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Tremor

Teju Cole

“Tremor,” a sinuous meditation on art and life, at once elegant and steely, tells the story of Tunde, an academic and artist – his specialty is photography – who hails from Nigeria, but now teaches in the US. Tunde’s is a contemplative, seemingly comfortable existence, but one haunted by unease – flickers of racial animus here, hints of marital disquiet there, subtle, recurring intimations of loss. An antiquing trip to Maine yields a traditional African mask, which leads him to wonder how it – and perhaps he – got there, prompting a wider consideration of the ethics of art. Tunde thinks of himself as making photographs rather than taking them, but the taking of art – the appropriation of subjects, the stealing or looting of art objects – echoing as it does the taking of lives, provokes a cold fury in him. “What does it mean to care about art but not about the people who made that art?” he challenges his audience at a talk, but it’s a question he asks of himself as an artist, too. What are the limits, the impositions of representation?

The result is an engagement with art – both deeply felt and deeply thought – that is itself a singular artistic achievement.