As a young girl, Ng’endo Mukii regretted being born into a westernized world after the height of African cultural grandeur and beauty, she said.
“Why, I asked, was I born in an Africa with running water and education?” Mukii said. “Did my parents really have to raise me in a brick house with a fridge and my favorite cereal, Rice Krispies? I wanted an epic sunset to walk through with a spear in hand. I wanted to be a real African.
The The Currents lecture series at Boston College welcomed Mukii, award-winning filmmaker and professor of practice at Tufts University, to talk about her approach to animation, her artistic motivations, and how she extended those ideas to workshops and his teaching methods on Wednesday.
A book of photographs that depicts indigenous Africans in Mukii’s father’s library inspired his career in depicting indigenous people through animation. She wants to share the true dynamism of indigenous peoples by animating them and not by reducing them to a pose or a singular story that Westerners assign to them.
Mukii began his talk by defining indexicality – the effect of a film when creators faithfully capture a complete message to present to viewers – and taxidermy as it relates to his work with animations. Taxidermy contrasts with animation because, thanks to taxidermy, the viewer only sees the object in one pose, but the animation is more vivid.
Mukii said Western images of indigenous people should, in theory, represent a holistic narrative, but they only represent absolute truths that promote the superiority of one race and can promote a Western narrative. In his animation works, Mukii creates pieces that have no absolute truths and allow for multiple interpretations of the human experience.
Ezekiel Coleman, MCAS ’23, said he was struck by Mukii’s level of creativity in linking the history of animation with the history of taxidermy.
“The idea of historic animals and how they can be repurposed for what they were originally intended to be… [and] that you could use animation on a physical medium to recreate the way we look at human experiences…was really interesting,” Coleman said.
In her dissertation, which she worked on in the summer of 2021, Mukii compared the process of taxidermy to early ethnographic films, as she told the audience during her lecture. An ethnographic film is a non-fiction film usually shot by a Westerner that depicts non-Westerners.
“Both practices involve an act of deflection – editing for the purpose of presenting native species as icons in an alien context preserved in a pose,” Mukii said. “They both depend on the illusion of looking real, or on realism, to be convincing.”
Cai Mathieu, MCAS ’23, said she was drawn to tonight’s conference because of her personal investments in art and mental health that matched Mukii’s background.
“This [event] kind of caught my eye just because she was a woman of color, born outside of the United States, who was really invested in communicating her message through her art,” Mathieu said. “I thought it was very unique and wanted to come and learn more about his work.”
Mukii told her audience that over time, she’s come to believe that animation can not only strengthen our humanity to each other, but it’s a great tool for building bonding and community. across global divisions.
“By penetrating physical, linguistic and cultural barriers, animation can bring us closer together and make us human again,” Mukii said. “Animation can be used to emulate something that is intangible, something that is humanity.”