About Ari Bookman

Ari Bookman studies African literatures and cultures in Chicago, USA. His most recent writing, based on his research in Kenya, examines the relationship between literature and consumption from 1963 to the present.

body shop

Because of the internet I know many things about the graphic artist DJ Ndebele. I know he’s not a DJ, nor is he from the Ndebele tribe. I know that despite not being a DJ he has an Afro-house set on SoundCloud, that he makes prints on metal and wood and shows them around southern California, and that he designs t-shirts for his brand Timbuktu State.

But when I look at Ndebele’s graphic prints it’s the limits of my knowledge that suddenly seem the most salient. It’s not quite the feeling of not knowing enough, but more that no matter how much I know it won’t quite matter to understanding this artist’s work.

Take his recent piece, “The People’s Body Shop,” which he showed at the 2013 Pan-African Film Festival in Los Angeles. The piece uses an abstract design of circles and angles to focus attention on an image, apparently reproduced from a photo, of a person’s scarred back. The image reveals four or maybe six double rows of raised dots, curving from the small of the back up over the shoulders; there are also two parallel lines cut in a V shape between the shoulder blades.
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What do you do when a dream dies? Maybe it’s the end of a career, a loss of faith, a devastating fire. What happens when we “lose the plot,” when we sense that the goal that was supposed to carry us forward in life is irrevocably lost and out of reach? How then do we figure out where we are and where to go from there?

Mumin (Edward Dankwa), the orphaned boy at the heart of the new short film Native Sun (2011) [Watch here], faces a similar loss. He lives with his mother (Mary) in a rural Ghanaian village, a blurry assemblage of makuti huts and narrow paths. Just before she dies she hands him a photo of his father, who lives in Accra and whom he has never met, and tells the child to go find him. Mumin makes his way alone to the vast city and asks random strangers if they know the man in the picture, but nobody can help him. At some point he absent-mindedly puts his backpack down, and when he turns around again the bag – with the picture of his father – is gone. Continue reading