The Quieten / How To Sleep Through Falling Silences

Short Description
The Quieten is a multi-sensory lucid dreaming installation with ASMR audio (autonomous sensory meridian response) using the text of anti-apartheid freedom fighter Steve Biko. The interactive installation aspires to break the re-occurrence of White-Supremacy and awaken the viewer from transgenerational conditioning of deafness towards the “other”.

Long Description
My project is an installation of sculpture, found objects, natural elements, and audio. The installation is an environment that induces sleep. I arrange sculptural beds in a dorm-style made of rammed soil. Each bed has a clay indent of a body and is an invitation for the viewer to lay down in the hollow imprint. The embossment signifies ancestral memories carried by the soil. Africans believe their ancestors reunited with the earth and that their rituals and ceremonies got digested back into its crust. The soil beds excavate the testimonies of interrupted lives and suspended dreams in its execution. The bed-sculptures come with audio. ASMR audio is the whisper reading of books to put the listener to sleep. The audio will not play a fairytale but accounts from the Black Consciousness text by anti-apartheid philosopher, Steve Biko. A black South Africa freedom activist executed in Pretoria at age 31 by police brutality. The battle of the “other” and the oppressed is that they are not heard. Biko was silenced, but his words live on. In biblical corpus, Jesus said, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” The audible clay beds create “compathy” (observing the suffering of another and mirror it in your own body) and give the interactive participant a direct experience of listening to “other” identities in a suspended state – being in a lucid dream and also waking up.

“Double consciousness is knowing the particularity of the white world in the face of its enforced claim to universality. Double consciousness is knowing the history offered up to black people—its many interpretations and echoes of white superiority and black inferiority, of white heroism and black cowardice, and even the temporal and geographical location of history’s beginning as a step off of the African continent—is a falsehood that blacks are forced to treat as truth in so many countless ways. Double consciousness, in other words, is knowing a lie while living its contradiction.” ― Steve Biko, I Write What I Like: Selected Writings

How is my project original?
I have a unique approach because of my history. Born and raised in South Africa and of French Huguenots refugee ancestry. This project grows from a split-individuality, a marginality, and ambivalence caused by my personal equation. That of being a white African, a long-lost European, a Colonizer, and the Colonized. Being raised during apartheid, I can speak firsthand on racism from the place of the perpetrator. My project emphasizes the conditioning of the white patriarchy. This project allows to address our current political climate with the rise of white supremacy and racism.

What kind of impact do I hope to have?
The impact of my project is threefold: To break language barriers by using nonconformist reasoning within status quo systems. Biko’s once banned work is presented with the familiarity of an audiobook. To reconnect with nature through the gesture of laying down in the soil. Signifying cycles of birth and death of our bodies, but also of our beliefs. To open a gateway to direct experience of the “other”. I want to introduce an alternative approach to social-political issues. Instead of coming from a place of blame and guilt, the community can translate their own somatosensory engagement. A happening of compathy.

Who do I hope to engage?
As a Caucasian, I uphold Biko’s words: “that the place for their (white liberals) fight for black justice is within their own white society.” I want to engage with an audience from homogeneous communities and backgrounds, no matter their political leanings. This project will have a larger impact in smalltown community halls in the rural United States than in the conventional art world.

My project, Black Mother, White Mother – 2019 as an example

My attached work samples are from a 2019 installation project of sculpture, photography, and audio. I want to show my capabilities and how my proposed project will be approached. I combined sculptures and audio in an installation setting. I made the sculptures out of Lime and found objects. This project “Black Mother, White Mother” addressed the reinterpretation of cultural heritage and “the other”.

Audio work of the poem “Black Mother, White Mother” that played with the installation:

Preliminary “floorplan” for an installation:

The rammed mud sculptures are influenced by the work of Cuban artist Ana Mendieta. The image on the right is from her Siluetas series.

About Anja Marais:

South African multidisciplinary artist Anja Marais was born in a small town in the African savanna and currently lives and work in the USA. Her art projects reinterpret cultural lineage, seeking a new understanding of false supremacies and fragmented heritages. She received the Harpo Foundation Grant Award (2020), The Ellies Creator Award (2020), and the Orlando Contemporary Art Prize finalist (2019). Her installations are currently on display at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, Charlotte, NC (2020-21) and before the Corcoran Gallery, Washington DC (2019-20). Recently the subject of solo exhibitions at Bridge Red, Miami (2018), University of the Arts, Philadelphia (2016), and University of Northern Colorado, Greeley (2015). In recent years her group exhibitions have included the Museum of History of St Petersburg, Poterna Hall, Russia; the Museum of Contemporary Art Miami; the IMAS Museum, TX; the University of the Arts, Philadelphia; the MDC Museum of Art + Design, Miami, FL; the Baker Museum of Naples, FL and Doral Museum of Contemporary Art, FL. She took part in national art residencies like Ucross, WY (2017), The Millay Art Colony, NY (2017), Santa Fe Art Institute, NM (2019), Sedona Art Colony, AZ (2016), and the Vermont Studio Art Residency, VT (2015). She also attended international residencies in Japan (2009), Korea (2010), Russia (2013), and Finland (2014). She received her BFA(Hons) in 1998 from the University of South Africa.