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Review: works by John Akomfrah and Odili Donald Odita 

Prospect.4 shows at the Ogden and in public spaces

click to enlarge precarity_-_akomfrah_--g.jpg

New Orleans is often described as mysterious, but much of that may have to do with the mysteries surrounding some of its most influential figures. The sudden rise to fame of Charles "Buddy" Bolden, the cornet player widely credited with "inventing" jazz around 1900, was cut short in 1907, when at age 30, he was institutionalized for schizophrenia until he died in 1931. He left a few old photos and many vivid legends as his legacy. Despite that dearth of detail, John Akomfrah's Precarity three-screen video at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art is often cited as one of Prospect.4's most emblematic works for the way it evokes Bolden's brief presence in our midst by immersing us in the sights and sounds of Bolden's New Orleans as he seems to wander amid vivid figures in period garb in scenes interwoven with vintage images of his old riverside haunts and modern views of the city. Accompanied by a ghostly voiceover based on Bolden's fragmented ruminations, Precarity functions as an extraordinary example of intuitive time travel by Akomfrah, the Ghana-born, London-based winner of Britain's 2017 Artes Mundi prize.

  Many New Orleans natives grew up amid the legacy of the Anglo-American South's attempts to redefine our Creole heritage via laws and monuments, but Creole sensibilities always were more welcoming. In Prospect.4, Nigeria native Odili Donald Odita articulates that inclusive sensibility in the form of flags in which interwoven bands of color reflect the intermingling of gravitas and buoyancy that characterize Creole values here and elsewhere. His Indivisible and Invincible project includes 15 historically fraught sites, such as the spot where Homer Plessy was arrested, the school first integrated by Ruby Bridges and the ferry to Algiers, where African slaves were held before being sold. Odita's expansive philosophy of social aesthetics offers a vision of a world in which flags celebrate the contributions of all ethnicities rather than marking off national boundaries in an endlessly futile game of defense and conquest. Through Feb. 25. Precarity at Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., (504) 539-9650; www.ogdenmuseum.org. Indivisible and Invincible at various locations. www.prospectneworleans.org.

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