What are Familykers?
A familyker is a key notion I have developed over many years of work in anthropological research, the study of art, and medically related practice. Familykers are combined persons, places and things that are playing a role in all societies and cultures. I mean the word familyker to have several connotations.
The first of these connotations comes the adjective “familiar,” which connotes a person, place and thing easy to recognize because of being seen, met, heard, etc. before. He, she, they, or it is a person, place or thing we both think and otherwise behave as if we know him, her, them or it well. This also includes a negative connotation in the way we say one is overly familiar with other persons, places and things.
Next comes the noun familiar, meaning a close friend or an animal that is the close companion of someone engaged in witchcraft, sorcery or various more beneficial practices.
After this comes the word lyke. Lyke is an archaic spelling of “like.” I mean to connote not only a person, place and thing that we like but also a person, place and thing that we are like. In addition, lyke is a word with two meanings from Middle English and its Germanic roots. As a noun a lyke is a corpse or dead body. As “-lich” in German and as “-ly” in today’s English, lyke connotes a person, place or thing like, resembling or similar to another (as in friendly, chauvinistically, kindly, stormy, thinly, and so on).
Speaking more according to 150 years of anthropological research, a familyker could be defined as person, place and thing we care about and with which we have different forms of personal exchanges. These personal exchanges take all sorts of forms, from asking, pleading, bidding, praying for, and sometimes sacrificing on behalf of oneself or some other person, place of thing we care about. These personal exchanges also involve a whole other range of activities including magic practices, study and learning, gossip, magical thinking and many other similar forms of activity.
It is to be noted that according to anthropological research worldwide a person, place or thing is dead along a continuum. We can divide all persons, places and things into the following groups:
Group (A) is made up of those that are not dead but moving towards death, which includes most persons, places and things of different ages, but most specifically older persons, places and things.
Group (B) is made up of those that recently “died” and who are the subject of physical alteration, relocation, and mourning practices.
Group (C) is made up of those that have been dead for some time and live on in memory (as the saying goes, and according to whatever form of memory applies). Among these are persons, places and things commonly referred to or translated as “ancestors.”
Group (D) is made up of those that have been dead for a very long time. They exist in ways that are hard to explain, secret, and that remain mysterious. Among these are what I, following certain West African groups, and for lack of a better name, am calling “material, wild nature spirits.” These dead persons, places and things from long ago have been forgotten but still exist in some way.
Group (E) is made up of those long dead and which are the subject of legends. These persons, places and things can be referred to as heroes, demigods, saints, icons, legends, sacred or historical places, ancient artifacts, ruins, and the like.
Group (F) is made up of babies and children.
In summary, a familyker is a person, place and thing (that will be or is presently dead in one of the ways above) that we both think, and otherwise behave as if, we know well and are in some particular ways like.
What are Familyker Scenes?
Having sketched out what familykers are, we can now turn to my mixed media depictions of what I call familyker scenes. I do not depict familykers. I depict scenes of persons, places and things needing personal exchange with one or more familykers. These scenes show persons, places and things in need of personal exchange with current or future dead persons, places and things that they both think, and otherwise behave as if, they know well and are in some particular ways like.
In reading what I just wrote let me be even clearer regarding any questions that may arise about how things and places (including dead persons, places and things) can think, behave, know and be like. Not only alive but also dead persons, places and things are indeed said to think, behave, know and be like. Our communication with one another and thinking are extremely full of this truth. It is an undeniably empirical fact. While this fact is dealt with by calling it a case of metonym, anthropomorphism, animism, and the like, there is no denying that in the hearts and minds of most persons today such thinking, behaving, knowing, and resembling stand no real chance of being explained away. Instead of denying or explaining this away, as I very often find myself wanting to do, I have in my work come to deal with this situation, accept its inevitability, and see what truths can be derived within it.
In each of my familyker scenes I depict situations in which persons, places and things are in need of personal exchange. They may need these kinds of personal exchange because they find themselves or others they care about in a situation of harm, including illness, injury, dilemma, and the like. Or they may need these kinds of personal exchange because they find themselves or others they care about in a situation of potential benefit, including winning love, gaining more resources, and the like.
The depictions of these scenes are meant to serve as centers for the contemplation of the human life, or what I refer to as indefinite sojourn. These depicted scenes are meant to lead to mysterious instruction or self-instruction.
Even when they refer to other scenes in other depictions, my familyker scenes have no historical reference or content. All are about mysterious instruction via the personal contemplation of indefinite sojourn, which is to say via the six, (A)-to-(F) groups of persons, places, and things I laid out above.
This type of mysterious instruction is by no means novel. It has long been a part of what we call art and its appreciation. When we do not know names and stories of what we are encountering in a work of art we try to explain such depictions based our knowledge of indefinite sojourn. As persons, places and things my familyker scenes are asking for no more or less, and they are offering a clearer way to understand the value of art in general.
Each familyker scene involves the needing of personal exchanges in one or more of the many forms of exchange, from (again) asking, pleading, bidding, praying for, and sometimes sacrificing on behalf of oneself or some other person, place of thing we care about. These personal exchanges also involve, once again, a whole other range of activities including magic practices, study and learning, gossip, magical thinking and many other similar forms of activity. It should so be noted that most scenes involve commonly understood personal interactions.
What persons, places and things in these depictions (such as good health, safety, strength, romance, and the like) are being wished, asked, or bid for? Which are needed? This is a key question regarding the familyker scenes.
The answer is that we do not (and may never) immediately know this.
We also do not and may never be able to know the familykers that are involved.
Nevertheless, when applying the anthropological fact of groups (A) to (F), it may be possible for even the most unwilling to see how one, as persons, places and things, can live and be dead, can think, behave, know and the like without giving up one’s rational understanding and conviction that our language and communication is metaphorical, metonymic, anthropomorphic and animistic.