In the group’s first museum presentation Seven Prepared Pianos for the Seven African Powers, organized by curator Ruba Katrib and on view at MoMA PS1, the piano is transformed into a site for spiritual communion.
The exhibition centers seven different piano models, each selected for how their physical make-up and acoustic characteristics compliment the distinct personalities of the seven deities they represent. Placed in a circle, the installation is activated through a performance titled Bembé Secreto, which recontextualizes the percussive instrument as a decolonial vessel. “In a way, we are trying to destroy this Eurocentric image of the piano,” adds Escobar.
As an ensemble, Standing on the Corner is amorphous, shifting in membership according to each artistic undertaking. For Seven Prepared Pianos, collaborators included Escobar, Aya Brown, Carly Heywood, Christian Martir, Kat Tom, and Aja Grant. The performance consists of five concert pianists scouted by the collective, as well as Escobar himself playing individually prepared pianos, each composition a sonic offering dedicated to a different African power. The music, a melding of African, Caribbean, and Western musical and spiritual traditions spirals upwards and outwards. Punctuated by the altered instruments’ plinking and metallic vibrations, the performance is an aural narrative unfolding, an invitation into a dizzying encounter with the divine.