By Carolyn Williams
After a week of the campus population wondering what that strange sound was coming from the
Elaine Langone Center staircase, it was revealed to be the musical product of Mendi and Keith Obadike’s latest project, “American Cypher: Stereo Helix for Sally Hemings,” part of this semester’s lecture series about the Sally Hemings-Thomas Jefferson relationship, sponsored by the Griot Institute and in collaboration with the Samek Art Gallery.
The New York-based duo dabble in music, art
and literature, collaborating using their various specializations to create unique works such as “The Sour Thunder” (an Internet opera), “Sexmachines” (a musical piece created with the sounds of sex toys) and “Four Electric Ghosts” (a combination of dance, narrative and musical pieces inspired by the Pac-Man video game and Amos Tutuola’s novel “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts”). “If we didn’t work together, I think we would still create art. It would just be of a very different kind,” Mendi Obadike said.
This newest artwork was inspired by the idea of coding, pertaining to racial identity as well as the secrecy Jefferson employed throughout his life, both of which are extremely relevant to the Sally Hemings story. The most exciting part of this exhibit is the use of Hemings’s real bell, a gift
she received from the mistress of Monticello, Martha Jefferson. The bell has been distorted and changed electronically so that it can better embody the genetic material of Hemings and Jefferson, which is the pattern of the music itself. “It was very interesting to learn about the thought process behind the unexplained music we’ve been hearing for the past week. It was especially exciting to bring an interdisciplinary perspective to the Hemings lecture series,” Kate Wilsterman ’14 said of the exhibit.