The artist collective Ogun was founded in the early 1990s, the name taken from the Yoruba orisha, the god of metal. The artists located rusty, abandoned automobiles on the streets and in the fields of Detroit, and turned them into “Urban Monumentz,” painted and embellished with found objects in a way that calls to mind African funerary ware and dedicated to fallen musicians, poets, activists or artists. The dedication ceremonies were performances by a collaboration of six to ten musicians, two dancers and several poets. Such rituals have taken place at grounds of several museums, including Cranbrook Art Museum and Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History as well as in Boston, MA, and Kingston, Jamaica.
The core of the collective is African Master of Arts (AMA) Aaron Ibn Pori Pitts, a seminal member of the Detroit arts community; printmaker, videographer, filmmaker and community activist M. Saffell, AMA; painter, printmaker, videographer Lester Lashley, AMA; musician, sculptor Howard Mallory, AMA; found object and assemblage artist Dyenetta Dye, AMA from Wayne State University; and printmaker, painter and collage artist Zola Adjuma, AMA.
Potts, the founding member of the collective suffered a debilitating stroke a few years ago, making it difficult for him to speak. Joining our discussion on his behalf, are two other founding members, M. Saffell Gardner and Dyenetta Dye. Saffell and Dye spoke with me about Ogun, the Detroit art scene and their recent collaboration with Apetechnology for the exhibition Vision in a Cornfield on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit through December 30th 2012.
Cary Loren I’d like to talk about how you both became active in the Ogun art collective.
M. Saffell Gardner I’ve known Aaron Ibn Pori Pitts since the late ’70s or early ’80s, but we got together at one point during the late ’80s to do a two-person show. He had a print shop in Detroit on Hamilton, so we said, “Well, let’s make a poster.” The poster turned into a print, and that started our collaboration. At one point, Ibn started to enter a bunch of marathons. He ran extensively. He trained at Rouge Park in Detroit, and he started to notice cars that had been abandoned. He’d see them—well, everyone used to see them—on the streets. He found one in Rouge Park and he contacted Dye and I, and said, “Okay, well, we’re going to start working together.” Then he got in touch with Lester Lashley, founding member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in Chicago and that started the collaboration. One of the things we did was to recycle abandoned cars and turning them into urban monuments.
CL Once you found these cars, Ibn started to perform a ritual around them.
MSG Yes, we would start working on the car, and then Lester would come in and perform a sort of a ceremony around the car—circling around with one of the shakers he had made. He used to make shakers out of old film canisters that he would decorate. He would give everybody a shaker and we would walk around the car. . .