Women constantly been written for us and today
Women more specifically Black women have been lost in history, our stories have been constantly been written for us and today they continue to hold us in the past therefore the making of contemporary performance within the postcolonial African milieu is of essence. Through using personal narrative and popular cultural media that saturates our our everyday lives as primary material we are then able to develop a politically and socially responsive performance language that enables us to remix and unsettle the power that colonial and postcolonial iconographic that lie within the African race and gender that ground our contemporary claims of ethnic, cultural and national belonging. Creating a space for ‘doing theory’, in order to consider what might be African and through what rules or conventions that they be named so. Through performance we could contest these assumed cultural, political and social meanings of Africa, what ‘Africanness’ has been ascribed to be within the contemporary globalised world. Within the postcolonial we could engage with these culturally and politically through post dramatic performance as a way to expand the continents global presence and the practices of representations that have held Africa and its image in one singular frame.
In order for us to write about our stories we would have to bring to the surface something that is not yet there that is only as latent, as potential, then an ongoing negotiation occurs between what is Africa and what could be Africa, to write the world from Africa or to write Africa into the world or as a fragment becomes a compelling and perplexing task (Mbembe & Nuttall, 2004:348). One would then have to look at Africa and interrogate it as a sign in modern formations of knowledge as Africa as its name, as the idea of Africa in itself, and as an object within academia and the public discourse that written history has made fraught. Africa has remained within the frame that the world has created in simply because we have not taken the initiative in order to write our own stories. Chimamande Ngozi Adichie (TED, 2009) talks about the dangers of a single story, Africans need to write our stories and not be left in the written histories of colonisation, as scholars continue to write about Africa as an object apart from the world including African scholars. “How best to overturn these perpetual and predominant imaginings of Africa? One strategy is to constitute an argument that relies less on difference – or even originality – than on fundamental connection to an elsewhere” (Mbembe & Nuttall, 2004:351).
Performance allows the performers body to pose a question about the inabilities to secure the relation between subjectivity and the body, the frame in which the body and the lack of being that is being promised through it and by it is used and cannot appear without a supplement (Reinelt, 2002:201). In this performance the use of the body as a performance is used in order to tell the story of the individual Black woman. Her skin that she wears becomes the costume, her movements slow and careful as if she was carrying a load, much like the white sheet within the performance that Zac drags with him as he reaches for the sky in the of the performance as though he releases all the heaviness that he had carried. The same heaviness sits on the white sheet the performer hangs up. White signifying the truth which can be a burden, birth and rest. Since the 1950s performance has expanded itself through the work of Milton Singer and Victor Turner through the inclusion of cultural performance, rituals, sports, dance, political events and aspects of everyday life this then enabled a political projection of great potential that developed in the 1970s and 1980s (Reinelt,2002:202). Life itself is the performance and performance then becomes the reenactment of life that is mocked within the performance Mother may I sleep with Danger? Her hair becomes a story of self hatred, desperation and loving for love. The long black weave then is used as a symbol of another personality that she wears and takes off in the private. Here she is exposed of the real demon that resides with, untamed and coarse. The demon no longer is afraid of showing herself she unravels her truth violently. John L. Austin underpinned the contemporary philosophical focus that performance and its variations in which he discovers through the case of performativity utterances (Reinelt, 2002:203).”Bodies are formed by social norms, but the process of that formation runs its risk. Thus the situation of constrained contingency that governs the discursive and social formation of the body and its (re)productions remains unacknowledged by Bourdieu” (Reinelt, 2002:205). As the cold truth within the tunnel and its tunnel vision and the gaze of the spectator hits against the skin of the performer she is then let with no choice but to hit them back with their gaze.
What Fischer-Lichte does is link up experiments from avant-garde period with that of the postmodern attempts to stage the cognitive and perceptual operations of reality construction, the Anglo-American rubric of performance has however employed a means of denying or blurring the differences that occur between theatre and cultural performances. The performance incorporates a projection, which is seen as for what it is and beyond that, a significant single story that tells a story of a single journey home, the uses of colors being projected such as different textures of blue (life, coldness), white (pain, lies, silence), black (comfort), yellow (God), gold (life), pink (sexualisation), green and brown ( the latter colors are less used as Africa has been visualized through those colors therefore reiterating the single story of Africa. “The expansionism and equivalencies of this drive have been directly related to the politics of cultural studies: breaking down hierarchies of elite art, recovering the history of forms of performance by including rituals, festivals, and other civic events that previously were the province of ethnography or anthropology, and by making visible constructions of race, sex, gender, and class along a range of cultural practices in order to grasp how these intervener rate and interrelate” (Reinelt, 2002:209). This means that some purposes for performance studies and the rhetoric of performativity have more political possibilities than theatricality. A ritual first performed is that of hanging up the sheet on the line that is already placed at the end of the tunnel, the second which occurs is the removal of the wig. It becomes complicating in discourse when the notion of performance becomes visible as Elin Diamond observes performance is “precisely the site in which concealed or dissimulated conventions might be investigated … performativity must be rooted in the materiality and historical density of performance” (Reinelt, 2002:213). Therefore then performance allows us to make visible the micro-processes in which iteration and non-commensurability of repetition within historical context of settlements and practices so that we might stage theatricality and tangible possibilities for unanticipated signification (Reinelt, 2002:213).
