“Songs About War” and the Melody of Joseph Olisaemeka Wilson

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The richness of the layers in the paintings of Joseph Olisaemeka Wilson do justice to the title of his new solo show, and debut, at Vielmetter in Los Angeles. Songs of War, as both a concept and subject for a show, has an interesting juxtaposition and dichtomy. Songs tend to have a spiritual, celebratory, or pondering of feelings and a collective spirit (the good ones anyway). War is a stage for conflict, bloodshed, emotional toil and shifts of safety and comforts. Songs and war don’t mix and yet they are inexplicably connected. War uses songs for mantras, to get by, to march, to declare a sense of purpose and camaraderie. The theater of war is on full display here. 

Each of Wilson’s paintings are constructed like dense set designs, every element considered with a cacophony familiar war elements and a sort of stage presence with moody lighting and dramatic backdrops. For the show, Wilson writes as the fictious Field General Wali Wallace, “I wave the flag of my nation triumphantly in victory and in defeat! My men were chosen to seize and hold the ant hill! And we shall! Trembling with horror are the hands of the opposition! Racing and skipping are their hearts! When my mission is over I will return home to the arms of my lover! The sun will shine in my backyard again!” 

War, from a distance, both in terms of geography and history, feels like a fiction that collectively we are all trying to come to terms with. Like the great plays of Shakespeare or the films of Kubrick, war is often brings out the best works of art. Though song may feel like a way of truly understanding ourselves, war seems to be a way of understanding where we have been. —Evan Pricco

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