Avant-garde South African artist Amani Lenny Vallihu (A.L.V) is one of those rare, mysterious intellectuals in the music and art world. Unafraid to go against the grain, he interrogates the deep and dark psychology of being through distorted chopped beats and ritualistic but thought-provoking practices. Fresh off the release of his latest project, darkO and Enigmata featuring a sculpture by Francois Knoetze, we sat down with A.L.V to find out more about his elusive art and persona. Here’s what he had to say.
Who is A.L.V for someone who doesn’t know you?
A.L.V is an abbreviation for Amani Lenny Vallihu and is a pseudonym that I use to designate my artistic authorship. Apart from that, A.L.V is also a brand which represents my executive functions, art collaborations and commissions.
How would you describe your work in a few sentences?
My work within the history of my oeuvre is something that tests the limits. I would consider myself a transgressive artist, somewhat, that is, an artist that goes against the grain. My work, which is varied, is a testament to testing, or a purposeful variation of artistic distortion. I tend to take things that already exist and distort them towards a new understanding of artistic imaginings. I break things.
What inspired darkO?
darkO was an album which came from a place of great inner obscurity, I was wrestling with something through a newfound mysticism, and I resonated with the protagonist Donnie within Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko. He is a schizophrenic patient that continually questions his reality, I think I do the same. Also, darkO is a theological testament to "seeing through a glass darkly", and an artistic piece that is very unknown to me. The original name for the album was meant to be darkly, that is, finding God through a peculiar Silence, but I thought, not a lot of people would truly understand that meaning. Hence, the album entitled darkO.
How did the Enigmata collab with Francois Knoetze come about?
The Enigmata was created through an episode of intuitions, ceremonial work, rituals, and dreams. It was an idea that came to me within the unconscious, and which speaks to me, even now. It is tethered to me. I was looking for an artist that could encapsulate this concept, make it their own, while mystifying a figure for the beyond, within its great depth. The amount of research that went into this idea was staggering and sometimes, there were things happening to me that were frankly, very bizarre. Francois Knoetze was a no-brainer, given his varied style, sculptural work, bodysuits, and filmic experience. I could not have asked for a better Principal Artist who was not afraid to test the limit of what man can marvel at and ultimately, make it his own, which he absolutely did.
What is the meaning of the sculpture Enigmata?
Enigmata means something that is chiefly puzzling, an event that obscures and dazzles the mind. Enigmata was a testament to a Latin riddle, which is derived from Symphosius's The Aenigmata, however, as Francois and I began to engage with concepts, ideas started flowing and the Enigmata almost framed itself. It is weird but deeply psychological, because for me, it felt like the Enigmata was creating meaning out of me, and not the other way around, so based on the presence of the sculpture, I cannot say what it means. Francois, also informed me that there was a heaviness to it, which needed to just be released. I understand this greatly, and what is more mysterious, is that I have yet to meet The Enigmata and Francois in person.
What would you like people to take from the work?
I think the Enigmata/darkO is perhaps our most decorative project yet, and my most psychologically taxing. I tend to make things that cripple me into a new arrangement of selves. It’s not every day that a sculpture contains its own haunting voice, so combining the sound with the visual imagery of the sculpture required a sync between Francois and I, which I believe was very unconscious. It was like it was speaking to me. I cannot say what I would like to see people take out of it, all I can say is that the piece is open to interpretation, good or bad, because ultimately, the album, like the sculpture, embodies both. So, I would understand the weirdness or shock value that is ascribed to the piece.
Listen to the album darkO below:
Where do some of the samples used in the album come from?
My music is made from an editing layering system, that includes a foundational layer, which I make through a software program called Reason, interjecting samples on the foundation, thereafter, editing the wave like a film. I layer my waves as if I am seeing a picture. I was trying something new, where I would have five layers, reverse those layers, abruptly switch the beat, and interject obscure sentiments in the beginning, middle and end. The samples, largely, come directly from Donnie Darko, however, most samples include distorted pastors speaking in tongues, sermons by theologian Fulton John Sheen, psychological dialogue by depth psychologist Marie Louise von Franz, and poetry from the great visionary William Blake. I often enter a trance, and the samples resemble my frame of mind.
Could you tell us a little about the painting and what it represents? Does the painting have any links to darkO?
I tend to not want to be identifiable anymore, it’s strange, when I see myself in the mirror, I often wonder, “who is this person”. The invisible face, red and blue characters representing the anima/animus, a brooding dark eyed man to the left and a painter on the right, with a Christ figure that is healing himself through self-crucifixion, reflects the web that I have become. There are some links, unintentionally, to darkO in reference to the Christian myth but it’s more of a tribute to a South African artist by the name of Judith Mason, who also painted something called “Crucifix” and to which she inscribed a sentiment called “Inori” or “prayer” in Japanese.
What’s next for A.L.V?
I am currently working in the Gallery space dealing primarily with African women contemporary artists within the heart of Geneva, Switzerland. Largely, there will be a greater focus on filmic work, investigative journalism and commissioned work, perhaps another sculpture could be in the pipeline. In terms of my authorship, I doubt another album will be made anytime soon, I think darkO will be my last, however, like a circle, I always tell myself that this is the last investigation, and usually, it never is.
The fact that A.L.V and Francois Knoetze managed to create a transgressive piece of art and music remotely without having met in person, is testament of the boundless ways artists can engage with difficult subject matter. The blurred lines of ritual and artistic practice are truly manifested in the sonic and visually entrancing darkO and Enigmata.
Watch the unveiling of the Enigmata sculpture by Francois Knoetze:
A.L.V social media: