Introduction to the catalog, Lyrical Witness, featuring the art and art practice of Onajide Shabaka.


Onajide Shabaka is an artist that is interested in everything. Eschewing reflexive specialization while encouraging critical experimentation, his art practice is suited to engage an expansive subject that moves between and through a gamut of disciplines while it also resists easy classification.

Shabaka’s art form is a short journey made by walking in the landscape. The evolution of this may be developed as follows: the artist goes for a walk, in the New Mexico desert, the tall trees of Oregon, the lakes of Minnesota, in a Florida swamp, for a day, or several days. During the course of the walk he may take one or more photographs, make a drawing, pick up some stones, seeds or twigs. These may be brought back to the studio and photographed, and may be published or exhibited as evidence of the performative artwork. These objects and the experience also provide germination for further research and knowledge.

“Despite its ubiquity in the everyday walking is an activity obscured by its own practical functionality. It is employed literally and understood metaphorically as a slow, inefficient, and increasingly anachronistic means to a predetermined end. Rarely is walking considered as a distinct mode of acting, knowing, and making. As its necessity diminishes and its applications rarefy, the potential of walking as critical, creative, and subversive tool appears only to grow. Conceived of as a conversation between the body and the world, walking becomes a reciprocal and simultaneous act of both interpretation and manipulation; an embodied and active way of shaping and being shaped that operates on a scale and at a pace embedded in something seemingly more authentic and real. (Nicholas Brown / Kevin Hamilton, School of Art & Design, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign).”