To perform is to distill, to share accumulated knowledge in the moment through a personal perspective. The best performers have spent long hours studying and training; learning theory, technique, and history; and finding inspirations and antecedents. Then, when they step onto the stage, they add to that knowledge something inherently individual, making it fully their own.
We are entranced by performers – actors, dancers, musicians – because this process can appear mysterious, almost alchemical. Yinka Shonibare, CBE, captures this lightning in a bottle in 2018’s Planets in My Head (Trumpet Girl). A young musician strikes a triumphant pose: instrument raised, head tilted back, boldly booted feet planted on the ground. You can almost hear the note she’s sounding, long and clear-ringing. Brightly clothed – a trademark of Shonibare’s work – she’s a radiant and sure soloist.
For a head, the musician has a celestial globe showing stars, planets, and other heavenly bodies, each labeled with the name of a famous trumpeter. Notably, several are women, the young musician’s forebears and influences. The careful (or obsessive) viewer can spend time searching for every name, considering what a player who has studied them might sound like. The imagined audience at the young trumpeter’s concert, though, would have no such luxury. Each would simply listen, hearing the shapes of her melodies and the quality of her tone. Left to guess what inspires her music, they instead enjoy the process by which she brings her learning to life.