Quiet Conversations: December 13, 2021

Jumoke Sanwo speaks to the mirror as entangled with the trans-atlantic slave trade, and her work as curator of Dúna Dúrà - A Portal of Reimagination.

Quiet Conversations: December 13, 2021


Quiet Conversations are a series of conversations with artists, architects, researchers and thinkers working in and with the south, as a conceptual site and geography. Curated by Catalina Mejía Moreno and Huda Tayob, editors of this issue of Ellipses, the conversations work towards a methodology of shared sites, sounds, objects and practices through a turn to acts of remembrance, recall and repair. In this series we invite a close and intimate listening of meandering conversations; to stay with the words, silences and utterances that through conversation share entangled and implicated relationships of site, objects, people and places. Drawing upon sound and the act of speaking and listening as affective and political, together we ask, how might located and grounded practices enable us to draw out relational histories? How might creative research and associated methodologies of critique generate ways of listening, speaking to and engaging with the built environment, architectures, land and violence beyond extraction? And how might we share and build collective methodologies for working and thinking together? 

In the series of 6 excerpts shared here, we invited each conversant to share an object as a prompt for a wider conversation around methods, materials, and practices.  

Jumoke Sanwo speaks to the mirror as entangled with the trans-atlantic slave trade, and her work as curator of Dúna Dúrà - A Portal of Reimagination; 

Felipe Arturo shares an Iraca palm fan, as a form of technology that exists within and outside of colonial and neo-colonial economies, material and embodied practices; 

Marcelo Ferraz shares the throne of Òsùmàrè as an entry point into a wider conversation around his immersive experience of designing with the Terreiro de Òsùmàrè, in Salvador, Bahía;  

Zara Julius speaks to the entangled geographies and soundscapes of the machete as an object that speaks to entangled layers of labour, oppression, violence, resistance and liberation. 

Sibonelo Gumede speaks to the temporalities and cartographies of Black sonic geographies in Southern Africa and beyond.

Russel Hlongwane speaks to the ‘Black interior’ as a practice of negotiating comfort and home in post-Apartheid suburban South Africa.

Ana Luisa Ramírez Flórez, Jenry Serna Córdoba, Daniel Ruiz-Serna and Catalina Muñoz Rojas speak to sound, listening and collaboration as reparative practices in the lower Atrato region in Chocó, Colombia; a region wounded by multiple forms of violence more recently affected by paramilitary violence and other extractive practices.

As Françcoise Verges writes, ‘To dare to imagine is to reject time’s opposition of past, present, and future’ [1] in the search for an alternative temporality of repair. Across sites and methods, these conversations recall extreme violence and “quieter forms of abjection” [2] alongside numerous seemingly “small” acts of making and re-making place and space. For as Tina Campt argues in her framing of ‘quiet photography’, the possibilities of other futures are ever–present, yet “we must not only look but also listen for it in other, less likely places.” [3] In each of these four conversations, there is the consistent awareness of ongoing and ever-present violence, an engagement with structures of complicity, and an expansive generosity and commitment to sharing ways of being, voices, stories, knowledge and time.

[1] Françoise Vergès, 2022. A Feminist Theory of Violence, London: Pluto Press, p. 98
[2] Elizabeth Povinelli, Economies of Abandonment, Durham: Duke University Press
[3] Tina Campt, Listening to Images, Durham: Duke University Press, p. 17 

Launch Project


Jumoke Sanwo talks about Dúna Dúrà, 13 December 2021 

Jumoke Sanwo is a storyteller, cultural interlocutor, and the creative director of Revolving Art Incubator. She works primarily in photography, video art, and extended reality (XR), and her work engages the realities and complexities of spatiality in postcolonial societies. She lives and works out of Lagos, Nigeria.

