Gesamtkunstwerk is a German phrase which roughly translates as total work of art or all-embracing art form. It is in reference to a theatrical work that utilizes multiple forms of art such as music, drama, dance, stage effects, etc and presents them in one cohesive artistic work. Instead of featuring/prioritizing just one form of art, each form was used accordingly to serve the overall theatrical performance and story. Today Gesamtkunstwerk are far more commonplace than they were almost two centuries ago in Richard Wagner’s day but I still feel they can be taken a step further to create Living Art.
The story for Soul of Suw was first inspired by the music of OutKast and was subsequently influenced by the videos associated with their ATLiens album. This is when I began to understand music videos could be used to tell a story and this appealed to me because Soul of Suw played out like an extended music video in my mind with scenes inspired and driven by specific songs. I am a writer but this story couldn’t be written down. Words on paper, to me, are dead just like the lyrics of a song without a vocalists to give it life.
The history of pre-colonized Africa has been lost over time due to the advent of slavery and impressions of European culture. The history of Africa was mostly disappeared because the societies were predominantly oral cultures whereas a community’s history and stories were relayed through oratory presentations instead of being chronicled in books. It was the responsibility of giftedly trained storytellers (Griots) to serve as living history/spiritual/political/social books who relayed wisdom and lessons to the community through gathered storytelling events. Griots were not only responsible for being human archives but through their oratory style, they too were artist.
Akin to a hip hop lyricist on stage, the Griots would engage their audience. Their stories were not to be read or observed but were participatory, as the audience became an integral part to the story being told. And these tales were more than just surface forms of entertainment, they revealed fundamental truths to the society (i.e. myths) and their performance brought life to the group as the performer & audience were seen as one collective body (communal/living art).
“Orature means something passed on through spoken word and because it is based on spoken language it comes to life only in a living community. Where community life fades away, orality loses its function and dies. It needs people in a living social setting: it needs life itself.” -Simon Gikandi Routledge Encyclopedia of African Literature 2003 ed.
Soul of Suw cannot be presented in a literary form. Just as Griots are artistic orators who require audience participation so do I. My story involves elements of dance, music, visual choreography, mythological drama and spectacle but it simply cannot be told or presented to the audience, it must come alive through them. Just like a crowd at a concert or fans at the big game, Soul of Suw must be a communal experience of Living Art in which the audience takes part in the journey while providing the atmosphere for the drama.
In The Power of Myth Joseph Campbell referred to a movie theater as a special temple, a place of worship, like a church, where the characters on screen become mythological in presence as they are larger than life (not to promote celebrity worship, I speak directly of the characters portrayed not the actors portraying them). This sentiment resonates with me because I grew up in a Southern Black Baptist church where the congregation stood up and joined the choir in singing if the spirit so moved them and we contributed/cheered on the sermon of the preacher to the point of call & response, hearkening back to our ancestral roots/days of the Griot.
Soul of Suw is a cinematic mythology which is enhanced through audience participation. It is a form of Living Art whereabout the true protagonist in the mythology is the observer; the artist/film simply provides a mirror but the world you’re viewing is your own.
Now let’s check out the Original Inspiration for Soul of Suw