Portrait Ben Okri & Myra Melford
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March 11

Poetry reading by Ben Okri, accompanied on piano by Myra Melford

As a tribute to David Hammons, whose landmark exhibition, a first in Europe, ends on 14 March, the Bourse de Commerce — Pinault Collection is hosting a special evening: a reading by Nigerian writer and poet Ben Okri will be given at 7 p.m. in the Auditorium, accompanied by a piano improvisation by American composer Myra Melford.

In 2014, Ben Okri found out that David Hammons wanted to meet him: the artist was affected by the collection A Time for New Dreams (2011) whose twenty-two essays deal with themes such as art, magic, childhood, the future, and new dreams. The two men met in New York, exchanged ideas about the objects David Hammons collected on the street and the houses where the great jazz musicians lived in Harlem. Ben Okri wrote poems for one of the artist’s exhibition catalogues (David Hammons: Give Me a Moment, 2016).

In 2000, David Hammons created the Global Fax Festival at the Crystal Palace in Madrid. For five months, nine fax machines installed in the ceiling spilled out paper messages sent from all over the world onto the floor. On the last five days of this installation, the American composer Butch Morris (1947–2013) delivered a performance of improvisations, integrating sampled recordings and ambient sounds. More than twenty years later, in May 2021, David Hammons pays tribute to him by reconstructing this performance. Screens project the image of the composer during his improvisations to which the pianist Myra Melford, one of Morris’s long-time collaborators, responds with her own improvisations.  

Together, Ben Okri and Myra Melford have conceived a cycle of con-certs and talks as a tribute to the work of David Hammons.   

Ben Okri

Ben Okri is a poet, playwright, and novelist. He was born in Nigeria,  and lives in London, England. He has published many books, including The Famished Road (1991), Dangerous Love (1996), Starbook (2007), The Age of Magic (2014) and Astonishing the Gods (2019). His latest book of poems, A Fire in my Head, was published in January 2021. He has invented a new form of storytelling called the “Stoku”, which is a cross between the short story and the haiku. He wrote the script for Peter Krüger’s Film N: The Madness of Reason, which won the 2015 Ensor Award for Best Film. He wrote a much-acclaimed adaptation of Camus’s The Outsider for The Coronet, in London in 2018, which won The Offies Award for Best Theatre Production. Okri has won several awards and critical praise for his works. Considered his masterpiece, The Famished Road won the 1991 Booker Prize for Fiction. In 1984 he was awarded an Arts Council bursary, and in 1987 he won a Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for Africa and a Paris Review Aga Khan Prize. He has also received many honorary doctorates for his contri-bution to literature.  

Myra Melford 

Myra Melford is an American avant-garde jazz pianist, brandleader and composer. Melford—whom the New Yorker called “a stalwart of the new-jazz move-ment”—has spent the last three decades making brilliant original music that is equally challenging and engaging. Culling inspiration from a wide range of sources including Cecil Taylor, the blues of her native Chicago, the poetry of Fernando Pessoa, literature by Eduardo Galeano, visual art and architecture, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), yoga, and Eastern philosophy; she has explored an array of formats, among them ruminative solo-piano recitals, deeply interactive combos and ambitious multidisciplinary programs. She has received some of the most prestigious honors available to a musician: a 2000 Fulbright Fellowship, a 2012 Alpert Award in the Arts for Music and, in 2013, a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her newest project, Fire and Water, will debut its first release in April 2022 on RogueArt Records. The Other Side of Air, the 2018 release by her quintet Snowy Egret, was named one of the best jazz record-ings of 2018 by the New York Times.