THE ART OF MALI OLATUNJI Painterly Photography from Antigua and BarbudaProduct no.: HP179
Mali Olatunji and Paget Henry
For a nation that has seen itself many times in photographic essays, The Art of Mali Olatunji is a masterful photographic work on Antigua and Barbuda that genuinely goes beyond all earlier attempts to capture this twin-island state in images. The photographs in this book are truly astounding. They will make you stop and wonder. In addition to their images of home, these photographs also take account of the migratory experiences of Antiguans and Barbudans, and thus include powerful images of New York and London. Adding even more to the riches and power of this book is the engaging story that it tells about the life of the maker of these photographs and his unique aesthetic development. As a result, Antigua and Barbuda is here presented in ways never seen before.
The special feature that sets Olatunji’s photographic essay apart is it’s framing within an original and very distinct aesthetic – one that Olatunji calls a woodist/jumbie aesthetic. Like surrealism, cubism and other original aesthetics, woodism is a visual summary of Olatunji’s way of looking at life. In particular, it is an aesthetic that sees the world through the wooded eyes of jumbies. Your jumbie is your soul or the spiritual part of you that survives the death of the body. In Antigua and Barbuda and much of the Caribbean, jumbies are believed to make their post-body home in trees, and in particular silk cotton trees. Hence we can see why Olatunji associates them with a woodist vision of existence.
To capture this wooded vision of the jumbie, Olatunji very skilfully layers images of the lines of leaves, flowers, tree bark or of branches of trees over straight photographs of objects, persons or scenes. This layering of lines and textures from different parts of trees not only reveals the jumbie’s vision, but also produces amazing painterly effects. Using this striking and highly versatile woodist/jumbie aesthetic, Olatunji has, in effect, used his camera to paint a well-ordered series of images which have come together to produce a breath-taking photographic essay on Antigua and Barbuda.