LondonThe Institute Of Contemporary Art,
R.I.P. Germain: Jesus Died For Us, We Will Die For Dudus!
February 22 – May 14, 2023
R.I.P. Germain’s exhibition ‘Jesus Died for Us, We Will Die for Dudus!’ confronts power dynamics with multi-layered tact, transporting visitors through subjectively loaded underground and publicly visible spaces. ‘Dudus’ is Christopher Coke, the now imprisoned leader of the Jamaican drug gang “the Shower Posse.” Coke lived the precarity of hustle culture and gang violence while also using proceeds from the production of drugs to set up community programs and support locals in his home neighbourhood of Tivoli Gardens, West Kingston. Coke’s impact on the neighbourhood was such that police could not enter without community consent.
The exhibition comprises of two related installations: Installation 1: EC1N 8EX, 2023 on the first floor of the ICA; and Installation 2: SE15 6UJ, 2023 on the second floor (‘EC1’ and ‘SE15’ are East and South London districts separated by the River Thames). A Glossary of terms, essential to orientation, is available on arrival.
Scanning its first page, the term ‘False front’ illuminates a forgotten looking shack, graffiti-sprayed ‘Mirage,’ the first scene of Installation 1. Inside, warehouse detritus is interspersed with personal items that give a homely feel to an otherwise nondescript setting: trainers sit on metal shelving, bottles are contained in a plastic box, a stool serves as a makeshift table and a small divination tray holds cowrie shells and sand used by the West African Yoruba religion as part of spiritual consultations.
Access to the second part of Installation 1 requires an entry code taken from a card picked up at the beginning of the exhibition. This space houses a mock-up ‘grow’ with Marijuana plants behind bars illuminated by unnatural light. Evidence of habitation scatters the floor in the shape of empty drinks cans, work-out weights and tubs of whey protein powder. ‘Baggy spaces’ of this sort, as the Glossary tells us, ‘have distinct formal properties, particular to their individual functions, that allow them to operate legibly for those in the know, and yet remain under the radar.’
A video game console waits to be played. Players take on the persona of a Black man in a virtual room with only one door. White boys ask continually about a package of drugs, or if there is anything to buy. Your player doesn’t even smoke, let alone sell. The white boys’ use of street slang is irritating. They refuse to listen or see the Black man as anything other than a provider. Eventually able to escape, the Black man enters a flowering paradise garden set behind unscalable high walls against a brooding red sky, its centre piece a jug splashing water over characters that metamorphose between black and white. The characters ask the same questions as before, adding “Can you take me back the way you came?” When they reach the exit to the paradise garden, Black characters turn white, and enquire: ‘Did you get that package for me?’ There is no end to the game.
On trying to leave the Grow, the door at first appears locked. A split second of fear turns to amusement on realizing that the door is deliberately designed to appear ‘push’ when its actually ‘pull’.
Installation 2 begins with a corridor draped in velvet leading to a room pervaded by the artificial scent of newly purchased commodities - the interior of a car fresh off the production line; a mobile phone taken from its box for the first time. A mannequin wearing a prosthetic-mask and a hoodie emblazoned with the word ‘SECURITY’— - looking like a white-skinned version of the late US rapper Tupac Shakur— - gazes from inside a glass vitrine at a music video looped on a large-screen digital display. In the video local rap crews adorned with diamond encrusted jewelry made by ‘A Jewelers’, a business in London’s historic Hatton Garden, pose and sing in various city locations. Looking on, Tupac sits detached and sovereign privileged by his assumed whiteness.
Laid out in the ‘V.I.P. room’ of Installation 2 are several trays of jewelry. Velvet lined walls and upholstered chairs mute the sound of entry and give off an air of hushed sophistication. One extraordinarily elaborate piece of jewelry stands out, commissioned from ‘A Jewelers’ by the artist especially for the exhibition - ‘White Makaveli Mod (Jesus Piece) (strictly for my N.I.G.G.A.Z. ?)’ 2023 - the final ‘boss level’ prize in this game.
Visitors to R.I.P. Germain’s installations are immersed in a highly enjoyable game-like relay of contrasting representations – ones that cut successfully across high and popular as well as Black and white cultural sensibilities. The combined critical value of which lies in the viscerally felt insights that it gives into the political economies that link the illicit production and trading of drugs to the signaling of hip-hop and gang lifestyles for Black and white audiences, in addition to the wider unseen complexities of contemporary Black societies.