Lagos, Cape Town and Brighton

In this conversation we speak to artist, researcher, curator and storyteller Jumoke Sanwo based in Lagos, Nigeria. Jumoke is founding director of Revolving Art Incubator, a grassroots arts platform and gallery space which actively generates new commons. In this conversation she shares her experiences of curating and organising  - a site-specific performance event at Obalende Market in Lagos on the 8th and 9th of June 2021. As she explains, this event takes place in the context of ongoing contestation and erosion of public space in Lagos, and is a means to intervene and learn from and with the city. As Jumoke describes, in a Yoruba world-view, the night market is a portal between the living and the dead, a place for the meeting of worlds and people, and a space for relational socialites. With Dúna Dúrà, Jumoke draws together artists, architects, spoken-word performers and the market people into the making of a physical and digital platform for conversation which enacts a praxis of embodied archiving. The curation of a dual offering of an in-person, sited event which was live-streamed, and a website version hosted on the Archive of Forgetfulness, points to methods and possibilities of thinking through archives and digital platforms as ‘portals for imagination’. The project opens ways of working through embodied and spatial memory to counter epistemic violence and creates a space for unexpected trans-disciplinary conversations, against binary positionings. Jumoke asks us to engage with a deep, local sense of place and the scale of the planet at the same time - as a site for working through conscious documentation and archives of the future.

10:28 The mirror for me has both historical as well as contemporary meaning. Historically, it was used as a means of exchange during the triangular slave trade between Europe, Nigeria, my country specifically, and the United States. During that period, you would have ships who docked in what is now known as the present day Niger Delta, and they would have guns, mirrors, alcohol. These objects would be traded and exchanged for humans, who were then takes as slaves on to the United States, in a further exchange for sugar, cotton, and sometimes cash. I was interested in how an object such as a mirror carries so much history and so much trauma, and how to reappropriate that object in a project like Dúna Dúrà. In reappropriating the object, the mirror was used as a portal to engage embodied knowledge, ancestral memories, and to permit and enable a multi-dimensional movement between the corporal and incorporeal world. We used the object to create an installation at the market and the installation served as a backdrop for a lot of the conversations that took place at the Obálendé during Dúna Dúrà.

13:05 To create the installation we use a lot of found objects in the market, the mirror being one of them. These mirrors are often sold as little pocket mirrors which people can buy on the go, people that are makeup artists, or just generally need a tiny pocket mirror or purse mirror. But beyond this, we decided to use the mirror in collaboration with other objects. The mirrors are often placed inside plastic which comes with its own history and what it represents in terms of industrialization. I wanted to utilise the mirror in conjunction with the plastic and also a traditional, natural sponge. In terms of the materiality of the mirror, it has a certain reflective element in a physical but also metaphorical sense, which tends to probe self assessment, probing, re-engaging, and acknowledging. There are so many levels of emotions that the mirror instigates, and these are some of the things that I wanted to bring into the conversations that we had, during Dúna Dúrà.

16:31 There is a tradition that sees the night market as a kind of portal between the living and the dead. And it is often also said that dead people cannot see their reflection, that once you're dead, you lose your reflection. So I wanted to think with the mirror as a means to sort of tap into some of these mythologies. But again, to also look at a mirror as a portal, that can actually connect multiple worlds. It was also quite important to use the mirror as a means to reflect some of the movements in the city because I felt it was important that as we were investigating embodied memories, that we also tap into spatial histories to question what the market traditionally represents. You know, events and activities that are taking place in the market space. How can we engage that? You know, I felt that the mirror was an element that instigated conversations as reflective, taps into knowledge, taps into history, it also sort of connects all these many elements - it is a kind of conduit through which they can all coexist. And I think that's one of the beauties about the symbolism of the mirror. But it also serves as an entry point into different dimensions.

20:09 The market where we performed Dúna Dúrà is called Obálendé. It has quite the reputation in the city of Lagos because it is a space that has every ethnic group in Nigeria represented. So you have people from all over the country who come to Obálendé and have relations and trade and engage. There's that social aspect. But beyond that, as well, there's been a lot of violence, a lot of extremism, in the northern part of Nigeria, there has been an influx of people from that region, specifically to Obálendé. So that has also instigated another type of tension, and often you would have people of different ethnic groups clashing, all kinds of things happening. And then there's also the challenge of the area boys.