I then begin contemporising Africa through a shared challenge that the world, specifically Black women – that is the prison of patriarchy. The article by Maisha Z. Johnson 5 Ways ‘Respectability Politics’ Blame Black Women for Their Own Oppression (2015) and the marginalised in order to earn respect within the mainstream culture through the umbrella term of the ‘Strong Black woman’. Opening up this discussion with a profound statement Pumla Gqola made during an online Open Book Festival in 2016 that “Rape is not a moment but a language” (Open Book Festival, 2016) according to her in South Africa and in the world we read why we are not winning against the war of rape, this culture is morphing and mutating into a kind that is promoted in hit songs, that people dance to in clubs. Hip hop at the forefront of promoting such a culture through their lyrics talking about Black women’s bodies in an objectified manner. The performance musically engages with heightened opera music by a black South African Pretty Yende, showing that Africa is not only about beating drums and singing traditional songs around a fire. “Nowhere are these conventions more evident than in artistic representations, which consist more or less exclusively of icons” (Gilman, 1985: 204). Certain major shifts in the iconography of the sexualised woman take place and the figure of the black servant in European art is ubiquitous. Hofmannsthal was also aware that one of the black servant’s central functions in the visual art of the eighteenth century was to sexualise the society in which she was found (Gilman, 1985:209). The perception of the body of aesthetically pleasing signs begins with the buttocks and written history accounts for the obsession in which that perpetuates the current objectification in which Black female bodies have today in the postcolonial. The Black body in performance would not be seen as “aesthetically pleasing” as she has not significant buttock. These echoed writings become apparent within studies during the 1800s and the use of Sara Baartman’s pelvis as a reference point to argue the primitive nature of the Hottentot’s anatomical structure and ultimately class Black women could be identified as one race that has big buttocks. “The buttocks of the Hottentot as a somewhat comic sign of the primitive, grotesque nature of the black female. In a mid-century erotic caricature of the Hottentot Venus, a white, male observer views her through a telescope, unable to see anything but her buttocks” (Gilman, 1985:219). Therefore the females’ sexuality is linked to the image of her buttocks as the quintessential buttocks are those of the Hottentot. The primitive is the Black, the qualities of blackness, or at least of the black female, are those of the prostitute (Gilman, 1985:219). “The primary marker of the black is his or her skin color. Medical tradition has a long history of perceiving this skin color as the result of some pathology” (Gilman, 1985:231).
They also represent the female as the source of corruption and disease. It is the Black female as the emblem of illness who haunts the background of Manet’s Olympia (Gilman, 1985:231). This association with hidden genitalia and the signifier of the black both point to the potential corruption of the male observer views of the female. “Manets Nana thus provides a further reading which stresses Manet’s debt to the pathological model of sexuality present during the late nineteenth century” (Gilman, 1985:232). It is the similarity between the black and the prostitute-as bearers of the stigmata of sexual difference and, thus, pathology-which captured the late nineteenth century. The “white man’s burden” thus becomes his sexuality and its control, and it is this which is transferred into the need to control the sexuality of the Other – the sexualised black female (Gilman, 1985:237). It is this white mans burden that initiated the performance that I saw of Judd Krok’s, where his very loud whiteness physically the space in which he performed spoke to the issues in which the performance was about. The loud white high walls were spoke to an epidemic that occurs within the black culture of bleaching. The bleaching of the melanin skin derives from this history in which this essay aims to unpack that lies within the insecurities of Black women today. The bleaching of one’s skin lies in the male observer who claims my skin to be unattractive, the dark skin shade and natural afro-hair are central in the politics of visibility and exclusion with the black anti-racist aesthetics. Although the performer is not dark skin however, she still face discrimination as the in between where others accepted her and others classify her as too dark or having uneven skin tone which would need to be bleached. A dark skin shade and natural afro hair becomes ambiguous signifiers as the women’s talk leads to a mobility of black beauty. Therefore, as the women are rooted in racialised and racialising notions of beauty they expand the boundaries of the beautiful black woman’s body. “Black beauty as an undecidable resists binaries without ever constituting a third term and arises through the disidentification and shame of cultural melancholia” (Tate, 2007:300). The influence of whiteness as a yardstick for beauty has a history which extends back to slavery. Whiteness was about the embodiment of beauty while black women were viewed as physically strong, immodest and as exuding an animal sensuality (Tate, 2007:302).
