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Ekene Ijeoma on ‘Trying to Portray Hidden Things’

Professor Ijeoma spoke with Evan Moffitt from Frieze about his recent group exhibition at Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Omaha, and how the multidimensionality of data informs his diverse practice.

Evan Moffitt: Your work Deconstructed Anthems: Nebraska 12 (2015) [2021], which is currently on view in ‘All Together, Amongst Many’ at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, removes notes from ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at an interval based on the local rate by which Black people are more likely than white people to be incarcerated. Can you tell me more about the technical underpinnings of that project? How was it first conceived?

Ekene Ijeoma: The first time the work was performed was in December 2017, but it’s dated 2015 because that’s the date of the most recent national incarceration data. I make the work site-specific for every city where it is performed. In Nebraska, Black people are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white people. I doubled that number to lengthen the duration of the work, so 12 is the number of times the anthem is repeated. The actual rate at which the notes are removed is based on national incarceration rates from 1950 to now because it’s a nationwide issue. Since 1950 the rate has increased significantly and I use that same rate of increase over time to remove notes. I developed a custom music composition software to generate the score. This is the first time I’ve presented machine-plotted ink drawings of the score itself, so you can see the notes being removed as time progresses. The 12th and last drawing has no notes at all.

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Ekene Ijeoma's Deconstructed Anthems

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Deconstructed Anthems at the Day for Night festival.

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Emmy-winning pianist Kris Bowers, Blue-note recording artist/trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, and Grammy-nominated bassist Burniss Earl Travis perform Deconstructed Anthems.

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Burniss Earl Travis

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Ambrose Akinmusire

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Deconstructed Anthems is an ongoing series of music performances and light installations in which a self-playing piano and music ensemble deconstruct the Star-Spangled Banner, repeating it multiple times, removing notes at the rate of mass incarceration, and ending in silence. 

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