“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.” -Stephen Hawking
Gravity. No, not the John Mayer song but the natural phenomenon that is; the natural occurrence familiar (or not) to places both known and unknown throughout the universe by which things comprised of mass or energy are attracted to each other.
This is what we know gravity to be, in all its magnanimous permanence. But like all things that are pillars of existence, our understanding of gravity is subject to being refuted, challenged, or in the case of Kambui Olujimi and his upcoming project “North Star”- reimagined.
“North Star interrupts and reimagines the narrative of the Black body in Western art history and contemporary art. By freeing the Black body of gravity it hopes to separate the body from the weight of terrestrial oppression.”
When imagining the representation of Black bodies in contemporary art and Western art history, seldom, if at all, are Black bodies portrayed in such a romanticized and surreal manner as their Western counterparts.
Take the Greco-Roman illustrations of constellations, for example, the Orion constellation is both named and imagined in the likeness of Orion, a mythologized Greek hunter storied for his heroic deeds.
The Gemini constellation’s etymology stems from the Latin word Gemini for “twins,” after mythological Greco-Roman twins Castor and Pollux.
This raises the question, “In the seemingly endless void of space that is often imagined with the gaiety of white bodies floating freely across the cosmos, does an imagining of space even exist for Black bodies to be both liberated from and celebrated without earthly shackles?” For Kambui Oluijimi, the answer is yes.
“Joy is a temporary relief like jumping: a relief from the expectation of gravity. This is a different set of expectations, an expectation of weightlessness or a condition of weightlessness where gravity does not exist.”
As one of 16 artists selected for legendary Kehinde Wiley’s 2019-2020 residency program- Black Rock Senegal, Kambui Olujimi will be attempting his “most ambitious project yet.”
From a technical standpoint, North Star could arguably be Kambui’s piece de resistance. Formatted as a cinematographic experience, North Star will capture the reactions of Black participants as they experience weightlessness for the first time.
To produce this project, Kambui will be filming 10 Black participants’ experience as they embark on a parabolic flight. Achieving this is no small feat.
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Initially, Kambui campaigned to raise $25,000 via Kickstarter, however, the charitable support of donors brought his pledge from $25,000 to roughly $40,000 of financial backing.
With funding in the rear-view mirror, Kambui still has many challenges ahead of him. Kambui’s project has and will continue to require extensive research on various space programs throughout the African continent, as well as finding 10 willing participants throughout Africa.
The 10 selected participants will then be flown to a stabilized altitude of 20,000 feet where the aircraft will gradually continue to increase its altitude.
During this phase, each participant will experience the weight of gravity becoming 1.8 times greater than the normal weight for 24 seconds. The flight crew will then perform a maneuver called “injection” at which the aircraft trajectory is “piloted to follow a kind of parabola and the power thrust is reduced.”
The plane’s parabolic trajectory will thus create a temporary zero-gravity environment for the participants. Their expressions will be filmed via a high-speed camera as they float “nude and unencumbered in a zero-gravity environment”.
While Kambui’s North Star has all the underpinnings of a scientific experiment (deservingly so), the project not only simultaneously illustrates Kambui’s avant-garde artistic genius, but more importantly gives voice to his take on Black bodies and the potentiality of Black Rhapsody.
Rather than portraying Black bodies as the often-demonized “site of trauma and violence,” Kambui (by way of his North Star project) will illuminate a newfound expression of Blackness- one free of gravity; free of trauma; free of violence; free of oppression.
Despite the gravity or lack thereof of the North Star project, Kambui’s creative introspection flows as naturally as his modest love for sci-fi and his hometown- Brooklyn.
When it comes to sci-fi and Afro-Futurism, his mind reads like an archive ranging from any of Octavia Butler’s works to that of HBO’s 1994 TV movie “Cosmic Slop” by George Clinton. He’s sort of like a living almanac.
His love of Brooklyn is equally unparalleled. Kambui totes that badge of honor effortlessly. His upbringing in the predominantly Black Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood fostered his personal understanding of what being Black means to him:
“There was a very narrow bandwidth of what was expected of my body and bodies that looked like mine and there was a great expanse of what I experienced in those bodies and in those locales; the corporeality of myself as well as those around me.”
“I guessed I learned that there was fiction at play in Bed-Stuy. That was the real beginning of that sort of inquiry.”
This culturally-rich analysis of the intersectionality of community, race, culture, and identity heightened Kambui’s sense of understanding himself and his own Blackness in relation to the world around him.
Over the past decade, Kambui has been able to capture his understanding of self and mold it into something beautifully abstract yet tangible for the world to experience- his art.