, some descriptions are his own words, then enters the wording of the brits creating a galloping experience of the text.

Historically, the mountain city was perceived as a “barbaric zone” due to its diverse ethnic groups and indigenous beliefs, making it an imperial frontier. Termed as “the city of superstition,” it became a dream of modernization. Technological experiments were first conducted on this isolated land before being implemented in the capital city. What was once a beautiful island, deeply connected with the laws of nature, has now evolved into a tech-mega city, attracting tourists with its unique archaeology, history, and futuristic essence.

Much like the city of Chongqing, which has undergone profound changes driven by technological advancements and globalization, the individuals portrayed in the essay grapple with shifts in their own landscapes—be they geographical, psychological, or existential. Through Bao’s exploration of modernization and urban design, we are invited to contemplate the ways in which our surroundings shape our sense of self and belonging, echoing the broader themes of displacement, memory, The title ‘Residual Light’ pays homage to the secrets held by this isolated island—a breeding ground for lucrative activities and a repository of buried histories. For filmmaker Dachen Bao, this film serves as a farewell to his enduring interest in modernization and urban design. He expresses a desire to leave the city for places more harmonious with nature.

This past winter, I had the opportunity to attend the Tulca Festival in Ireland, an annual visual arts festival curated this year by Iarlaith Ni Fheorais . The theme for this year’s festival was “Honey, Milk, and Salt in a Seashell Before Sunrise.” The festival’s team explored the landscape in relation to policy and healthcare, with artworks mainly focusing on the logistics of care within Ireland, Irish nationality, and its colonial history.

The artworks showcased at the festival delved into experiences of disability, home, and the intimacy of access, all within the context of evolving ideas surrounding health and medicine in the West of Ireland. Throughout the festival, there were talks, workshops, tours, screenings, and performances aimed at examining how landscapes and communities are shaped by these legacies, and how they influence our perceptions of ourselves and our sense of home.

However, the festival’s focus on indigenous identities seemed to overshadow the experiences of Irish citizens who are not indigenous to the country, those who struggle with defining “home,” or those with different relationships to its landscape. This oversight is significant considering Ireland has the largest immigrant population in Europe. As a result, the festival inadvertently reinforced nationalistic and state-dominating undertones.

One artwork that offered a different perspective on identity was the film “Forgetting is the Sun.” This film raises questions about national memory and historical forgetfulness. The film starts with footage from two essay films. By the Iranian poet and filmmaker Forough Farrokhzad’s The House is Black (1962), and the Moroccan poet, filmmaker, and writer Ahmed Bouanani’s Mémoire 14 (1967). Narrating the story of a filmmaker living with a community of lepers, after living there for two years she leaves without footage, having seen and experienced everything. She grants the people there the freedom to be forgotten.The film proceeds to show images of the directors grandmother holding beads in her hands for a memory test, we are asked to memorise the words shown on the screen. The grandmother doesn’t speak.

Weaving together the falsely dichotomized registers of biological memory and collective history, Forgetting is the Sun recontextualizes Farrokhzad and Bouanani’s defiance of state sanctioned remembrance through the lens of individual forgetting—and its resistance to medical capture.

The film ends with the line “Happy are those, whose memories lay to rest.” In reflecting on this experience, I am reminded of something my therapist once said: “You write down what you will otherwise forget.” Writing in this sense is living in a state of urgency. Forgetting, not denial or concealing, is the freedom to be fugitive, to live liquid, to vanish and lay to rest.

In contemplating the films  presented within the SIGN exhibition ‘Echoing Landscapes,’ I recognize the interconnectedness between the experiences of displacement. From the haunting imagery of Charlène Dannancier’s film, which evokes a sense of entrapment within the landscape, to the exploration of displacement and loss in Vidamirs work, there is a shared thread of longing, resilience, and ultimately, transformation. Each piece, whether a visual piece or a verse, serves as a reminder of the indelible marks left upon landscapes and bodies alike by centuries of conflict, migration, and societal upheaval. These works invite us to confront our own relationships with place, identity, and memory, urging us to acknowledge the complexities of our collective histories. Just as the body heals and adapts to its wounds, so too do our landscapes bear witness to the resilience of the human spirit.

Tot slot wil ik graag aandacht besteden aan de Balfour-verklaring van 1917, uitgegeven door de Britse regering, die steun uitsprak voor de oprichting van een “nationaal tehuis voor het Joodse volk” in Palestina, en de voortdurende Nakba sinds de oprichting van de staat Israël in 1948.

Wat betekent het om een rijk te bouwen op de massaslachting, de botten, bloed en tranen van een groep mensen? Binnen de Yórùbá-cultuur is bloed een belangrijk ritueel element. Oorlog kan gezien worden als een ritueel slachten, is een offer voor wat en aan wie?

Mijn hart bloedt voor de duizenden mensen die zijn omgekomen, niet alleen in de eigentijdse genocide maar in alle genocides die eerder plaatsvonden. Dat mijn leven, mijn bestaan, mijn ase, mijn woord en daad, mijn schrijven mag voortbestaan uit de wrok van hen die de moorden in mijn lijf hebben overleefd. Moge uit de gespuugde wrok enkele spetters levensvreugde springen, en moge die spetters schreeuwen: “Moge dit het einde zijn van alle koloniale en neokoloniale rijken.” Ase.

I pass by the attenuation well

and a shiver                

   a breath

   a spirit

runs through

my spine

and arrives

at the tip

of my tongue

 

as though my body

remembered

 

 

to get on the kano

the frog in the pit

of my stomach

commands me

but I get seasick

 

I feel him bob

as I do on my way

to the land

of no beginnings

of no return

 

where does meaning root

my frog asks

in language

in sound

in movement

in the rhythm between

 

all oceans have a connection

but mine

sank

 

this is how I learned

to speak

 

*Title: ‘What the land experienced, what my ancestors experienced shows up in how I be in the world’

 Dr. Jenn Mullan – The Decolonizing Therapy Book