Onajide Shabaka in Society of Black Archaeologists

January 21, 2020

Society of Black Archaeologists

Onajide Shabaka

My first trip to Minnesota’s Boundary Waters confirmed and changed my art practice until this day. Let me explain. I knew I was headed to an expansive forest wilderness by car in drizzling rain when the car’s headlights grazed over a mud puddle and I asked my friend to stop because I wanted a sample of muddy water. I scooped it into my styrofoam cup and marveled at the color. I’m sure my friend thought I was losing it.

Minnesota’s Superior National Forest and the Vermilion Iron Range (Boundary Waters Canoe Area) have since provided a real-world studio in the heavily wooded and riverain environment, that began in 1997 and allowed for the study of the geological, biological, both plant and animal, and the historical.

I had recently completed my bachelor’s degree and as an elective, Evolutionary Paleontology, and had graded better in the course than most of the geology students that actually needed the course
for their major. I knew I would love the course of study because I could recount being in middle school and gathering rocks along the roadside as our family drove across the US.

In Florida for instance, shell middens indicate past communities of people but archeologists are limited in what can be found there because most plant material has broken down and returned to the
environment. In the case of some paleo-Amerindigenous populations in the upper Mississippi region – otherwise called the Laurentian divide – we have a similar situation of nature taking back and recycling for rebuilding the forest’s future.

These are things I have great interest in even though not traditionally part of “the artist’s studio.” I create a kind of historical fiction in a variety of media which is based on both real-life, revealing something of the natural world, and ways in which humans can, or have created and archived history.

In 2015 I acted as curator of an exhibition at Florida Atlantic University, “Dirt: Yuta Suelo Udongo Tè.” The group exhibition embraced a broad concept about “dirt” but largely focused on conceptually personal and social pollutions, with a number of the artists using “raw pigment” (dirt) in the making of their artworks.

“Pigments are the basis of all paints and have been used for millennia. Early pigments were simply as ground earth or clay, and were made into the paint with spit or fat.” (Wikipedia)

Participating in various artist residencies (Mexico, Guadeloupe, Belize, Suriname, and the Everglades) has allowed my research to become a primary researcher where I can see a broader picture, take
in typically unseen bits of information, and mix things up, explore and experiment.

This is the culmination of many years and many interests through my walking practice and desire to see art and science come to life within the lifetime body of work I have created.



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