In The Frank Oz-and-Jim Henson-directed film, The Dark Crystal, Jen the Gelfling embarks on a journey to reunite a shard with a broken crystal, ultimately restoring balance to his universe. This is a children’s movie whose main characters are puppets, but the concept is mighty complex: it is not a simple tale of good versus evil; it is not goodness that Jen—who is joined by a female Gelfling, Kira—is attempting to spread in his land. It is the unity of good and evil, the understanding that too much of either ‘dark’ or ‘light’ can be damaging.
Spoiler alert: at the story’s end, the reptilian, nasty, evil Skeskis, and the kind, harmonious Mystics—the land’s two dominant races—transcend their own beingness and become neutral, floating creatures of light. Though the two races’ opposing qualities might’ve naturally opposed each other, now real peace can exist. There is no judgment, just being.
What I’m trying to say here is that Kubiat Nnamdie is a lot like Jen the Gelfling.
The Nigerian-born, Miami-based artist—he is a photographer, collagist, sculptor, performer, dream-weaver—uses his work to convey what feels like an unbiased, clear, but undeniably beautiful truth about the universe and all of its realms. Particularly in his photography, Nnamdie crafts his subjects with the eye of someone that might know plenty about their emotions and their quirks, but he allows them to exist in a dimension unto themselves, transcending their personhood to become these multifaceted but ultimately unified and peaceful concepts.
In Nnamdie’s world—a colorful one of smoke bombs, powdered glass, sea salt, and yes, shard-like crystals—he does not judge. He simply temporarily creates balance. When asked why, exactly, he creates art, Nnamdie says, “I am able to communicate a universal truth this way.”
Tonight is the opening of the Sixth All-Media Juried Biennial at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, and Nnamdie’s portrait Untitled (Blue GG Allin) will be featured amongst works by Farley Aguilar, Sinisa Kukec, Johnny Laderer, Luis Pinto, Vanessa Monokian, and approximately sixty-six others, more than twice as many featured artists than the last show. Juried by Miami Rail editor/wizardly wordsmith Hunter Braithwaite and artist/publisher/purveyor of genius Gean Moreno, this Biennial is especially representative of South Florida’s ripe and multifarious brilliance.
Nnamdie’s image in the show was already displayed in Mexico City at Preteen Gallery, and he is excited to see it “for the first time in the U.S.” It is difficult to tell if the boy in Untitled (Blue GG Allin) knows he’s being photographed. He could be at a social event, could be alone. He is pondering something to which viewers are not privy, but it is unclear whether that ‘something’ is in front of him or within him. Most prominently, the image is blue, as if underwater or in space or infused with magic. Nnamdie does not judge the boy and in this moment, this one-sixtieth of a second, the boy is not a drunk douchebag or a boring buzzkill; he is an entity that emits light the color of the ocean.
Like perhaps all children, Nnamdie started making art when he was very young. “My earliest memories of creating was with a toy,” he says. “I was five, I think. After that, I made self-portraits with markers, like most children.” Although photography eventually became his first love—“[it was] my first teacher”—Nnamdie, as he explains, has “a vision that isn’t bound to just that craft. I realized my need to not limit the ways I communicate and build an artistic world; it’s a whole aesthetic world. It’s a vision. I was always making paintings and giving them to friends. Photography serves as a platform for me to build upon. I like that each medium best communicates directly something the other couldn’t.”
The language with which Nnamdie communicates should remain unbound to any particular medium—the messages are too universal, too pure, to exist within any particular confines. True, all art functions within the constraints of the artist’s brain; in The Dark Crystal, Jen’s restoration of balance to the kingdom was done in his own Gelfling fashion, which came with its own trials and bias. But through the funnel of this one small being (and Kira), something highly fantastical and necessary for all life occurred. Nnamdie says his work explores “spiritual and psychological events in this contemporary society, but not specifically my life or issues. In the work, there are personal moments, but they are universal moments one faces, from death to celebratory events. I’m portraying my experience to start a dialogue about our experience.”
In fact, Nnamdie’s work might come from a world even more similar to Jim Henson’s than you think. It is a spiritual, ritualistic world, and to get both meta and metaphysical, not only is Nnamdie on a mission to express these universal truths, he’s fully aware of where these ideas come from: certainly not from this realm. While “music is just as huge” an influence on his work, “spirituality [was] first—in life, then it entered my process,” he says. “The work I make does resonate on this third dimension [editor’s note: we live in the third realm] and higher. I’d say I make work from a fourth dimension and bring it into this realm. You’ve once said that you feel my work is showing and opening a portal into another realm. There is a spiritual warfare, a spiritual wrestling, that is universal, and it comes through in some of the works.”
If it seems as if Nnamdie fancies himself a master of this kind of thing, an expert wanderer between the realms unlike any other, don’t kid yourself. Any genuine spiritualist who doesn’t suffer from self-absorbed Enlightenment Syndrome understands that he is one part of the whole. Nnamdie is keen to be part of the greater cycles of nature and spirit, affirming that his work is “about your issues, ours.” Though he’s proud of his ability to “take elements of the life of an energy source and funnel that into the work,” the energy source is often his subject, his tools, his materials, all of which have their own agency and life. “I feel more like a healer or spiritual worker expressing it all in art,” he explains. “A co-creator.” If life is but a dream, Nnamdie, as he creates momentary harmonies, is dreaming lucidly.
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Opening reception for the Sixth All-Media Juried Biennial. Friday, April 26, 6 p.m. – 10 p.m., at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, 1650 Harrison Street, Hollywood. Show runs from April 27 – May 26. Call 954-921-3274 or visit artandculturecenter.org