Mendi & Keith Obadike
Mendi Obadike and Keith Obadike are a married Igbo Nigerian American couple who create music and art. They were both born in 1973. Their music, live art and conceptual Internet artworks have been exhibited internationally. Mendi is a poet and Keith is a composer and sound designer.
Mendi Lewis Obadike was born in Palo Alto, California while her parents were completing graduate work at Stanford. Mendi grew up writing poems, singing in bands and acting in theater as a child. Early on she experimented making songs with cassette overdubs of her Casio keyboard and computer graphics on a Commodore computer. Her mother's research in linguistics and father's stint as the founding director of Black Studies at the University of California at Berkeley sparked her interest in language and culture. Later Mendi studied Latin, became fluent in Spanish and lived and studied in Venezuela and later the Dominican Republic.
Mendi wrote her first play and edited Focus literary journal while living in Atlanta and studying at Spelman College. She graduated with honors in English and was awarded a fellowship to pursue a Ph.D. in Literature and Sound Theory at Duke University and joined the Cave Canem Poetry Collective.
Keith Obadike was born in Nashville, Tennessee. His mother worked as an administrator at the Post Office and his father (who studied briefly with inventor Buckminster Fuller) was an electrical engineer from Nigeria. While growing up in Nashville, Keith studied classical piano, woodwinds and began programming BASIC on a TRS-80 computer. As a teenager he became a sought after sound designer and producer on the local hip-hop scene. He later joined the experimental, New York based Modern Hip-Hop Quartet as guitarist and producer. He was subsequently discovered by Kedar Massenburg (Motown Records president) and was signed to MCA records where he worked with R&B artists such as D'Angelo and Angie Stone and Hip-Hop as well as performed in concert with Lauryn Hill/ the Fugees and P-Funk. He later met and was influenced by electronic music composers like Paul Lansky and Olly Wilson while working at Duke University. Keith went on to study painting and digital art at North Carolina Central University and later became the first African-American to earn an MFA in Sound Design from Yale University. He currently teaches in the College of Arts and Communication at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey.
In 1996 Mendi and Keith started making conceptual Internet art and sound art works together with the goal of creating Internet operas. Since then their writing and art projects have been featured in many publications including Art Journal, Artthrob, Meridians, Black Arts Quarterly, El País and Tema Celeste, and in new media texts such as Internet Art (Thames and Hudson, Rachel Greene), Sound Unbound: Writings on Contemporary Multimedia and Music Culture (MIT Press, edited by Paul D. Miller). In 1998 they studied art and conducted interviews with artists in Ghana on electronic media. After requesting sound submissions from friends by email created the Uli Suite a sound art piece based on the Igbo abstract art form.
In 2000 they created "My Hands/Wishful Thinking", an Internet art memorial for Amadou Diallo. This work was exhibited the MIT List Visual Art Center. Their work generated much discussion online and offline when they offered Keith's blackness for sale on eBay in 2001 as an Internet performance. Mendi also created the minimalist hypertext piece Keeping Up Appearances, the first Black feminist net.art work.
In 2002 Mendi+Keith premiered their Internet opera The Sour Thunder (Bridge Records, Inc.) which featured hypertext writings by literary critic Houston Baker, performance artist Coco Fusco and musician DJ Spooky among others. This was the first new media work commissioned by the Yale Cabaret and they launched The Interaction of Coloreds (commissioned by the Whitney Museum of American Art).
In 2003 Keith worked with playwright Anna Deavere Smith as sound designer and composer for play her play Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 at the Lincoln Center Institute, and Mendi's poetry was featured at the Studio Museum in Harlem in response to an exhibition of visual artist Gary Simmons’ work. Also in 2003 they launched "The Pink of Stealth", an Internet/ DVD surround sound work commissioned by the New York African Film Festival and Electronic Arts Intermix and The Sour Thunder was broadcast internationally from 104.1 fm in Berlin and was released on CD from Bridge Records in 2004.
They received a Rockefeller Media Arts Fellowship to develop an installation and album entitled TaRonda Who Wore White Gloves. Their Internet opera, entitled Four Electric Ghosts, was developed for Toni Morrison's Atelier at Princeton University in 2005 and the Kitchen in New York in 2009.They’ve curated the sound art exhibition Ya Heard: Sounds from the Artbase for Rhizome.org and the New Museum of Contemporary Art. Most recently, Keith was awarded a Connecticut Critics’ Circle Award for his sound design work at the Yale Repertory Theater and Mendi's book Armor and Flesh (Lotus Press) won the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award.
They recently contributed a chapter to Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture (The MIT Press, 2008) edited by Paul D. Miller a.k.a. DJ Spooky. In 2008 they produced a compilation CD entitled Crosstalk: American Speech Music on Bridge Records. The album features music by Vijay Iyer, Guillermo E. Brown, Shelley Hirsch, George E. Lewis, Pamela Z, John Link, Paul Lansky, Tracie Morris, DJ Spooky, Daniel Bernard Roumain and Peter Gordon/Lawrence Weiner.
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