The signifiers of hair texture, skin shade and shape of lips and noses ensure the continuation into the present of racialized criteria of attractiveness which are linked to a European standard and a continuation of ‘shade prejudice. “Nowhere are these conventions more evident than in artistic representations, which consist more or less exclusively of icons … it is apparent that, when individuals are shown within a work of art (no matter how broadly defined), the ideologically charged iconographic nature of the representation dominates. And it dominates in a very specific manner, for the representation of individuals implies the creation of some greater class or classes to which the individual is seen to belong” (Gilman, 1985: 204). We then create a homogeneous image that classes the uniformity, as the one that occurs with Black women who wear long weaves and wear expensive clothes to be classified as being blessed by sugar-daddies as it is assumed that they cannot afford such. “The resulting stereotypes may be overt, as in the case of caricatures, or covert, as in eighteenth-century portraiture. But they serve to focus the viewer’s attention on the relationship between the portrayed individual and the general qualities ascribed to the class.” (Gilman, 1985:204)
“The simultaneous eroticizing and denigrating of nonwestern countries has a long and complex history. In visual and verbal images, difference culture, physical appearance, and lifestyle have frequently been delineated through heightened attention to sexual difference.” (Levine, 2003:177). The prostitute fulfilled the role of degrading the black women (the Hottentot) and one of the classic works of nineteenth-century art, a work which records the idea of both the sexualised woman and the black woman. Today, transactional relationships which has become a trend in South Africa and the rest of the world has been deemed as prostitution by a former blessed himself Kenny Kunene, that it is a pimp and a prostitute as these women sometimes engage in sexual favors in order to receive the luxury lifestyle which is sustained by these men (eNCA, 2016). Edouard Manet’s Olympia painted in 1862-63 and first exhibited in the Salon of 1865 which is seen to assume a key position in documenting the merging of the black woman and the sexualised woman (Gilman, 1985:206). This idea of empire as a web of lust and sexual intrigue and temptation rested on an idea of sexuality as a premodern phenomenon that modernity and rationality had learned to contain and to channel.
“We adjust our own behavior to avoid the racist, classist and sexist stereotypes other people might put us into” (Johnson, 2015). The weave ( pass me my hat): black women’s hair have been part of the conversation from way back to the ancient world and continue to weave their way through the social, political and cultural conversations surrounding black identity today.
Taking off the wig (symbolizing the removal of colonization, freedom, acceptance of the self) a ritual that only usually occurs in private where most women who wear wigs once they get home they take their wigs off and they are left with the self, the true self, much like a scene which caused some controversial happenings when Annalise Keating takes off her wig in a scene in How to Get Away with Murder. Hair has become a powerful symbol of liberation with the black community as for many years black women have seen their hair as nothing more than something that needs to be amended.
On the Tyra banks show in a segment called “what is Good hair Tyra” she sits with cornrows as she speaks about the biggest issue that black women face within our community around the world, her show was however charged by the American documentary film directed by Chris Rock “Good Hair” in 2009 after his daughter asked him about why her hair was not good hair. When black women talk about good hair (I however, was inspired to do this performance because of my niece who has 4C hair whom plays a big part of my performance as I want her to grow up loving every strand that grows out of her scalp- the positioning of the camera with her hair taking up majority of the screen is a big statement) it is usually associated with hair that is not kinky or coarse, nappy, not Afro, good hair is straight like Indian or white girls hair, and we spend countless amounts of money to put weaves and chemical relaxers (hence the chemical video showing in the performance of the brewing and steaming of the chemicals that would go on my scalp and many others who would relax their hair in order to achieve this look). Straightening made it look more appealing however, that damaged my hair ultimately damaging me.
