Igùn is ongoing research into 17-year [1897-1914] artistic absence in Benin Kingdom. I use Artificial Intelligence [StyleGAN, GPT-3], Augmented Reality [AR] and 3D Printing to reimagine unknown objects—bronze heads, vessels, altars, texts, poems...

In October 2020, Igùn began as a series of Generative Adversarial Networks [GANs]. Through the series, I sought to explore the question: what bronze objects could have been produced, should the 1897 British invasion* not have occurred in Benin Kingdom? The invasion ushered in a 17-year interregnum which led to the disruption of long-standing social, cultural and political systems such as the artistic domain. While post-invasion colonial reports refer to a thriving art scene and increased colonial patronage, there is a dearth of visual documentation to identify objects created during this period.

In what ways did the 17-year interregnum affect palace-patronized guilds and artists?

If pre-colonial artmaking was predicated on permissions from the Oba [King], did artists continue to create—no longer faithful to the guild’s protocols, or concerned about the Oba’s permission?

PROPOSITIONS

Currently, I explore my initial research questions [above] through the following propositions:

Proposition I. StyleGAN
A series of bronze objects generated using various StyleGANs trained on a dataset of looted Benin Bronzes. In creating this series, I was attentive to cultural prescriptions, consulted with elders from my community who shared invaluable feedback about the Ehì [head], it's spiritual connotations and representations. Yet, I realize that such feedback is defined by heteropatriarchal values—monolithic, full of loss, absent voices, unacknowledged and untold narratives.

Proposition II. AR/3D Printing
The Abominable Project I
I address my social position as a non-royal Benin woman, and Benin's heteropatriarchal tradition by reimagining Non-heroic, Queer and Non-binary figures found in occultic practices. According to our culture, to commit an "Abomination" is to question official narratives, to pursue an unacceptable line of inquiry, argument, to imagine an alternative existence, to rewrite/reorder the script.

Proposition III. GPT-3
The Book of Abominations II
Each sculpture is accompanied by fictional narratives, praise poetry and stories co-written with GPT-3.

NOTES

During the invasion, British colonial officers torched the royal palace, exiled the Oba, stole 3000+ bronze objects a ld them off to private and institutional collectors in Europe.


Igùn is a project by Minne Atairu