You enter a bookshop. The walls are lined with alphabetically arranged titles on shelves that reach the ceiling. At the peak of every other column is a word: Science Fiction, Fantasy, History, Biography. A new book is published with its genre already decided and packaged appropriately into its classification. There is comfort in categories. There is a label prepared for any new work of art, and to transcend that predestined type is a rare ability. Once a writer, musician, sculptor is slotted into a box, an escape can be impossible.
Take rap culture. More than most areas of culture, rap has a family of cemented ideas and stereotypes that allows us to easily define its presence. Violence, anger, sexuality, money, drugs. For most these define their perception of rap, just as a melancholy detective and a femme fatale signal the crime novel. If rap was a subsection in a bookshop, where would it sit? Between Crime and Biography? As a category of fiction? There is a strong argument for rap to be treated as a branch of Poetry, the creative, oral output of a culture, founded on the same fundamentals as the Iliad. Rap culture deifies, celebrates, defames, brags, satirises and tells stories based in both truth and myth. Despite this, there is one place, perhaps, where rap might feel at odds: academia.
Kamile Ofoeme’s work refuses to accept boundaries. As a student at Goldsmith’s University, Kamile has produced art that thrives on fluidity and hybridity. He sees the world ‘functioning as various elements combined and fused together. We are often given the perception that ideas are absolute’. He is the opposite of the divisions found in a bookshop, of the restrictions placed on culture. For Kamile, the world is rhizomatic, a philosophical standpoint developed by Deleuze and Guattari – to think as a rhizome plant grows: interconnected roots, various elements combined and fused together. Elements like, for example, academia and rap. In his lecture, ‘Shifting Boundaries’, Kamile does exactly this with the music of Young Thug and the rapper’s eccentric style. The lecture is a critical look at “the history of Atlanta, self-creation, vocal contouring, speculative fiction and the shifting representation of black masculinity in popular and cyber culture.” Blurring, shifting, hybridity: Kamile does not accept concrete concepts. Too often, culture alters before it is defined, and continues to shift long after a word has appeared in the dictionary. ‘This is true,’ says Kamile, ‘of ideas around race, sexuality, gender, nationality etc.’
Though he has not felt any opposition from Goldsmith’s concerning his critical work on Atlanta’s history of African-American music – a lineage expertly demonstrated in his Shifting Boundaries lecture – Kamile understands that ‘Universities are inclined to stick to old models, which often keeps them as traditionalists preserving old culture.’ This is not a criticism from Kamile, however, only an acceptance of the ‘different approaches’ people follow. ‘Personally, I am a futurist and like to look towards the possibilities of what the future can bring.’
In his ‘Hybrid Gestures’ and ‘Hybridia’, we see Kamile at his best. If his philosophies could be given a visual reference point, it would be ‘Hybridia’. A short film imaging vegetation, trees, moss, discarded junk, an abandoned building, that soothes and jars. The film lulls the viewer into a strange ease that is frequently interrupted by sudden shifts in scene. A similar effect is to be found in ‘Hybrid Gestures’, in which bodiless arms move rhythmically, but a little out of perfect synchronisation. When I asked Kamile about this, he explained that the performers were untrained, ‘with little knowledge of professional dance or choreography. Because of this lack of formal training, we were unable to achieve a fully synchronised movement, however I still saw value in the gestures that were captured.’ He underplays that value. As you watch the video, and you continually anticipate that the hands will eventually move smoothly, the sensation felt is that found in ‘Hybridia’. An almost comfort that fits exactly into why he produces the work he does. Kamile disturbs the status quo of ideas that seem settled. He returns to those labels of gender, race and culture and blurs their edges, shifts them to an odd angle, and says ‘look, we’re not done here.’
The work that Kamile produces is more than innovative: it is necessary. His research and art expand beyond the cultural and into the political and the everyday. If anything has been proved in the last twelve months, it is that the Western world is far too preoccupied with maintaining strict boundaries, whether in ideological form (the vote for Brexit) or physical (Trump’s Great Wall). It should not still be a controversial statement that fluidity and hybridity are the way forwards for our culture, and yet it continues to be. As long as it does, artists like Kamile are indispensable.
Kamile’s work can be followed at his blog, The Third Room, where you can watch his short films, and listen to his ‘Shifting Boundaries’ performance lecture.