Masud Olufani’s Translocation & Transfiguration (at Hammonds House Museum through March 22) creates an experience in which history and trauma are intertwined with a concise aesthetic and intricate craft.
In many families, there’s one relative who takes on the task of outlining the family genealogy — where we came from, how we got here, what was endured or tolerated or celebrated. For the public at large, artists often take on the responsibility of engaging with history in such a way, bringing the past forward no matter how painful. Olufani’s exhibit communicates a similar sense of shared history for an audience that might be too likely forget its past or too future-focused to remember.
Topically, Olufani — a multidisciplinary Atlanta artist who works mostly as a sculptor — provides a survey of trauma with respect to the experience of black people in America, highlighted by connections to an agrarian past, mass incarceration, the civil rights movement, police killings of unarmed citizens, infant mortality and linguistic plays on words that resonate in different ways. There’s a tendency toward grouping and order, with pieces like Soup Coolers, Tight Packers: A Depleted Harvest, Hive: Elegy for the Fallen and Freedom’s Price featuring collections of representations of individuals contextualized to meet the artist’s need.
Some observers will note that a few items on display have appeared in other exhibitions in Atlanta, yet this new context and location — a museum and a house — serve to heighten that sense of communal familial heritage and want for storytelling.
Most of this work doesn’t overly inform the viewer, rather it serves as a reminder of inescapable facets of America’s past that often whisper, and occasionally scream, in the present — memories that sometimes seem tucked away and left for history books, family photo albums or academic case studies.
The beauty of Olufani’s work here is the concise nature with which he’s able to condense big, familiar ideas into intimate crafted artifacts. And there’s a sense of play, too. The wry cleverness of titles to works like Haulin’ Ass, Onion or Whip depend on and pull from a closeness to Southern and/or black vernacular and add brief moments of levity amid the overarching serious tones of the exhibition. If this were indeed a family gathering, Olufani comes off as the uncle with a twinkle in his eye, sharing a colorful joke with you just out of earshot of stern family elders recounting a valuable lesson.
But back to the trauma.
There are big ideas here, almost too big to fully process in the solitude of a museum or a house, and doing the work of processing these ideas is compounded by a lingering feeling of being stuck . . . acknowledging the trauma, yet with nothing offered in the way of a possible resolution. And as such, after we are reminded to remember, that lingering emotional residue begs the somber question, “Now what?,” with no obvious answer to match.
Like one of those family stories you’ve heard dozens of times before, Translocation & Transfiguration doesn’t cover much new ground, yet you feel compelled to listen out of respect.