interview with Sokari Douglas Camp 30.4.09

sword_fish001I will be interviewing Sokari live at the Second Skins: Cloth and Difference Symposium 30 April 2009 at INIVA, Rivington Place, London UK.

“Fabricating Metal: the work of Sokari Douglas Camp”.

This session will be a discussion of the work of sculptor Sokari Douglas Camp, illustrated by a selection of several images chose by the artist. Sokari Douglas Camp was born in 1958 in Buguma, Nigeria. She went to the California College of Art and Craft, and then graduated in 1983 from the Central School, London, before gaining a Masters in sculpture from the Royal College of Art, in 1986. She works in welded steel, fusing the realities of London and Nigeria and raising questions about the world(s) in which we live. Several of her sculptures make direct references to the masquerade tradition of the Kalabari, including such works as Big Masquerade with Boat and Household on his Head and some of them address themes that are more explicitly London based – yet in all cases relevant and compelling. Made in steel, they seem to move – and sometimes they do actually move (thanks to mechanical innovations).

What is relevant to this workshop on ‘cloth and difference’ is that, even while the work is in metal, the masquerade figures are a tangible response to the ways that putting on costume, in Kalabari performance, as well as more generally, allows or facilitates a transformation. A transformation that is expressive and public, and both varied and provocative in context and significance.

The theme of performance and dress assigns significance to cloth in ways that are deeply woven into the textile of Kalabari culture just as much as in everyday London. Costume allows an expressiveness that is appreciated and engaging for all those who encounter Sokari’s sculptures. Her imposing pieces are now found in a variety of places – the British Museum forecourt 2005 , outside a block of flats in Peckham, in various galleries throughout the world or in competitions for public sculptures such as the Fourth Plinth of Trafalgar Square 2003 or for a memorial to slavery (forthcoming Burgess Park, South London 2010 ). At the same time, Sokari’s sculptures are linked in style and realization with comparative work suggesting a rethink of the hierarchies of appreciation of material and cultural difference that we see expressed in the art world and its commentaries.

Sokari’s work challenges the too-easy separation of themes that allocate certain arts and topics to some galleries and spaces, and others to the mainstream. Her work challenges the protocols of order and ownership, propriety and place that are the received norm. The appearance of a Sword Fish Masquerade in Peckham or of protesters on the Fourth Plinth in each case raises a flag (or a cloth, a dress, a headscarf) for an alternative appreciation of texture and style. There is much to discuss here that opens up the material concerns of this workshop – the fabric may be rendered in metal, but within the folds of these ‘second skins’ are woven many moving expressions.

(Sokari Douglas Camp will be in conversation with John Hutnyk from the Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths).

Second Skins is HERE.

More on Sokari from Ro (we still miss you so much) and from a Goldsmiths sidestreet.