W.E.B. Du Bois and I share a birthday, February 23! I was born in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1963, just down the coast from where he died in Accra. I first made these realizations when I visited his tomb and museum in Accra in 2005 during a visit to Ghana and ever since have felt a pull toward him and an urge to make these coincidences manifest in some way. Du Bois migrated to Africa and ended his days in the land of his ancestors during a period when many Africans, myself included, were migrating to Europe and America. Even though my migration was for family reasons and Du Bois’s migration was for work reasons, neither of our personal migrations were untouched by the political, cultural, and imperial influences of the time. An all-encompassing thematic of my practice is the legacy of the African diaspora whether through force or emigration. Much of my work seeks to engage with the Souls of Black Folk either lost in the Atlantic or haunting the old European forts in West Africa. In this passage from The Souls of Black Folk Du Bois’s questioning of the value of human life is at once lamentable and hopeful:
My journey was done, and behind me lay hill and dale, and Life and Death. How shall man measure Progress there where the dark-faced Josie lies? How many heartfuls of sorrow shall balance a bushel of wheat? How hard a thing is life to the lowly, and yet how human and real! And all this life and love and strife and failure, — is it the twilight of nightfall or the flush of some faint-dawning day?
- W.E.B. Du Bois, “Of the Meaning of Progress,” The Souls of Black Folk