Sodipo uses Following the Gourd as a vessel of life and joy, creating art that emboldens Black trans lives through an archive of stories and lived experiences.
Ebun Sodipo’s work, Following the Gourd, is the embodiment of hope. There is a palpable sense of yearning to be held and loved gently by those we share community with. Sodipo uses her work as a vessel of life and joy, creating art that emboldens Black trans lives through an archive of stories and lived experiences.
I went to see Sodipo’s exhibition at FACT shortly after the opening and I had to go back a few times to let myself fully enjoy being in a beautiful, immersive space that is holding a Black trans woman’s work. Her work is part of the larger exhibition of Let The Songs Hold Us that FACT currently has on show.
‘Follow the drinkin gourd’ are words from an African-American spiritual song supposedly sang during the Underground Railroad, helping to lead enslaved people to a free land. Folklore has it that identifying the North Star in the sky was used as a point of reference by enslaved people in order to escape. The Drinking Gourd is also used in reference to the star constellation.
“Following the Gourd gives me a sense of connectedness and hope – we have all looked at the same stars, and have used them to guide us through the unknown.”
Sodipo’s installation includes a star map, with different constellations that act as repositories of memories from those that are part of the Cartographers Committee. From the contributors, to the Committee, to the audience, we are each a constellation; bearing witness. Sodipo’s process of creating this work with other queer young people is history in the making, the proof of building up a community; coming together, the sharing of knowledge, passing on skills of loving ourselves in our daily routines. Showing how and why we are preserving our histories, Sodipo holds spaces for the hopes and dreams of Black trans people.
The physical installation has sand around the space and a screen that displays a constellation map. The space is dark and it looked like the scene was set for us to follow the drinking gourd via the interactive rollpad. I really enjoyed the numerous soundscapes used for this work. Some of the sounds were from neutron stars and the idea of the stars being in conversation with us, not only visually, but audibly really stayed with me.
Sodipo’s work reminds me of what Neil deGrasse Tyson said: “We are stardust brought to life, then empowered by the universe to figure itself out—and we have only just begun.” Following the Gourd gives me a sense of connectedness and hope – we have all looked at the same stars, and have used them to guide us through the unknown.
No matter where we’re going, someone else in another space and time has felt the same, and the constellations that shone their light on them also shine on me. Sodipo’s research for this work was fun to go through, from research papers exploring all the ways Black people in Africa had been communing with the stars 7,000 years ago in the Sahara Desert to the items used to keep track of them.
“I only arrived at my transness in my 30’s and the first thought I had was: who else is here with me? This exhibition is part of the answer.”
I’m writing this on Jupiter/Neptune conjunction in Pisces and I can feel the yearning to connect, to hold and to be connected to the grander vision. This piece of work is added to the codex of trans dreaming, living and loving. As many believe, freedom started with a song that was sung by Black people who had hoped to dream themselves into a new existence, eventually sung by many.
Sodipo responded with her work, Following the Gourd. I only arrived at my transness in my 30’s and the first thought I had was: who else is here with me? This exhibition is part of the answer. Not having easy access to my own history meant that seeing work archiving trans lives as a map and guide moves my spirit. I wanted to find my own constellation when I had come into my transness, my own drinking gourd to nourish me through my interrupted becoming. I wonder how many younger people will arrive at their own, easier or faster, because of Sodipo’s Cartographer’s Committee guiding the way?
“It’s saying, yes, my life is meaningful despite being told by society it’s not.”
Edun Sodipo is the kind of artist that dares you to imagine yourself softer, loved, remembered and honoured in big and small ways. She reminds us that Blackness is a history, it’s our universe, it’s loving each other every day. It’s saying, yes, my life is meaningful despite being told by society it’s not. It’s meaningful just because of the very fact that we talk to the stars and the stars talk back. And that together we can read the night sky as a way of finding one another, then pass those skills on to the next generation.
The stars have led our ancestors and they continue to lead us, even now. We are each other’s astrolabe; gorging and converging on moonlight. We are each other’s constellations, always in constant communication with the cosmos, leading one another to our liberation. The rituals that we perform along the way, the things we possess to guide us, and the way we share one another with each other is a sacred act because ultimately we are each other’s drinking gourd, too. We are nourished by the work that we do for ourselves and each other. Sodipo’s Following the Gourd is an encompassing, heartfelt and soulful archive and artwork.
This article is published as part of a series in collaboration with FACT. The exhibition, Let the Song Hold Us, is on show in Liverpool until 19th June, every Wednesday – Sunday between 11am – 6pm.
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