“Don’t show your emotions at all be the respectable Black women who can get through anything without being emotional. These are the politics that had me believing that I was and should aspire to be” (Johnson, 2015). Wathinta abafazi, wathinta imbhokodo – you strike a women, you strike a rock. This phrase has been at the forefront of many women rally’s which encourages the notion of the strong black women, that if you ‘strike’ a women she would not be affected as she is like a rock (solid, hard, unmoved). What this then does it promotes consciously or unconsciously the notion that women can and should take the ‘strike’. Making the woman seen a somewhat supernatural able to recover fast from all ‘strikes’ against her. This then has led to the non-continuous significant change in which has occurred in South Africa in the last decade towards women. “Apartheid and racism continue their tyranny and the South African society is as far away from equality, peace and development as it was in 1975” (Meer, 2011)
“While black women suffer more than black men from the violations of their rights, the violations are gross in respect to both. It is this reality that accounts for the very peripheral impact of feminism on South Africa.” (Meer, 2011).
Education is important within our society. In order to read, and understand each other there needs to be some form of education, however, South Africa and Africa has a poor educational system, which could be traced back to the Bantu education system in our history. Without the improvement of education in our continent a better society cannot be achieved. Much like the radio in Ousmane Sembene’s Moolaade (2004) where the men elders of the village abolish the radio (which is seen as a source of information and education in the film) without it Colle (the protagonist) would not have known that the ritual of circumcision performed on young girls was not compulsory whereas it was seen as a sacred ritual which had to be done within the Muslim culture. Had she not had heard such she would not have learnt how this ritual was not compulsory and many girls would still undergo it. Young girls would bleed to death and all I imagine is the amount of blood that was Mamello’s performance which left traces of it on my pants, after leaving the performance I was forced to reflect upon these issues.
Rape culture (red ribbons, white sheet, naked body in space, rough edges of the walls, the tunnel – signifying a one way road and not having much room to be anything else, the tunnel being dark symbolizing the dark history embedded and that we are born into, having a technological piece there signifies how even today in our postcolonial history these are the ‘projections’ in which was man made to see ourselves (the black woman) as nothing else than what is written. The image that Mamello provided in her performance when she was in the bath of blood and black men were chosen from the crowd to watch her naked body in blood. The gaze seemed daring and the black females body seemed as though it was being restored through the blood that was shed, the pain in which black female bodies have been put under and the sexualisation that of Sara Baartman, Krotoa or Eva and Nongqawuse. Most recently the blood that was shed by Karabo Mokoena’s body as her boyfriend cut her up and then burnt is up like the beginning of Katharina’s performance when she started her performance looking at the lighter in such a way that made its seem as though she would burn something. Women’s oppression comes from the crudest of biological terms which are based on the men’s physical ability to rape (Smith, 2013).
Kimberle Crenshaw in her essay Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics (1989:149-150), she argues that Black woman experiences in ways that are both similar to and different from those experienced by white women and Black men, that Black women experiences are much broader than the general categories that discrimination provides. Her argument is that there are many ways in which Black women were being excluded that were segregated from gender and race, where Black men were able to represent all Black people and white women could represent all woman, so effectively what we were looking at is a representational scheme, where Black women were being represented regardless of their particular way of experiencing discrimination. In a way to draw attention to the way in which Black women’s experiences, sometimes distinct experiences of discrimination was buried under the experiences of white women and black men. We are a gender and race based unequal society and all of those dimensions need to be addressed in an intersectional, anti-racist and anti-poverty program. Intersectionality is “not an abstract notion but a description of the multiple oppressions that are experienced” (Smith, 2013).
Sojourner Truth’s well known “Ain’t I Woman?” speech which was delivered in 1851 where she spoke about the contrast in the oppressions faced by white and Black women shows that Black women have always been marginalised however when Crenshaw came with that framework they were able to call it something (Smith, 2013). “Crenshaw draws a parallel between Truth’s experience with the white suffrage movement and Black women’s experience with modern feminism” arguing that feminist studies and politics claim to reflect for women even though they do not include the Black woman, Black women would have to ask this question Truth posed “Ain’t we Women?” (Smith, 2013). The same cry that Lwanele had done in his performance is the same cry women have been told to keep silent for many years. It is now time within this new age that we carry our sorrows with pride like the Nigerian artist Jelili Atiku in Red Light where his performance occurs in the street of Ejibo, his performance symbolises life, energy and violence he dresses in red fabrics that cover his whole body even his face as he walks through the city in performance. Red is a salient colour and immediately evokes conversation, he allows his body with space to be used as making a statement, through the covering of his face he allows the spectator to come to their own conclusions as to what they saw, this allows him not to interrupt with his political views in the performance
Therefore, through the construction of my story performance and the strategic framing of the body in space and the performance allows for the reflection of the black female body within the context of the postcolonial space.