[Photos: Jack Elliot Edwards]

In Limestone Memories – un maquis sous les étoiles [a maquis under the stars], her second solo exhibition at NıCOLETTı, Josèfa Ntjam continues her exploration of outer space and the abyss as spaces of resistance. Evoking the atmosphere of a cavern with black walls and floor, the exhibition centres around Dislocations (2022), a 17 min film co-produced by Palais de Tokyo, Paris, and Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati. The film tells the story of Persona, a fictional character pursuing an initiatory journey from the internet to a cave floating in outer space amongst a constellation of asteroid-like shells and fossils – a rocky soft cave, both underwater and interstellar. Projected onto the cave’s walls, the memories of warriors, activists and family members who have fought for Cameroon’s independence progressively melt with Persona, whose humanoid body eventually dissolves into aqueous particles.

Establishing analogies between cosmic, geological and mental processes, Dislocations weaves references to biology, mythology and science-fiction to rework History from personal and minoritarian narratives. Throughout the film, Persona embodies powers of transformation, hybridity and reconfiguration of both individual and collective consciousness, excavating and (re)assembling the sometimes forgotten stories of oppression and emancipation that are nevertheless embedded in matter and mind.

In Limestone Memories – un maquis sous les étoiles, Ntjam explores similar ideas through series of photomontages and sculptures forming a phantasmagorical environment inhabited by gigantic tentacles, glitching bubbles and termite mounds. The Deep & Memories (2022–23), for instance, is a series of Perspex sculptures with shapes suggestive of aquatic plants and animals, on which Ntjam included poetic texts evoking bodies turning into puddles and drops. Other works feature collages that conflate fragments of history, such as in The Deep & Memories (Maquisards, 2022), which blends portraits of Adama and Assa Traoré (who died in police custody in 2016) with archival images showing Cameroonian warriors posing with shotguns, together with photographs of Félix Moumié or Ernest Ouandié, leaders of the Union of the Peoples of Cameroon (UPC).

Commissioned by the Centre Pompidou Metz for the exhibition A Gateway to Possible Worlds. Art & Science-fiction (2022–23), these works form, according to the artist, an ‘ecosystem of interconnected revolts and uprisings’, interweaving fictional elements with archival images to deconstruct the linear perception of history and establish connections between events that took place in apparently disparate temporalities and geographies.

Ntjam employs a similar tactic in the series Underground Resistance – Living Memories (2022–23), titled after the black militant techno music collective Underground Resistance, to which the artist pays tribute by emulating their technique of sampling and remixing sounds in her own artistic process of sourcing, assembling and superimposing images. Comprising four photomontages printed on aluminium panels, this group of works intertwines digital renderings of aquatic elements with photographs of political dissidents (Black Panthers), social uprisings (BLM, French riots in 2005), and Black artists such as Paulette Nardal (1896 – 1985) – a Martinican writer who contributed to the conceptualisation of Négritude and the development of black literary consciousness –, all combined with images referencing ancient Egypt and African deities such as Mami Wata, a water spirit and venerated in many African countries and cultures.

The mixing of all these elements and references suggests an alternative mode of writing History, one which considers the sometimes labyrinthine way in which time and memory operate, with unexpected twists and turns that make events and images appear, erode and ramify. By invoking a memory in a constant state of dislocation and reconfiguration, Ntam avoids essentialism to consider the connections, circulations and fractures between historical events. In so doing, the artist gives visibility to marginalised stories while imagining alternative space-times in which categories of objectivity and belief, scientific observation and artistic speculation, would no longer be opposed – space-times which contain, in the depth of their abyss and galaxies, the matrix of revolts and revolutions yet to come.

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Josèfa Ntjam was born in 1992 in Metz, France, and currently lives and works in Saint-Étienne, France. She studied in Amiens, France, Dakar, Senegal (Cheikh Anta Diop University) and graduated from the École Nationale Supérieure d’Art, Bourges, France (2015), and the École Nationale Supérieure d’Art, Paris-Cergy, France (2017).

Solo exhibitions include Fondation Pernod-Ricard, Paris, FR (2023); Limestone Memories – un maquis sous les étoiles, NıCOLETTı, London (2023, forthcoming); Underground Resistance – Living Memories, The Photographers’ Gallery, London, UK (2022); When the Moon Dreamed of the Ocean, FACT, Liverpool, UK (2022); and we’ll kill them with love, CAC La Traverse, Alfortville, FR (2022); Molecular Genealogies, NıCOLETTı, London, UK (2021); and Allegoria, duo show with Kaeto Sweeney, Hordaland Art Center, Bergen, NO (2019).

Ntjam’s work and performances have been shown in international museums and exhibitions, including Lafayette Anticipations, Paris, FR (performance, 2023); LUMA, Arles, FR (performance, 2022); Centre Pompidou, Metz, FR (2022); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, NL (performance, 2022); MAMC+ – Musée d’art moderne et contemporain de Saint-Etienne, FR (2022); Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center, USA (2022); Radius CCA, Delft, NL (2022); Mucem, Marseille, FR (2021); Fondation Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon, PT (2022), Africamuseum, Tervuren, BE (2022–23); Frac Nouvelle-Aquitaine MÉCA, Bordeaux, FR (2021), MuCAT – Musée des Cultures Contemporaines Adama Toungara, Abidjan, IC (2022); Palais de Tokyo, Paris, FR (2020–21); Centre Pompidou, Paris, FR (2020); WIELS, Brussels, BE (2020); MAMA, Rotterdam, NE (2020); the 15th Biennale de Lyon, MAC Lyon, Lyon, FR (2019); and Arnolfini, Bristol, UK (2019).

In 2023, Ntjam will be a resident at LVMH Métiers d’Arts.

Ntjam is a member of the Paris-based art & research collective Black(s) to the Future: https://blackstothefuture.com/

Ntjam’s work is part of a number of public collections, including MAMC+ – Musée d’art moderne et contemporain de Saint-Etienne, FR; Centre national des arts plastiques (Cnap), Paris, FR; Fonds d’art contemporain – Paris Collections, FR; Fondation Villa Datris, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, FR; FRAC MECA Nouvelle-Aquitaine, Bordeaux, FR; FRAC Auvergne, Clermont-Ferrand, FR; FRAC Alsace, Sélestat, FR; EIB Institute, Luxemburg; and Artothèque de Strasbourg, FR.

[Text: NıCOLETTı]

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