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Insights of an Eco Artist

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Navigating the Sonic Landscape of Decolonialisation: A Journey into the World of Johann Don-Daniel

Joana Alarcão

Delve into the realm of decolonization through Johann DonDaniel's captivating sonic landscapes. His work, "Vessels: decolonisation distortion drums dialogue," intricately blends Western drumming with Sri Lankan Thammattama rhythms, challenging conventional narratives with a pulsating beat. Through this fusion, DonDaniel confronts the echoes of colonialism, inviting viewers to embark on a journey of historical reflection and creative expression.

7 February 2024

Through ethnographic research I am currently exploring traditional skills/languages that have been affected by colonial legacies. My development from this is reaching a dialogue involving decolonialisation and neo-colonialism. The outcomes include experimental technologies and sound distortion combined with a beat driven narrative.

I begin with a complex inquiry: What does art signify? Throughout history, art has served various functions, transitioning from pure aesthetic expression to sacred representation. But what about the work of today? What is the meaning behind contemporary art? From personal experience and the testimony of several artists, I gather that its function lies in bridging the gap between the artists' inner realms and the tangible world. And for most, it is somewhat critical of current ways of thinking and behaving. Now, if it is clear, soft, dark, objective, or violent, that is up to the artist. And with that, the artist I am examining today, or, better said, one of his works called Vessels, is a clear representation of the inner realms being translated into visual and audio forms. The rhythmic rebellion against colonial legacies is the artistic manifest of East London-born artist of Sri Lankan descent, Johann Don-Daniel.



Vessels by Johann Don-Daniel. Image courtesy of Johann Don-Daniel.
Vessels by Johann Don-Daniel. Image courtesy of Johann Don-Daniel.

Johann Don-Daniel's art skillfully transports us into a sonic landscape of decolonialisation, challenging our understanding of history, empire, postcolonial struggle, and creative expression. The artist does this by exploring tradition, technology, and social discourse, mostly through a sonic landscape. The audio installation and performance "Vessels: decolonialisation distortion drums dialogue " fuses the beats of British colonial military,  Sri Lankan Thammattama (pre Buddist beats) and noise punk rhythms  to create a narrative that disrupts the conventional. Driven by a desire to challenge current dialogues and an unmistakable sense of anger, the artist harnesses the power of noise/distortion to confront the past's consequences for the future. 



 Johann Don-Daniel artwork
Vessels by Johann Don-Daniel. Image courtesy of Johann Don-Daniel.

"Utilising the Western drum and Sri Lankan Thammattama, I contrast contemporary influences with traditional pre-colonial rhythms, weaving a beat-driven narrative through the incorporation of drums, experimental technologies, and sound distortion." the artist explained. "The inspiration behind this work was the pursuit of meaningful dialogue around seemingly incomprehensible ideas from the past that hold consequences for the future. In simple terms, I’m angry about stuff and make lots of noise about it."


I would say "Vessels" goes beyond being just a musical experience, delivering a powerful message that extends far beyond mere auditory enjoyment. It takes the viewers and listeners on a chronicled journey through time, from pre-colonial echoes to post-colonial distortions. This is all captured by the emotional engagement of the artist with drums and his kinetic sound machine. While the artist does not state any particular intention for any precise emotion to come through- other than anger- there is space for the audience to interpret the work from a guttural aspect rather than an intellectual one, which gives this sound installation a deeper level of complexity.


"My expression is much about working through traditions, and ideas and messing with them all through technology, loud drums, and hidden beats. I’m angry/invested with and in humanistic constructs and am finding ways to express that through slightly less destructive and more reconstructive means."




The artist's creative process materialises as a vibrant interplay of sensory experiences, meditation, and the construction of mental machines. Born and raised on an East London council estate during the 1980s, the artist draws on personal experiences and heritage, where the holistic principles of Ayurveda subtly influence the artist's practice. And, also drawing inspiration from Nam June Paik, Perera Elsewhere, Chrissy Ralph, Harold Offeh, Show Me the Body, and Mike Patton, the artist's work is a tapestry woven from diverse threads of media, history, counterculture, and community engagement.


"Art is a communication device. Its ability to communicate with volume and with varying frequencies gives us a powerful platform to work with."


Looking ahead, the artist envisions a project called 'slip ‘twixt cup ‘n’ lip,' where he develops a line of conceptual research and work around British colonial histories, focusing on the tea plantations of Sri Lanka and their socio-political ramifications.

If you take an overall look at Don-Daniel's practice, you can witness a transparent conductor line and message - creating a cacophony of sounds that induces reflection and propels the audience to challenge and confront uncomfortable truths. The artist's practice is an unambiguous example of the argument proposed in the introduction: his art aims to express his inner dialogues and confront the audience from a genuine and exposed standpoint.


You can find more about the artist here.

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