Femi Dawkins’ ‘Fata Morgana’ & The Importance Of The Artist Walk About

June 27, 2023

Life is long and short at the same time. During a person’s life, the roles they occupy oscillate between their childhood innocence and complicated adulthood. Much like we understand that good people are capable of horrible things, it’s important to note that the same can be said for those whom we laud as heroic. There’s a process of learning and unlearning, making and unmaking, when it comes to who we are. As cliche as the term goes, art truly does imitate life, but the more interesting thing to note is which life it’s imitating.

After stumbling upon Femi Dawkins’s walk about in Amsterdam, it became evident that his work demands the breadth and width of one’s gaze and mind’s attention. With Fata Morgana, Femi Dawkins presents an exhibition that considers the duality of the human experience of BIPOC folk.

For those who have never experienced a walk about, essentially the artist takes an audience through each artwork. The creation of the art, the inspiration behind it, and more are all elements of what artists share at a walk about. More than describing and narrating the exhibition, an artist can make the human connection between the work they’ve created and the people viewing it.

What is a ‘walk about’?

Too often, the art world is viewed as something that can’t be accessed by the “average Joe”. However, if we’re being honest, we spend every day of our lives living in art. From the homes we occupy to the screensavers on our phones, something imagined in the mind became the reality we live in or use on a daily basis.

Public speaking is an art form in itself. From the inflections used by the speaker to the specific word choices they make. As a writer, I’m biased to refer to public speaking as a form of performance, as such I view each speech as a performance as well. While watching Femi Dawkins take a mixed group of people through Fata Morgana, you’re drawn to not only his work, but his manner of speaking, the shared wonder of the audience, the space in itself.

Femi Dawkins’ work is personal

As we see technological advancements change the way we work and consume work, it’s important to reinforce the importance of human touch in how we interact with the world. To this point, when describing his work, Dawkins noted that each piece was, “my hand, my ritual, my gesture”. While we continue to question where artificial intelligence is going, walking through Fata Morgana reinforces that there will not be a time where AI can replicate us.

For Dawkins, he creates most of his work in isolation. Interestingly, this is made more poignant when you take into consideration that his work references the dual existence of being Black and living in a world that is systemically designed for us to fail. One piece, ‘Black Noise, Sweet Jesus’ perfectly illustrates this existence. Reminiscent of the statues of Jesus in Brazil and Portugal, ‘Black Noise, Sweet Jesus’ juxtaposes opposing concepts. A previously white Jesus covered in dirt, a light fixture that both illuminates but bears the suggestion of a noose, are examples of the duality Femi creates in his work.

Sharing a moment in public

Something to consider about a walk about, however, is that you are only one part of the audience. While attending Amsterdam Art Week where Dawkins was exhibiting his work, the crowd was notably very white. As a Black woman, there are elements of his work that are specific to my Blackness that a white person could never engage. Much like most cultural products, whiteness may be able to interact, but the specificity required to understand a work is exclusive to that culture.

While describing ‘My Ghostly MRIs’, Femi Dawkins expressed, “We spend a whole lot of our lives trying to tell you, tell the world of our humanity.” In that moment, it’s quite clear who the “you” and the “we” were. He went further to say that he didn’t care to be understood, but rather that he was merely in the world to be in the world – to exist.

Words on their own mean one thing, but where they are said, how they are spoken, and by which speaker changes the denotation of a statement. The same can be said for an artwork, hence the importance of engaging artists directly on their work. Watching Femi Dawkins walk a group of folks around his Fata Morgana exhibition in Amsterdam, all the while taking in the work itself was one of those moments you remember for years to come. Interacting with people, with man made work, will always inspire an element of joy and wonder. That’s the magic of the walk about and the brilliant artists who take you through their mind’s eye, even if only for a moment.