ARTIST SERIES

For his series “Infinite Essence,” Mikael Owunna responds to pervasive images in the media of Black people being shot and killed by the police. He has begun a quest to recast the Black body as the cosmos and eternal. Hand-painting the bodies of his models with fluorescent paints, the artist augments a standard camera flash with an ultraviolet bandpass filter in order to pass only ultraviolet light through the lens. Shooting in total darkness, Owunna clicks the camera’s shutter, and for a fraction of a second, these Black bodies are illuminated as the universe, becoming celestial vessels of the divine.

Owunna believes in order to bring forth the future destinies of African diasporic art, one must return to and revive its ancient origins. He grounds his work in the recovery, exploration, and modernization of West African knowledge systems, specifically Dogon and Igbo cosmologies. These sacred sciences are poetically rendered systems of spiritual and empirical principles organized around the goal of divinizing human consciousness. Drawing on their influence, Owunna’s multi-media work similarly fuses art, science, and religion to provide a vehicle for Black transfiguration.

In response to an era of police murder that reduces the Black body to a site of violent death, Owunna explores indigenous African understandings of Blackness as the fount of eternal life, the mythical principle from which all existence emerges. The posing and framing of each image references ideas from Dogon and Igbo knowledge systems and summon the Blackness of the womb, outer space, primeval oceans, inner visions, and spiritual illumination. The photographs are printed on aluminum to invoke millennia of West African metallurgy traditions and thereby amplify the power of these cosmological images.