John Armstrong

Open Studio Gallery, Toronto

As in previous Toronto exhibitions, Nigerian-Canadian artist Faki asks us to consider banner-sized printed images depicting forcible detention or torture in his recent show, “No Protest Songs.” Faki depicts four witness figures viewing the spectacle of a man suspended upside-down with his hands tied behind his back. The witnesses, who are composites of the artist's acquaintances and of historical figures such as Malcolm X or Vladimir Lenin, appear as television talking heads: they variously gesticulate or look on with cool disdain. The presence of the witnesses suggests that representations of violence are necessarily mediated, becoming spectator events to be attended to at a safe distance. Written across the suspended figure are a number of Biblical citations that discuss martyrdom; one such quote outlines the travails of the early Christians: "… others were tortured, and refused to be released so they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison." (Hebrews 11:36)

Here, the artist brings us to the deeply personal responses of those who have been subjected to violence, and suggests that in becoming a victim or a martyr, one may send a far-reaching message. To underline a rationale for understanding martyrdom, the ultimate of gesture of protest through self-sacrifice, Faki has burnt one of the copies of his prints so that only the scriptural quote remains — pointing to, in the artist's own words, "the inevitable end of all flesh."

To realize his heroically scaled figures, Faki creates dense and drolly didactic installations that include his richly chromatic relief prints as well as the full sheets of plywood, or even a carved rolling pin, which serve as the prints’ matrixes. He helpfully hinges the plywood to the walls to reveal that he carves into and prints for both sides. The unlikely juxtaposition of the theme of harassment with his quirkily inventive format point to Faki’s varied inspirations: Leon Golub’s sparingly painted portraits of political violence and )Open Studio founder) Richard Sewell’s baroque combinations of printed surfaces with hardware-store bric-a-brac. But Faki’s overriding allegiance is to the exploration of a personal and Christian sense of how one ought to react to heedless violence (something he has experienced in the display of his own artwork, which was once defaced in a 1992 exhibition at Hart House’s Arbor Room at the University of Toronto). Perhaps inadvertently, Faki seems to say that violence is imperishable fact — chronicled in Biblical narrative and the evening news. In quoting testaments of Biblical martyrs, he adds another awkward layer to the reproduction of violence.

“Faki: No Protest Songs.” C International Contemporary Art 64, December 1999 - February 2000