Moyo Oyelola Installs The Department of the People + Process at the Carver Museum
The experiment and performance art piece invites reflection on bureaucracy and individual sovereignty
By Meher Qazilbash
Photos by Timothy Ogunlowo
Moyo Oyelola, an Austin-based multimedia artist, creative director and activist, recently debuted his first solo exhibition at the George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural and Genealogy Center.
Open through Feb. 25, 2023, The Department of the People + Process, or DPPP, is part-performance art, part-experiment. Thanks to an unconventional and immersive format, the exhibit disrupts the audience’s compliance with everyday rituals and authority, leaving visitors to contemplate their own personal freedom.
Entering the experience, guests are invited into an office-like setting with bright lighting, a hospital-like color palette, filing cabinets, cardboard boxes and lines of waiting benches.
Inside the sterile and functional environment, participants are prompted to fill out paperwork before undergoing a “processing” interview with the artist himself, who performs as Agent M, a supervisor within the Division of False Authority. Oyelola acts as Agent M for hours at a time, speaking to every person that enters. After the interview, participants file their paperwork.
The procedure follows a specific formula, but leaves space for a number of unpredictable things to occur. Lines and interviews can vary in length, discussions can follow different routes and visitors can have unexpected interactions with each other. The experimental work is iterative and aspects of its format are subject to change, just as department memos, new hires and updated policies constantly affect offices in the real world.
The inspiration for DPPP came from a residency program Oyelola presented at The LINE Austin in 2020. The project, titled “Passport,” explored the significance and power of passports as a geopolitical document. The Department of the People + Process is an expansion on this look into bureaucracy creating rules in our lives and taking up our time, often without resistance or questioning.
“The past few years have been reformative and perspective-changing for everyone,” says Oyelola. “I’m interested in the ways in which the old status quo is creating a collective and individual discomfort with authority and bureaucracy.”
The exhibit mischievously and humorously exposes how we respond to authority and unveils how we interact with strangers in an administrative setting.
“The social interactions, little moments of angst or the feeling of ‘Oh, I think I just got cut in line’ are things that we’re all familiar with from our time at H-E-B, the airport, the DMV or doctor’s office,” explains Oyelola. “There’s a lot of familiarity in those tones and there’s a lot of humanity in that. [The show] has been a theatrical display of human behavior.”
The artist’s work is also inspired by his roots and his own immigrant experience. Born in Nigeria, Oyelola moved to Austin at the age of seven. Knowing the ins and outs of immigration offices and the hassle of obtaining legal documents influenced his viewpoint. He muses about what bureaucracy and offices can mean to different people and how many humans feel as though they have no choice or power in those situations.
“All around the world, people are standing in line, and the idea of lines is either frightening or foreign — and it has a lot of implications. If you’re a refugee standing in line, you hope that you’re standing in line for a good reason, right?” asks Oyelola. “Especially living in this system as a person of color, you just want to abide by the rules, follow the lines and conform in some shape or form.”
His mission is to encourage people to be inquisitive about their own sovereignty and individual power.
“[This project] makes me think about the ripples in our society on a larger macro scale,” adds Oyelola. “It’s investigating how systems shape and kind of contain us, unfortunately.”
Even if visitors may not understand the experiment immediately, they can still gain something by simply questioning why the show functions the way it does.
“As an artist, we’re not here to answer anything, but just ask more questions.” says Oyelola. “Curiosity is what creates the world, creates culture and creates change. It’s when everyone looks up once again and says, ‘Why are we doing this?’”
Visit the DPPP website to plan your visit and look for future processing dates that will feature larger crowds, DJ sets and more.