I.In the shadow of Frankfurt’s skyscrapers, an inconspicuous green boat is sailing on the Main. The passengers seem to have positioned themselves on the observation deck to look at the skyline. But on closer inspection, the ship slowly approaches the shore, the silhouettes transform into plastic forms. Not people are gathered on the deck, but ten loudspeakers wrapped in colorful cloth robes. A Christian chorale can be heard from the speakers – first unanimously, then polyphonically, suddenly like an angel. “Fear reigned in human hearts. But hope has managed to preserve her face. “
Responsible for the multi-channel soundscape is the Nigerian sound artist Emeka Ogboh, who gave Frankfurt and the world a consoling hymn with his installation “This too shall pass”. The title is based on a sentence that was often used as a slogan to hold out during the Covid pandemic and that the artist took as the starting point for this installation, which deals with the consequences of the pandemic and celebrates the rebirth of social life.
Nothing is forever. Not even Corona
He composed the hymn himself. It combines elements of Christian chant with African rhythms and newly composed, experimental sounds. Ogboh deals with singing as a community-building act. What does singing in a group mean, what is music for different cultures, in a world of crises where singing too often falls silent? The devout chorale turns into a solemn fanfare. “Nothing is forever. Nothing in our life. Not even Corona, ”says the artist. The chants can be heard all over the banks of the Main. The brown and orange cloths that are supposed to show the way on the Eiserner Steg, the second oldest bridge in the city, blow in the wind. They hang on the lampposts like flags on a state visit. With the sound installation and the panels, Ogboh connects secular and clerical places in Frankfurt.
The installation, curated by Juliane von Herz for the cultural foundation of the Evangelical Church in Hesse and Nassau, sounds on the Römerberg, the political heart of the city, it sounds softly in the winding streets of the old town and sounds the neo-Gothic Epiphany Church in the Sachsenhausen district with socially critical verses. “Vaccine anxiety, lockdown so grave, conspirancy theories riding the wave.” Here, in the nave of the hall church, the cloths with their geometric motifs are again attached, and the hymn sounds in German, English and Igbo, one of the two hundred and fifty languages of Nigeria. The church was the first Reformed church in the trading city of Frankfurt in 1525, church chanting was democratized here and was no longer reserved for the clergy. Everyone should be allowed to sing – that is also Ogboh’s credo.
Ogboh wants to weave into visual memory
The music was sung by choirs in the Nigerian metropolis of Lagos and in Frankfurt in the spring. Choral singing is what is supposed to bring cultures together, but also the symbol of Christian proselytizing among the Nigerian population. The shawls, made of Akwétè fabric, also combine Nigerian and European influences, because they come from the Igbo tradition of fabric weaving, which is still practiced in western Nigeria today. Weavers have visualized the text of the song in it. With its earthy colors and the generalizability of the symbols – three triangles pointing downwards stand for the economic crisis, the closed door for lockdown, the green color fields for hope – Ogboh wants to weave himself into visual memory.
In any case, there is no shortage of red threads. And in the anthem, Ogboh also mentions the political catchphrases of the past year – the murder of George Floyd, fake news, racism, climate change and the exploitative working conditions in the health sector. But the focus of the staging is Frankfurt’s lifeline, the Main. For Ogboh, a river is the cultural memory of a place and a symbol for the transience of life. The boat stops at three berths and sends the message – “This too shall pass like those before.”
It’s about the world and all of life together
Emeka Ogboh, born in 1977, is one of the most famous contemporary video and sound artists of his generation and an important voice in the African art discourse. For years he has been mixing noises, songs, confusion of voices and sound fragments into sound collages and documenting the sound of Lagos. The artist has participated in international exhibitions with his political works, including the Venice Biennale and Documenta 14 in Athens. A few weeks ago he campaigned for the restitution of the Benin bronzes with a poster campaign in Dresden. He currently lives and works in Lagos and Berlin. In his native Nigeria, too, the artist has been campaigning for contemporary art for years. Ogboh is one of the co-founders of the Video Art Network, a platform for the promotion of young video art in the African state.
Meanwhile, “This too shall pass” is echoing in all directions and is intended to bring urban society together for a collective moment of remembrance. “Yes, it also has to do with Corona,” says Ogboh when looking at the sound boat. But for him, the text is about more, “about the world and all living together”. Above all there is “the political and human question of how we want to live together in the future”. It is already certain that the hymn will also be engraved in the city’s memory. The boat casts off again and drives to the next landing stage, the ceremony without people continues, the choir can be heard again. “With hope Life will return true to the core.”