Nov 14, 2022 - News

Examining free will at Austin museum

Artist Moyo Oyelola examines some paperwork and prepares to interview a museum-goer at his new installation.

Artist Moyo Oyelola examines some paperwork and prepares to interview a museum-goer at his new installation. Photo: Timothy Ogunlowo via Moyo Oyelola

A new exhibit on the East Side asks profound, and sometimes mischievous, questions about just how much personal freedom we have in the world.

Driving the news: Part performance art, part experiment, Moyo Oyelola's immersive show, titled "The Department of the People + Process" opened this month at Carver Museum, Cultural and Genealogy Center at 1165 Angelina St.

  • The free show runs through Feb. 23.

What it is: Moving through the playful exhibit feels like a mashup between a train station waiting room and a passport control interview.

  • You fill out paperwork, sit on benches before submitting to an interview and get photographed as you journey through a bureaucratic setting replete with lots of filing cabinets.
  • Yellow, warm lighting at the Carver Center has been replaced with cold, institutional lighting — and a bank of surveillance cameras appears to track your movements.

What they're saying: "We've all been to a DMV or government processing center, or even a FedEx, and wondering, 'What line do I stand in?'" Oyelola tells Axios. "Sometimes you feel really dumb, and the person working there 10 years, who knows how everything functions, is dictating, and you're there for the first time, and like, 'How do I fill out this paperwork? It needs black ink?'"

  • In large-scale self-portrait photographs Oyelola imagines how he will appear every decade — in keeping with the length of a passport — through 2063. The pictures get at "how authority and bureaucracy will shift as I move along," he says.

Between the lines: Born in Nigeria, Oyelola moved with his family to Austin when he was seven.

  • The exhibit is inspired, in part, on the family experience of winning visas at a U.S. Embassy — of fates tied up in bureaucracy.

What's next: The show is "kinetic," Oyelola says, with changes to the show over the course of coming months.

  • "There will be department memos," he jokes.
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