Message from Founder
- Nana Sao
Burning Man stands as one of the most incredible commitments I have made to any project. I recall that going into my first Burn experience, I was anxious, nervous and even a little scared. I had planned for weeks and had no real idea what to expect. All the research and conversations did not prepare me physically and emotionally for was was life altering moment.
Engaging with many partcipants as I cycled across the playa one thing stood out to me at my first Burn, that as a minority less than 2% of the population were African. Taking in the breathtaking and meaningful art installations I was triggered by the notion that very few, if any, of the installations and art on the playa came from my continent, Africa, or from artists of colour.
This presented an exciting opportunity to make a meaning contribution to the burning man project. As an emerging market with 54 different countries, Africa is vibrant, diverse and rich in art. In the middle of a sand storm I was encouraged to bring African art to Black Rock city. This is a journey that started in 2019.
In Partnership with the Sao Foundation and 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, we scoured the continent for an artist with the vision and endurance to be the first African to deliver an iconic art installation at Burning Man. After a pan African selection process we selected a very special Usha Seejarim. It was an honour to award the project to an African and, better yet, a gifted female artist affording her an opportunity to display her talent on a global stage. The essence of Project Aikido is to provide a platform for African Art to be shown globally through the Burning Man project. Hopefully this will lead the way for other African artists to one day replicate what we are looking to Achieve at Burning man in 2022.
If we look at the Project on a micro level, the people working for Usha come from poor backgrounds, some are disabled, and here they are given an opportunity to contribute to a project that will receive global recognition. Aikido is translated as the “way of unifying with life energy”, and that’s what the essence of our project is, bringing people in harmony together. It’s reflected in the charity we decided to attach to our project, Sibikwa, a not for profit that brings the arts to reach historically disadvantaged communities and youth at risk. It is a visionary arts centre that promotes arts education, performance, vocational training and job creation, concentrating on cultural heritage, and we’ve pledged that a portion of all proceeds made from all the fundraisers will go towards the charity.
The installation itself is sustainable, and we’ve decided not to burn it but instead to return it to Africa, where it will be installed at a national theatre in Nigeria. Nigeria is a country with 180 million people and this structure will be a seminal piece in the new construction of a national theatre centre, which will become a hub for developing internet businesses and art centres. Project Aikido will be a flagship piece, drawing people from across the world to towards the cultural aspect of our vision.
At burning man the sculpture is going to be a living organism, Its made out of pipes and depending on the direction of the wind it will project an earthy whistling sound. Burners will have the opportunity to climb it and look over the playa. Being able to activate events around this is also crucial to its success. We plan to have a sunrise set with a surprise African DJ bringing people together in Aikido (harmony) to observe, play and interact with the piece. Cultural diversity, radical inclusion and diversity are some of the founding principles Burning Man, and at the core of our Purpose. This is an African piece, It is a clothes peg birthed in Mother Africa, resurrected from the ground up to stand tall for everyone to see.
We are consciously using African components, contractors, fabricators, materials and design. In Africa pegs are used to hang clothes on the line, to secure items and preserve food. The cultural imagery behind Project Aikido is key to understanding the art. We will bring a diverse community together, trying to draw more people from different demographics and background to burning man, celebrating Diversity.