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Somewhere during the forgettable cloudy months of early 2020, I was excommunicated from the pulpit –or I left it. My circumspect departure from that position became an explorative journey, driven by two unraveling reasons.


Firstly, I found myself facing an internal conflict between my artistic expression and the ideological superiority that outlined the rigid confines of religious dogma. It became increasingly challenging to reconcile budding creative language with the insensitive doctrines of White evangelical faith. That tension stretched an irreconcilable distance between my devotion to God and my calling to serve fellow human beings—it seemed. How could one simultaneously be both a guiding light and a reflective mirror? Many surrounding me perceived the combination of being an artist and a preacher as inherently contradictory. Ultimately, parting ways with the pulpit empowered me to embrace my ongoing journey of spiritual meaning development. 


The second reason was less ambiguous. The church I had merged with did not fully embrace the majority of black college students who now composed over half of its congregation. These students were not regarded as affection-worthy brothers and sisters in Christ, nor were they welcomed with the same acceptance as others. For us, the church was subtly becoming how it always felt. A cold hug, with no safety or sense of belonging to share, or spare. 


The distancing of influential writers and artists who brought paradigm-shifting perspectives to contemporary Black spiritual development, such as Octavia Butler's "The Parable of The Sower," Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart," and Baldwin's "The Fire Next Time," further highlighted the church's disengagement with the development of contemporary Black spirituality and meaning. This chosen ignorance and its ugly reflection stared back at the church's stale and numbing response to the social outcry against the disregard for Black life in the months to come. 


As the year unfolded, it became apparent that certain contemporary aesthetics took precedence within the church community over supporting the spiritual growth of its young Black individuals. It was disheartening to witness this prioritization, and I realized that I needed to step outside the religious institutional framework to explore my convictions and share my offering to inspire others toward social change. Suffice it to say, it was time for me to step beyond the pulpit, to venture into the unknown, to live like a grown-up artist: off acquisitions and patronage only. I don't know what irresistible force that notion came from, but I embraced it.


A few years after my last sermon, hovering above my own unconscious body, I had fainted and fractured my skull. Instead of the expected lifelessness, I felt a strange and eerie sense of self. At that moment, all boundaries seemed to dissolve, and I became aware of a new dimension of existence, free from the constraints of my usual perception. During this celestial state, I had no thoughts and couldn't hear my sister's wails for help beneath me. However, the sensation of the wind gliding about me, like flowing water, was unmistakable. The experience continued as I regained consciousness in the ICU, yet the connection to this celestial state lingered.


Gaining consciousness brought a stark feeling of estrangement unlike any other, something distinct and transformative. And then it dawned on me—I was alive, but it was more than just mere survival. This experience liberated me in a way I had never felt before. It defied easy description—neither euphoria, nor relief, nor any ordinary sense of pleasure or victory. Instead, it was a deep and pure sense of belonging, an honest and profound discovery of spiritual meaning. The continuous, boundless nature of this revelational state of being, where time utterly lost its grip, and I existed beyond the confines of ordinary consciousness was a powerful awakening that forever liberated me. Enter, Breakthrough: An Endless Instant


Hailing from Umuagu, a small Igbo village in eastern Nigeria, I am a first-generation Nigerian-American artist. The idea of "agency" took center stage in my thoughts on spirituality and meaning-making, as I reflected on what it could mean for someone like me—someone with roots in both African and American cultures. As an abstract intellectual artist, my practice centers on cultivating agency to explore and create meaning in concepts that do not have—and could not have distinct physical representation in the world. My intersectional identity, invisible to the Western gaze, and almost inevitably bruised by the Western tongue, prepared me to embrace the challenge of expressing nuanced cultural ideas, drawing from the rich heritage of my African and American belonging. This embrace became even more challenging where the century-old debate surrounding spirituality remains contentious and unsettled: Christianity or not, sacred texts or oral tradition, ancestors or saints—each choice carrying its unique connotations and personalities. Inevitably these thoughts led me to different histories of the relationship between Black spirituality and meaning-making across the globe— where indigenous African religious practice became discouraged, impossible, or illegal; in which faith was required, but "having" spiritual agency, in other words, was as out of the question as freedom. Assertions of agency in Black spirituality and meaning-making under conditions peculiar to ideological superiority were disillusioned and criminal.


