Chris Jordan on Yoruba Axe

Chris Jordan on Yoruba Axe

Chris Jordan on Yoruba Axe

Listen to local artist Chris Jordan discuss how this Yoruba Axe connects to themes of the Figuring History exhibition.

Chris Jordan on Yoruba Axe

Chris Jordan on Yoruba Axe

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Transcript

My name is Christopher Paul Jordan. I'm a public artist. I'm from Tacoma, Washington that also does community organizing and installation.

Part of what's so captivating to me about this ax is it bears witness to traditions of metallurgy within the West African region. Whenever we're talking about weaponry within an indigenous context, a black indigenous context, particularly you're dealing with the reality of continuous need to defend your community. And so the implications of impossibilities of warfare are different kind of reality of life from the way that the state has a monopoly on violence within our current situation. Ogun being this deity of both tools and objects of war, perhaps it is a calling for the user to channel a kind of an appreciation for peace while it is in and of itself an object with the potential to harm.

Depictions of Africans and African American folks and African diaspora, within the history of painting is very, very seldom that you would find someone armed from a standpoint of valor, that you would find someone armed righteously. Oftentimes people are found armed as rebels, or they're found armed as in conflict within their communities, or they're found armed with a number of different constraining social circumstances. But to be armed, from a standpoint of your rightful ownership of your land, that to me is all contained within this object which has been taken out of context and taken away from that space.

To connect back to the Figuring History exhibition…Robert Colescott's piece [George Washington Carver crossing the Delaware], George Washington's sword within that painting, even though it's a real sword that was used in battle in a real way, within the painting itself is functioning in a ceremonial way. The fact that that comes up within an instance of satire to me is not coincidental. It kind of shows the extremity of the situation; I can probably count on one hand paintings like that, that I've encountered where I'm seeing folks armed in a righteous this way.

It seems that only our inherited objects can really bear witness to the fact that black indigenous communities have defended ourselves, for generations, have martial traditions and histories of grappling in a ceremonial way, in spiritual ways, with the implications of violence, and in handling that violence in a way that is in balance with our cultural priorities and our cultural norms.

Imagine the object in use, what kind of associations come to the surface for the object like this?

LOW/NO VISION TRANSCRIPT

You are listening to a verbal description of the artwork intended for someone with low to no vision.

Axe, made by an unknown Yoruban artist in Nigeria. Wood and iron. About 1 foot and 7 inches tall by 2 and half inches wide and 3 and a half inches deep.

This is an axe with a dark brown wooden handle carved in the round as a kneeling human figure. The axe blade is triangular, and has a zig zag band etched near the middle, and a set of concentric circles and a chevron etched near the pointed end, where the blade attaches to the wooden handle. A geometric design on the wooden part connects the blade to the figure, and looks like a hat on the figure's head. The head below has large round eyes carved on the sides of the head, while the nose and full lips protrude at the center profile. The figure has a longer neck that is adorned with a wide collar necklace, which rests above naked pointed breasts. Arms bend at the figure's side and the hands rest on the hips. A short skirt rests on the lap of the figure, which kneels on the plainly carved and functional handle section of the axe.

Now, here's an interpretive analysis of this artwork.

My name is Christopher Paul Jordan. I'm a public artist. I'm from Tacoma, Washington that also does community organizing and installation.

Part of what's so captivating to me about this ax is it bears witness to traditions of metallurgy within the West African region. Whenever we're talking about weaponry within an indigenous context, a black indigenous context, particularly you're dealing with the reality of continuous need to defend your community. And so the implications of impossibilities of warfare are different kind of reality of life from the way that the state has a monopoly on violence within our current situation. Ogun being this deity of both tools and objects of war, perhaps it is a calling for the user to channel a kind of an appreciation for peace while it is in and of itself an object with the potential to harm.

Depictions of Africans and African American folks and African diaspora, within the history of painting is very, very seldom that you would find someone armed from a standpoint of valor, that you would find someone armed righteously. Oftentimes people are found armed as rebels, or they're found armed as in conflict within their communities, or they're found armed with a number of different constraining social circumstances. But to be armed, from a standpoint of your rightful ownership of your land, that to me is all contained within this object which has been taken out of context and taken away from that space.

To connect back to the Figuring History exhibition…Robert Colescott's piece [George Washington Carver crossing the Delaware], George Washington's sword within that painting, even though it's a real sword that was used in battle in a real way, within the painting itself is functioning in a ceremonial way. The fact that that comes up within an instance of satire to me is not coincidental. It kind of shows the extremity of the situation; I can probably count on one hand paintings like that, that I've encountered where I'm seeing folks armed in a righteous this way.

It seems that only our inherited objects can really bear witness to the fact that black indigenous communities have defended ourselves, for generations, have martial traditions and histories of grappling in a ceremonial way, in spiritual ways, with the implications of violence, and in handling that violence in a way that is in balance with our cultural priorities and our cultural norms.

Imagine the object in use, what kind of associations come to the surface for the object like this?