Arts, On Campus

Director Ng’endo Mukii Explains the Connection Between Animation, Taxidermy, and Telling a Singular Narrative

As a young girl, Ng’endo Mukii regretted being born into a westernized world after the peak era of African cultural greatness and beauty, she said. 

“Why, I asked, was I born into an Africa with running water and education?” Mukii said. “Did my parents really have to raise me in a brick house with a fridge and my favorite cereal, Rice Krispies? I wanted an epic sunset to walk across with a spear in my hand. I wanted to be a real African.”

The Currents lecture series at Boston College welcomed Mukii, an award-winning film director and a professor of the practice at Tufts University, to speak about her approach to animation, artistic motivations, and how she’s expanded these ideas into workshops and her teaching methods on Wednesday. 

A photography book that depicts Indigenous Africans in Mukii’s father’s library inspired her career in representing Indigenous people through animation. She wants to share the true vibrancy of Indigenous people by animating them and not diminishing them to a pose or singular story that Westerners assign to them. 

Mukii began her lecture by defining indexicality—the effect of a film when the creators faithfully capture a complete message to portray to viewers—and taxidermy as they relate to her work on animations. Taxidermy contrasts with animation because, through taxidermy, the viewer only sees the object in one pose, but animation is more lively. 

Mukii said Western images of  Indigenous people should, in theory, represent a holistic narrative, but they only represent absolute truths that promote superiority of a race and can promote a Western narrative. In her works of animation, Mukii creates pieces that have no absolute truths and allow for multiple interpretations of the human experience. 

Ezekiel Coleman, MCAS ’23, said he was struck by Mukii’s level of creativity in drawing a connection between the history of animation and the history of taxidermy.

“The idea of historical animals and how they can be repurposed to what they originally were intended to be … [and] that you can use animation in a physical medium to recreate how we look at human experiences … was really interesting” Coleman said.

In her dissertation, which she worked on in the summer of 2021, Mukii compared the process of taxidermy to early ethnographic filmmaking, as she told the audience in her lecture. An ethnographic film is a nonfiction film typically shot by a Western person that depicts non-Western people. 

“Both practices involve an act of deviation—of editing for the sake of presenting Indigenous species as icons in a foreign context preserved in a pose” Mukii said. “They both depend on the illusion of looking real, or realism, to be convincing.”

Cai Mathieu, MCAS ’23, said she was drawn to the lecture tonight because of her personal investments in art and mental health that aligned with Mukii’s background.

“This [event] kind of drew my attention just because it was a woman of color, born outside the U.S., who is really invested in communicating her message through her art,” Mathieu said. “I thought that was very unique and wanted to come to hear more about her work.”

Mukii told her audience that, over time, she has come to believe that animation can not only reinforce our humanity to each other, but that it is a great tool to form connections and community across global divides.

“By permeating physical, linguistic, and cultural barriers, animation can bring us closer to each other and make us human again,” Mukii said. “Animation can be used to emulate something that is intangible, something that is humanity.”

November 18, 2022
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