Clay moulded relics, scripture, tokens of the domestic and spectres of the past being conjured through archival material; ‘Family Lines’ devotes its energy to embodying every aspect of how we connect to others and ourselves. I speak in the plural as this exhibition invites it, as it surveys the various inextricable manifestations of one’s identities, experiences, and familial and national connections. Ultimately, to think in the singular is to neglect the complexities of the human condition.
‘Family Lines’ is the first major solo exhibition of old and newly commissioned work by Irish and Sierra Leonean artist Alice Rekab consisting of painting, video, found objects, wood, archival material and clay sculptures. The exhibition is part of a more extensive multi-platform public program of workshops developed in collaboration with Éireann and I - a community archive of Black migrants in Ireland - public screenings and public billboards in collaboration with Cypher Billboard, London.
Vein-like clay anchors itself across the gallery, akin to how substrate becomes a field for roots to hold, take and connect spaces within an ecosystem. Clay tablelike formations offer platforms for objects to be seen and uplifted. A metronome, protected by a clay carapace, symbolises the fragility of time, reminding us of the importance of archiving and to preserve histories that would have otherwise been neglected.
“These were fragments of lives remembered, and retold, woven together to make some kind of sense to anyone who asked the question ‘where are you from?”
As an isleño (an inhabitant from the Canaries) who left at a young age, migration and cultural dissonance are part of my DNA and the source of the show’s explorative journey. Therefore, to be confronted with what it means to navigate the world through translating, discovering, reconciling, and belonging to one’s cultural heritage(s) is an ode to the diaspora experience.
As I descended the stairs into the main gallery, the experience felt like entering a subterranean internal space. Mirrors became portals into undiscovered dimensions. Like a process of mitosis, reflected objects multiply, offering plurality where many realities coexist simultaneously. I sat in front of ‘Christmas On Cemetery Road/Hamilton’ (2021/2022) to exercise a sonic meditation which quickly engulfed me in its chants of a language foreign to me: Krio. While captivated by the video, I contemplated the linguistic unintelligibility, an obstruction of social understanding and connection. For instance, when I speak my name in its correct accented form, the usual response is a confused expression. As a result, more often than not, I surrender to providing an anglicised pronunciation of my name. The verbal disconnect is one that many people endure, and as evidenced by this exhibition, some have it way worse than others. Yet, I felt refreshed to encounter a departure from translating or making a cultural experience universally intelligible. To honour a culture’s integrity is to invite people to make an effort to understand it or, more importantly, to connect through an emotional and embodied response. Ultimately, ‘Family Lines’ is an extension of a hand-encouraging human connection, a much-needed exercise in empathy.