#SAMDisguise: Brendan Fernandes on Maasai

#SAMDisguise: Brendan Fernandes on Maasai

Maasai Necklaces

Artist Brendan Fernandes speaks on Maasai necklaces

Maasai Necklaces

Maasai Necklaces

LOW/NO VISION

LOW/NO VISION

Transcript

My name is Brendan Fernandes and I'm an artist based in New York and Toronto. My work deals with identity, and I make my work through installation and performance-based practices.

I'm here at the Seattle Art Museum to talk to you about a number of necklace pieces made by the Maasai people of Kenya.

These objects connect to the themes of the Disguise exhibition, they present a way to create an aesthetic to the body, an extension of the body, and I feel like when we present ourselves with clothing, we transform ourselves, we take on a presence. And these objects are used for women to adorn their bodies during the ceremony of a wedding, so that idea that you are becoming something else. So the fact that there is a change of embodiment, a change of experience of who you are and when you're putting these on. I think that's amazing, I think clothing identify us. They give us a sense of self, a sense of character, but they also allow us to take on characters or roles that we may not necessarily always be.

These objects connect to my artistic practice because in a lot of my work I'm questioning my sense of identity. Identity through cultural identity, something that comes up a lot in my work, and because being born in Kenya, being then raised in Canada, and living in the United States, I'm always questioning this idea of cultural hybridity.

And for me, looking at these objects, it references back a place of home, a community, an understanding of something that I know, but I'm also removed from. So when I see them in the museum, I have a sense of, of understanding but I'm also questioning that history of this object and also looking at myself, and questioning my identity and who am I, where am I come from, you know, am I still Kenyan, am I still Canadian, am I Indian, am I American, how does this idea of a cultural narrative present itself.

My father used to work in the safari industry and because of that, you know, I was exposed to a lot of the Maasai people, their community, and their culture, so for me this brings back a lot of nostalgia and memory. And something about them that really strikes me is that the beading in Maasai culture has a specific kind of symbology and kind of language. The placement of beads put together create symbols, and colors have references. For example, green always references the landscape of the country that feeds the cattle that are so important to Maasai culture.

These pieces were brought to the museum in a collaboration between the museum and a community in Kenya, an exchange, so it was also an acquisition done through a collaboration of dialogue and communication between the parties. I think that's quite effective and evident in the way that they are being presented, but also something that is really important because many African objects were removed from their place of origin and never given the proper acknowledgement of how they got to the places that they belong in now.

I think that this object in SAM's permanent collection has a lot of meaning because it brings for the first time objects from East Africa into a historic collection that is predominantly West African, and I think that's really important to present, a lot more for the diversity or complexity of the continent of Africa. We're always thinking of Africa as a cultural monolith but the continent is large, complex, many different histories of colonization, and we think of it as one, but it is 54, 54 countries in the continent.

I would like to ask visitors to look at the object, to try to understand it more, to try to see it within the collection, think about these objects not just as commodities but as actual objects that have purpose and relevance within people's lives and have a specific kind of cultural understanding to them.

LOW/NO VISION Transcript

You are listening to a visual description of the artwork intended for someone with low to no vision. An interpretive analysis will immediately follow. For interpretive analysis of the object, enter the three-digit number on the label followed by the pound key.

Maasai Necklaces by various Maasai women artists. Collected in 1999. Wire, glass beads, plastic. Five necklaces ranging from about 1 foot to 7 inches in diameter.

This is a display of five beaded necklaces. Each necklace is a flat disc of concentric circles of beads in pie-like sections and circular rows of colors. The left-most necklace is fully outlined along the perimeter with a thin circle of alternating black and white beads and with sparse flat silver metal disc beads dangling along the edge, and features alternating sections of blue, orange, white, green, and red. The second necklace from the left has thin circles of yellow then red beads on the outside, then thicker circles inwards of blue then white, then a thickest circle of red before a thin circle of green in the middle. The center necklace is largest, and has a perimeter of alternating black and white beads, then alternating sections of blue, orange, white, green, and red, which outlines concentric circle bands of blue, white, then red in the center. The fourth necklace, displayed to the right of the center one, features alternating sections of blue, orange, white, green, and red. The last necklace, displayed on the farthest right, is a thin red circle of beads on the perimeter with a thick circle of blue in the middle, and single rows of white, red, and green beads in the center.

Now, an interpretive analysis of the artwork.

My name is Brendan Fernandes and I'm an artist based in New York and Toronto. My work deals with identity, and I make my work through installation and performance-based practices.

I'm here at the Seattle Art Museum to talk to you about a number of necklace pieces made by the Maasai people of Kenya.

These objects connect to the themes of the Disguise exhibition, they present a way to create an aesthetic to the body, an extension of the body, and I feel like when we present ourselves with clothing, we transform ourselves, we take on a presence. And these objects are used for women to adorn their bodies during the ceremony of a wedding, so that idea that you are becoming something else. So the fact that there is a change of embodiment, a change of experience of who you are and when you're putting these on. I think that's amazing, I think clothing identify us. They give us a sense of self, a sense of character, but they also allow us to take on characters or roles that we may not necessarily always be.

These objects connect to my artistic practice because in a lot of my work I'm questioning my sense of identity. Identity through cultural identity, something that comes up a lot in my work, and because being born in Kenya, being then raised in Canada, and living in the United States, I'm always questioning this idea of cultural hybridity.

And for me, looking at these objects, it references back a place of home, a community, an understanding of something that I know, but I'm also removed from. So when I see them in the museum, I have a sense of, of understanding but I'm also questioning that history of this object and also looking at myself, and questioning my identity and who am I, where am I come from, you know, am I still Kenyan, am I still Canadian, am I Indian, am I American, how does this idea of a cultural narrative present itself.

My father used to work in the safari industry and because of that, you know, I was exposed to a lot of the Maasai people, their community, and their culture, so for me this brings back a lot of nostalgia and memory. And something about them that really strikes me is that the beading in Maasai culture has a specific kind of symbology and kind of language. The placement of beads put together create symbols, and colors have references. For example, green always references the landscape of the country that feeds the cattle that are so important to Maasai culture.

These pieces were brought to the museum in a collaboration between the museum and a community in Kenya, an exchange, so it was also an acquisition done through a collaboration of dialogue and communication between the parties. I think that's quite effective and evident in the way that they are being presented, but also something that is really important because many African objects were removed from their place of origin and never given the proper acknowledgement of how they got to the places that they belong in now.

I think that this object in SAM's permanent collection has a lot of meaning because it brings for the first time objects from East Africa into a historic collection that is predominantly West African, and I think that's really important to present, a lot more for the diversity or complexity of the continent of Africa. We're always thinking of Africa as a cultural monolith but the continent is large, complex, many different histories of colonization, and we think of it as one, but it is 54, 54 countries in the continent.

I would like to ask visitors to look at the object, to try to understand it more, to try to see it within the collection, think about these objects not just as commodities but as actual objects that have purpose and relevance within people's lives and have a specific kind of cultural understanding to them.