Samuel Baah Kortey
A mellow light emanates from inside a cavernous installation, thrumming with the sound of choral hymns. The walls are swathed with cast-paper reliefs of human faces whose craggy features imbue their setting with a cavelike feel. Knives are staked into walls, alongside letters from schoolchildren. In one corner, the animal flesh in a slaughterhouse scene is replaced with anthropomorphic bodies, posed as if crucified, albeit lacking crosses. A small army of these resin-cast figures reappear in another corner, where they are suspended upside down. Above them, artificial roses bloom from the ceiling.
The overloaded symbolism of the installation Chris-sis s2: A Wizard’s Dungeon 00BC—Forever (all works 2022) is not the only overwhelming thing about Samuel Baah Kortey’s solo show “Chris-sis: Feast of the Sacred Heart.” The inaugural exhibition for the newly founded Compound House, it has the dingy, mildew-tinged smell of a place rarely accessed by humans. Coffee-stained paper-relief paintings are framed to imitate the stained-glass murals often seen in cathedrals. Their titles—for instance, Chris-sis s2e5: Before God Came to Kill Us; Chris-sis s2e8: Play Stupid Games, Win Stupid Prizes—mimic those of streaming episodes, with a bluntness that further undercuts the reverent awe these types of windows are meant to inspire. Chris-sis s2e0: Solemnity of the Sacred Heart gives the iconic image of Christ the head of a pig, rendered in coffee stains and cattle blood, while in Extras: The City & Me, 00BC—Forever, eight photographs represent the body of Christ as a traditional Ghanaian stew.
The irony underlining this “feast of love,” and the violent, repulsive, and antagonistic twists of this exhibition, is no accident. Baah’s subversive gestures open up a dialogue on the contradictions of Christianity. We are led to critically reflect on the visual representations of the coexistence of love and cruelty and the ambivalence this juxtaposition births. Baah’s work observes how dominant belief systems—whether parasitic modern religions or politics—have gradually replaced critical thinking with veneration, thus affecting their adherents’ capacity to participate, question, and make independent judgments as part of their communities.