The idea was riveting, but the landscape overwhelmed me. Summoning stories that could manifest the wisdom and the ferocity of such logic proved beyond my imagination until I found an article when preparing to move to Atlanta. A contribution in the online publication The Black Past summarized the story of The Igbo Landing. In 1803, a group of 75 Igbo people who were enslaved and trafficked on a ship came together with the intention of resisting the tragic destiny of slavery. While they were still chained together at Dunbar Creek on St. Simons Island in Glynn County, Georgia, they bravely rebelled and, in a powerful act, overcame and drowned their captors. They then collectively walked into the water while chanting, "The water Spirit brought us here, the water Spirit will guide us home”. This depiction became a heroic inspiration in the fight against racial discrimination, evoking the lyrics “ Before I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave”, words that echoed throughout America as the anthem of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. The 75 were certainly single-minded and, judging by their last song, they had the wisdom, the ferocity, to risk everything for what was to them the necessity of their spiritual agency and meaning in life.


The historical Igbo Landing is fascinating, but, to an abstract artist, confining. The flat existing narrative of a “mass suicide” left too little honest explorative space there for my purposes. So I would summon their beliefs, from my own inherited Igbo ideologies. Synthesizing this exploration for a subtext that was historically true in essence, but not strictly factual in order to relate their history to contemporary issues about spirituality, belonging, and meaning-making. The protagonist of Breakthrough: An Endless Instant would personify the viewer, assume the transcendence of spiritual agency; claiming our own freedom to make meaning. The terrain, a remote exhibition in the desert, was intimidating and untrodden. To invite viewers (and myself) into the repellant landscape (hidden, but not completely; deliberately buried, but not forgotten) was to pitch a tent in a cemetery inhabited by highly vocal memories in this body of work. 


I drifted in the air, floating in nothingness, each second lasting another lifetime. The vibrating silence. Above the concrete floor is a brown woven seagrass rug, offering my lifeless body to the winter sun–a sacrificial son. The fourth wall, much like the right side of my skull, broken with an endless gaze, touching the viewer’s eye. Like this.


So it was there from the first narrative in this body of work, an instant that later became "Rainbow Baby." The figure most central to the story would have to be that, the endless instant. The one that was estranged from– yet connected to life without a say in any of it. 

The endless instant, personified by the Black diasporic family unit could not loiter in atheism; they would have to enter a celestial consideration of their life origin and experiences. A real spirituality, not a building. One with ancestral belonging. One where the native tongue and universality of human experiences could soar unrestricted. There would be no vestibule into this agency and no "introduction" into it or the body of work. I desperately wanted the viewers to trust me, as I trust them to enter the narrative; making the historical fiction a lived experience. 


 It was important to name this claim of agency, but not the way "The Enlightenment" or other intellectual movements were named. There would be no adjectives suggesting ease or stoicism or the laying claim to an instant, monarchic past. Only a word here, to connect the moment to–while simultaneously separating it from all the moments surrounding it, marking its difference from the era that existed alongside. Illustrating the role of naming in creating a sense of belonging. 


 In striving to express the explorations of my convictions, I experienced the oneness and structure of terrestrial existence being forcefully exchanged with the tumult caused by the restless spirits of the departed, and the arduous struggle to forget to be undermined by the tenacious persistence of memory. To render the personal experience of this bond of movement, language must recede into the background, allowing the experience of this body of work to take precedence. 


I preserve that endless instant in the air, the aerial perspective, the instant awareness of self, the vibrating silence. And the brown seagrass rug underneath my eye. Then the agency.

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