Lightness of Being

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”— Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Mallick Welli’s first major solo exhibition in his home city and coinciding with the tenth anniversary of his prolific career as an artist, ‘Lightness of Being’ is a cross-sectional career retrospective hosted at Galerie Atiss, Dakar.
Welli tackles his usual esoteric themes of duality, spirituality, history, material culture and restitution: not of objects, but of memory, pedagogy and lost identity. Welli is interested in the convergence of religious, material influences, economics and power dynamics and how these evolve to shape visual culture. There is a questing for ecology and interdependence and how apparently independent events coincide and influence each other. In Anonym(us) Welli deploys the performative and stylistic in addressing the transaction between humanity, objects and trees. The trees are significant, they predate us and in Senegal have a special reverence and spiritual presence and weightiness.

Since the 1st (Christianity) and early 7th century (Islam) Abrahamic religions have spread almost unmitigated throughout Africa. Notions around African spirituality have largely been lost and demonised and with it a loss of aspects of tradition, memory, knowledge and history. Whilst religious ideas of concepts of cosmogonies seem fixed, culture and science are constantly being revised, always evolving and perpetually in a state of flux. At the very foundation of Quantum mechanics is the Uncertainty Principle which explains the limits of measuring position and momentum and in general the delimits of knowing, wherever observation is involved—for by observing there is always a shift in position and so forth. By what means do we measure, capture and transmit our sense of place, culture, loss and memory in the twenty-first century? Evidently through lens based media as manifested through photography and film. Perhaps this explains the essential shift for Welli from photo-reportage/press documentary photography to staged mise-en-scène style photography. For within with this canon he is able to be transparent about his biases and demonstrate a position and be clear about the delimits of the medium in capturing position and momentum shifts in culture. He is also able to deploy aspects of critical design aesthetics to set a stage to re-examine studio photography and their dialogical role and relevance in the twenty-first century Africa as seen in Journal D’un Retour Au Village Natal.

In our age, the anthropocene, we are living through some of the most significant upheavals in the way we perceive and navigate space, time inequalities and ecology. It requires hyper-vigilance and patient observation to glean modes or survival from excesses in following the herd. The prism through which Welli refracts this visual examination of the knowability of ancient and contemporary cultures is consciousness: do these visual clues rest on lived experiences or imagined memories? This ambiguity is ever present throughout the entire oeuvre of Lightness of Being: Welli’s mysterious and evocative subjects are transformed by his expressive and idiosyncratic approach to image making. For Welli his subjects embody the confidence that the inner life of a community can truly be expressed through engaging with its cultural artefacts. Duality, in Senegal, and many parts of West Africa is celebrated through fashion. Photography and Ibeji are a marriage made in heaven. From duality we are offered an infinite multiplicity of phenomena.

In the four bodies of work within Lightness of Being memory has its own specific gravity. In natural sciences this term refers to the ratio of the density of a substance to the density of a given reference material. For Welli, what is this reference material? How do we capture an essence that is immanent within each living being? The concept of gravity, weightiness is the common thread that runs through each body of work with ‘Lightness of Being’. By contrast for Welli the dynamics between lightness and spiritual essence is one that is dynamic and constantly shifting and the reference is always the self. Colours, memories, smell, taste and rituals and performances all conspire to restore a personal familiar sense of self. If there is one messaging it appears to bring into sharp focus the individual as an agent for the spiritual manifestation of a higher consciences or being.
Azu Nwagbogu

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