Peter Adjaye

Part of Bring Into Being

Chiswick House and Gardens presented a three-part audio artwork by artist, musician and composer Peter Adjaye. We Bear the Light of the Earth in Red, Green, Black and Brown is exhibited inside the House. In tandem, Sunrise of Invisible Gold was presented at all the entrances to the Gardens, and Sunset in Rippling Bronze was presented at the Ionic Temple and Obelisk. The outdoor works are accessible via QR codes:

Image: Peter Adjaye

Adjaye’s artworks were reflective of what the artist describes as ‘a trans-historical approach’, where the work spans across histories to challenge dominant nativities. For Chiswick House, Adjaye brought together master musicians with South Asian and West African heritage to broaden the dominant Euro-centric narratives that currently describe this site. Stories such as the connection between the neo-Palladian architecture of the House and Italian architect Palladio, and the link between the aesthetic of the grounds and the English Landscape Garden are well documented. Adjaye’s work invited audiences to reflect on the lesser-known narratives that are also visible across the site.

Image: Rekha Sawhney records with Peter Adjaye in the Green Velvet Room

The work draw on styles of music and instruments prevalent across South Asia and West Africa. Its placement next to features such as the Obelisk, and the painting in the Red Velvet room by Hendrick Bloemaert, was designed to raise the visibility of the objects and stories hiding in plain sight. Depicting Pope Leo the Great and Attila the Hun, with Black children on either side, Bloemaert’s painting shows the Central Asian ruler on the verge of defeating Rome, a feat he was ultimately unable to achieve. Much like the Obelisk and sphinxes in the grounds that point towards Europe’s entanglement with North Africa, this painting spotlights historical connections between Europe and Central Asia.

The context for this commission supported a long-term ambition of the artist – to create a soundscape born out of and reflective of cultural pluralism.

Adjaye’s process brought together composed and improvised layers, with master musicians of South Asian and West African ancestry responding to the artist’s ethereal compositions. During recording sessions at Chiswick House, the master musicians heard Adjaye’s compositions for the first time and their improvised and innate responses were recorded. The resulting instrumentation evidences a potent fusion of classical Indian and West African instruments including sitar, kora, bansuri flutes, tablas, harmonium, cajon, udu, djembe, dhol, kanjira and talking drums. The inclusion of alap vocals tips a nod to the role of melodic improvisation in North Indian classical performance. The confluence of these instruments produced a challenging and innovative combination that explored tempered tunings alongside universal rhythmic interpolations and nuances.

Adjaye explains:

The eight-channel soundscape is designed to play across different levels of the House as a way of connecting the different disparaging spaces, some of which are normally not noticed or seen. Similarly, in the Gardens, the work is designed to make you look again at the familiar but through a new lens. Providing alternative interpretations and opening up new pathways for engaging with history is something I have explored at Queen’s House via my response the Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I. At Chiswick House I was able to really push these ideas further.

I have always been interested in how sound can open up new spaces for the production of knowledge. The way in which we have collaborated, improvised and come together around the production of these soundscapes and the discussions we have had, has further highlighted to me that music produced in these regions is an acoustic reflection of particular philosophical attitudes towards existence as individuals and communities.

We Bear the Light of the Earth in Red, Green, Black and Brown, Sunrise of Invisible Gold, and Sunset in Rippling Bronze, 2021 featuring:

Alok Verma – tabla, djembe, cajon, Uudu, kanijira, dhol & talking drums
Jali Fily Cissokho – kora
Jonathan Mayer – sitar and tampura
Kaykay Chauhan – harmonium
Rekha Sawhney – vocals
Robin Christian – bansuri flutes