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Harold Offeh

Another early work, Alien at Large is a street action recorded on video, made in several cities and towns, both small and large. Using a magnifying glass mounted on his face to highlight features that (stereo-) typically distinguish black characteristics from Caucasian, Offeh calls attention to his full lips. Magnified, they seem larger than life and confront passers-by. He enacted the work in Oxford, Chester, Liverpool, and in Banff, Canada. The reactions of unknowing audiences caught off guard are as important to the work as the action itself: in England audiences tend towards a consensus of polite lack of acknowledgement; in Canada, the response is passive bemusement. In turn Offeh's action to play upon stereotypes allows us to respond or react, the audience thus having a direct implication on the course the artwork takes. The title, Alien at Large, a pun with several layers, anticipates his interest in science fiction and Afrofuturism, a discourse to unpick difference that Offeh develops further in his more recent work.

The Mothership Collective, a project at the South London Gallery in summer 2006, marks the greatest shift from Offeh's early performance and camera-based work. A collaborative series of events and workshops devised by Offeh and conceived by himself and other artists (including David Blandy, Olivia Plender, and Kodwo Eshun), The Mothershop Collective employed various tactics under the rhetoric of Afrofuturism. (That being, artists and thinkers who see science, technology and science fiction as means of exploring the black experience and finding new strategies to overcome oppression.) In form, it seems a point of departure from Offeh's previous work. The motivation however, remains in line with Offeh's constant intention to address communication in terms of cultural positions and identities.

Communication across cultures, and deconstructing the boundaries that imply cultural difference in the first place, is what Offeh's work is all about. At its heart, Offeh's artwork is a practice that is playful and deceptively light of touch. He's a dancer, a smiler, a Mammy, and an Afrofuturist Angela Davis in drag (aptly named Mangela Davis). And these strategies, whether personae or collaborations--allow Offeh to consistently be within the work, having a direct engagement to the camera, and in turn to the audience.

Kim Dhillon
Kim Dhillon is a Canadian curator and writer. She lives and works in London.
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