21:57 So there's this tension, you know, between these ethnic groups. From time to time you would find violence erupting, based on this tension. And sometimes this tension is age-long, as well, it's as a result of some of the ethnic tensions that have developed over years, from the Civil War, and all of these other things that have happened nationally. So, with this in mind, it was very important to look for an entry point, to try to understand how to engage.

25:24 At the same time, it was very important to situate this performance at Obálendé because of the history of Obálendé itself as a melting pot, where people from all over the country came in to trade, to engage, to socialise. It was very important to situate it where you would find some sort of amalgamation of Nigerians in one location. But then secondly, beyond the history, you know, and what the space represents, it was also political, because the Dodan barracks, which used to be the seat of power in Nigeria was actually located in Obálendé as well. So there was that element of political history as well.

But beyond this, there's also the market space and what traditionally the market space represents for people in the southwestern Nigeria, especially Yoruba. It was not only just a place for trading, it was also a social space as well. A lot of women who were the majority of traders in the market space formed associations and social groups that extended beyond the market space. So there's also that social context as well. So it was important to reinvestigate the meaning of the market in itself and what it means, in contemporary times. You would find that in recent times, there's been a lot of gentrification of open market spaces in the city of Lagos where a lot of open markets are now being demolished. You find fancy malls coming up, and people are being uprooted and dislocated from both the economic as well as the social meaning of the market space and what it represents every day. So, it's very important to bring all of this to the fore to look at the historical, the epistemological, but also associations of violence in Obálendé as well. So, we got in there, and we got the participation of everyone from the usually stigmatised area boys, to the market women, men and women, to the passer by. Everybody was involved in the process of creating, everybody was engaged, everybody loved the idea that something of that nature was happening in the market space. There was very little need to subtitle, so to speak, or to reinterpret what we were trying to do because it had meaning. People tapped into the historical meaning of performances in the market space. And this then conjured up what became Dúna Dúrà.”

29:46 Jumoke The actual backdrop in the film which you see was made as a collective endeavour; it is made out of sacks, which are used to transport goods into the market. And we got the idea of loosening the sack, by looking at how a lady, we call her Mama Kogi, loosens the sack to sell vegetables and okra and things in the market. She loosens the sack, and then uses it to tie a local vegetable called Ugu. We just thought this was beautiful. So we adopted that style to create the backdrop. We then started adding other objects to it. We added the mirror, attached to the natural sponge, and various food items that you typically find in the market, like okra and pepper. And all of this, we did collectively with people in the market who volunteered to be part of the making of the installation.

This is a brief edited excerpt of a longer conversation [1] where Jumoke reminds us of the importance of listening closely, extended conversation, and supporting multiple voices within collaborative projects. You can also listen to some of the sounds, conversation and excerpts from Dúna Dúrà [2]. As she reminds us, trust is central to working together as a collective, “People need to trust you with their stories. They need to trust you with their experiences.” Listen in to hear more of Jumoke’s earlier work including of her travels around southwestern Nigeria as part of research into Yoruba textiles, and overland travel between Lagos and Addis Ababa as part of Invisible Borders, alongside further details on working in and with Obalende market.

[1] Excerpt from a Quiet Conversation with Jumoke Sanwo

[2] Excerpt from Dúna Dúrà

Portrait of a man with brown skin and a bald head looking into the camera - he looks serious but he is glowing. The installation is behind him.
Aremo Gemini, Dúna Dúrà Installation (2021)

Who men weaving ocra and peppers into a net
Duna Dura Portal of Reimagination (2021)

Person in costume of mirrors, gold and woven material walking in the street followed by others at night
Jelili Atiku Duna Dura (2021)


This conversation series is supported by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, The Space for Creative Black Imagination and a University of Cape Town URC grant. It was developed in conversation with Raél Jero Salley at The Space for Creative Black Imagination, based at MICA in Baltimore, and James MacDonald.  

Graham Foundation Logo
The Space for the Black Imagination Logo