Mia partners with l Self Devine to create new audiovisual exhibition

Chaka Mkali, aka I Self Devine, created an album inspired by 28 works of art from Black artists for a new exhibition titled “Rituals of Resilience.”

%22Rituals+of+Resilience%22+illustration+by+Johnalynn+Holland+and+lettering+by+Andres+Guzman.

Courtesy of Chaka Mkali

“Rituals of Resilience” illustration by Johnalynn Holland and lettering by Andres Guzman.

Frankie Carlson, Arts and Entertainment Reporter

Local musician, artist and community organizer Chaka Mkali, aka I Self Devine, has partnered with the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) to create a unique audiovisual exhibition centered around the theme of a shared Black experience. Speaking to multiple senses, “Rituals of Resilience” combines 28 works by Black visual artists from the U.S. and Africa with an accompanying musical project created by Mkali.

A 50-minute collection of riveting, poetic and empowering lyrics rapped over various hypnotic instrumentals and alternative beats, each song on the album was inspired by the featured works and the lives of the artists who made them.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, visitors are asked to bring their own headsets and scan a QR code to access the album. The exhibit officially opened on March 18 and will remain open through February of 2022.

Attempting to capture the essence, voice and beliefs of these Black creators, Mkali underwent an in-depth research process looking into the lives of each of the artists, eventually incorporating his findings into the lyrics and overall sound of the project.

“It would have been a cheat job if I went straight for images — out of the gap I would have missed hella nuances of stuff I should have been tracking,” Mkali said. “I could’ve aesthetically and intuitively felt things out but what I was missing was an understanding of who these artists were.”

While most gallery spaces tend to follow a similar common style of presentation, “Rituals of Resilience” hopes to use its space as a means to tell a larger story.

The black painted walls, large banners displaying text that features Mkali’s research and thought process, and labels beside each work that display lyrics instead of information are all indicators to listen up and pay attention: This is something different.

Head of Mia’s Department of Contemporary Art and co-curator of the exhibit Gabriel Ritter worked closely with Mkali to bring “Rituals of Resilience” to life. Ritter hopes that the exhibit can exist outside of the standard institutional display of artwork and instead be an earnest reflection of the featured artists’ and Mkali’s work.

“It’s not about a superficial engagement with his material. It’s not about walking in the space of seeing the work and saying, ‘Oh, isn’t this pretty,’ and then moving on,” Ritter said. “There’s this unfamiliarity. You have to do the work, you have to read into it. And then all of a sudden you’re in this multi-dimensional, very immersive experience.”

This audio and visual combination in an exhibit is a first for Mia. The head of multi-generational learning at Mia, Elisabeth Callihan, took part in bringing Mkali and Ritter together when the project was just being conceived.

“I think I may have planted a seed with the two of them, and then they took it from there and it expanded into something unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” Callihan said. “Chaka has really been just instrumental in helping Mia think outside of itself.”

A true artist in every capacity, Mkali has helped create an artistic experience that cuts to the core and speaks truths on topics that may not be the easiest to digest.

Often incorporating poignant metaphor into his speech, Mkali believes that people need to go into this exhibit slowly and “chew their food” in order to metabolize the history, depth, pain, passion and joy of the Black lives being represented.

“When you’re dealing with trauma — trauma essentially is too much, too fast — it overwhelms, and you shut down. You can’t go to that hella quick, you’re not gonna get that from McDonald’s. You’re going to have to do one of those four-course meals where they just roll it out to hit you with the wine and the pairing,” Mkali said. “So, when you’re done here with the exhibit you might want to go take a nap, you might want to go take a shower, you might want to air punch, you might want to dance. That’s also what I wanted to do; I wanted to make sure it’s a celebration.”