President Obama, In Seven Days & Greenbelt

 

Once again I find myself writing a once-in-a-blue-moon blog, and once again I find myself at the Greenbelt Festival, hanging artwork for the Visual Arts stream. It’s been it’s usual slog, but the work is up, the punters are trickling in, and the visual arts team nervously wait to see whether the work is as enjoyable to everyone else as it has been to us choosing it and working with it.

One of my particular favourites this year is Nicola Green’s “In Seven Days”.

Nicola had the great privilege of being able to follow Barack Obama’s journey from accepting the nomination as candidate for the Democratic party, right through to his inauguration as President of the United States.

The images are a distillation of various key moments along that journey. At first glance the images appear to be very simple but as with most work that reduces the various elements to distilled constituent parts, the volume of significance increases dramatically.

The gestures, poses and symbols are versatile enough that they can stand rigourous enough interpretation. The cruciform gesture in sixth image (“SACRIFICE/EMBRACE”) is particularly loaded with messianic symbolism, the air-punching fist of the second image (“STRUGGLE”) echoes both olympic triumphalism and black power – all lend a tension to the seven works taken as a whole, almost a narrative journey. The work, as Green says become about more than just him, and are the story of the people of America.

Questions of power are particularly pertinent at this point in Obama’s second term of office, as the tide of opinion turns, and the legacy of his time as President domes into focus. Will it be “Yes, we did” or have the NSA, drone flights, Gauntanamo Bay blotted the record too far? And what place does this have within the Greenbelt Festival’s remit around social and political justice issues?

It’s not often that you get works like this that see-saw well between political concerns and art practise concerns, but they do seem to hit a moment in time. And like all the best work, there is a timelessness to them that is more than just about Obama, America and now, and become about power, kingship and you and me.

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