Monday, April 21, 2014
Monday, August 12, 2013
Performed by Folashade Adebayo, Kemi Aderinto, Taiwo Aiyedogbon, Ruby Onyinyechi Amanze, Simi Dosekun, Ema Edosio, Kimberli Gant, Wura-Natasha Ogunji, Mary Oruoghor and an Anonymous Stranger
We are facing the sea. It is a cloudy day at Bar Beach and we are sitting on raised platforms looking out over the Atlantic. This place is fast becoming Eko Atlantic, a planned extension of the city constructed on reclaimed land; developers describe it as 'the new financial epicentre of West Africa.' It feels like a science fiction novel--creating land from sea. A god-like arrogance fuels the project. Humans are drawn to epic feats and Lagos is a city of extremes and exaggeration, so why not here? City workers tend the sand. Police officers sit waiting. They will yell at anyone who attempts to walk onto the beach, especially lovers who dare to take photographs by the shore. This place is only open for public holidays and barely even that.
Such a feat does not happen in a vacuum of course. In August of 2012 an ocean surge pulled 16 people to their deaths and flooded parts of the island. Scientists and critics attributed the sea swell directly to the project. And earlier this year a teacher tells me of how her student is now homeless because of the Eko Atlantic. Bulldozers came to remove the shacks on the beach and now many people are without shelter. The arrogance of politicians and businessmen. I have never understood this, the math of people's lives, that you can exchange one thing for another as if they are equal, as if Eko Atlantic is greater than or equal to the dignity of humans, is greater than or equal to homes, is greater than or equal to the efforts of a father who lives on the beach with his family and works hard to send his child to the French school because he knows it will make her life better than his own. Greater than or equal to. Humans are so terribly arrogant. Or perhaps it is pure lack of imagination that prevents the developers from taking care of the people affected by the project.
And then there is us, Queens, a group of four artists making performance under a cloudy sky. It began with a story. I asked artist Ruby Amanze to write a score or directions or impressions about Nigeria that would become a public performance piece. (See Palestinian artist Emily Jacir and American artist Clifford Owens). Ruby writes: I think about worship. What it means to worship something or someone. I think about worshiping oneself. Being god-like somehow. I see a throne. Women can’t sit on those here. But what if? And a crown. Something about wrapping your hair with one of those traditional, elaborate, crunchy fabric headwraps. But the fabric is super long. Awkwardly long and maybe heavy. And the wrapping takes forever and makes your arms tired. And then your head gets a little wobbly as a result of the weight. But it’s still a crown.
For the performance we sit on raised platforms wearing sky-high crowns. We are queens for a day, attached to each other by a length of aso oke. The crowns are awkard, they wobble on our heads. They are at once regal and not. Ruby and I begin the piece. After about an hour we trade places with two other performers, students from Yaba Tech who are now fully committed to the practice of performance, Mary and Taiwo. We fit the crowns to their heads and step down onto the beach.
My friend Connor walks up and asks for the name of the gele knot near the top of the crown. My sister, Folashade has tied it. She replies, Afojusoko, face the husband. He laughs, let's call it Afojusokun, face the sea. I love my people.
I ask Ruby what the experience was like for her. “Facing the sea I was thinking, this is all mine.” I was thinking the same thing. But we are thinking so much more. This is all mine. I am thinking about history and conquest, the slave trade, colonization, land, property. But more importantly I am thinking, “This is all mine, meaning what I see and what I imagine is all mine. I can make it whatever I want it to be.” And in this pause from the chaos of Lagos, we are here staring out at the sea and while we wear these crowns whatever we imagine is ours.
Other women wear the crowns throughout the afternoon. One of the beach police officers is extremely excited when I ask her if she would like to participate. And later a stranger sits confidently with the wrapped fabric atop her head. She is quiet and smiling.
Near the end of the performance Ruby and I once again wear the crowns. We decide to stand up during the final moments. There is commotion on the beach. My sister tells me that there is an oga that is higher than the police officers we bribed. He works for Lagos State and wants us to stop performing immediately. From the raised platforms Ruby and I stare at each other. The small arguing crowd comes closer. We hear the oga say, “I don't want you to get the impression that I'm a bad man.” One of the police officers says it's time to come down. I look at the non-existent watch on my wrist. Ruby and I are still staring at each other and now we are laughing. I'm wondering if we will be physically pulled off of the platforms. It's about 5:35pm now. I actually thought we might get kicked out much sooner. We continue laughing while also maintaining our composure. We are queens after all. Someone in the crowd says, “They're praying.” This brings the arguing to a halt for a moment and buys us time. “Oh, they're praying, well, let them finish praying and then they can come down.” More laughter from the queens.
|Image: Soibifaa Dokubo|
A friend see the photographs from the performance. She couldn't be there but is so excited about the piece. She tells me, “You know women go through so much in this society, but I love how when a woman puts on that crown, in that moment she feels untouchable.” That's exactly what it feels like to face the sea while wearing a crown that is connected to another woman wearing a crown and facing the sea. Untouchable.
Friday, May 10, 2013
a friend tells me he's glad that people are afraid of lagos. i feel relieved and excited that someone else feels the same way that i do. this place is not for everyone. he says, i don't want everyone to feel comfortable coming here. i think about something my brother said, the world is what it is, you have to give back what it takes from you. how beautiful. you have to give back what it takes from you.
sounds like something a samurai would say.
you can't freely take a photograph of someone in lagos. this reminds me of one of my first experiences filming in nigeria, at a market in abuja. i was entranced with a group of women sitting around a lone tree at the market. once you pass 30 seconds of filming it is too much, people begin to notice. a woman ran towards me and pushed the camera out of my face. of course. i saw it coming. she tried to curse me. i held my fingers in a similar formation up in her face. this filming was not right, but i couldn't let her put a spell on me. that experience was so important. people notice you here, they see you, for better or worse. it isn't like the u.s. where people coldly pass by
pretending you don't exist. nigerians will never pretend that they don't see you with your camera. they will never pretend you aren't there.
a filmmaker talks about how frustrating it is to always have to pay people. if i am hearing correctly, he suggests that it makes filmmaking lose some of its poetry because you are always negotiating capital in the process. i can understand this. but asking for something in exchange for a photograph is important. i see it as a refusal: i refuse the taking of my image to be used by you. i like that people don't just allow their image to be taken, to travel far and wide, to be used outside of the scope of their own lives. (these are not photographs taken for weddings, funerals, or the simple vanity of a self-portrait snapped with a phone on the way to school, on the bus, on okada because you know you look damn good and want to archive that, want to post it, want to look at your own fine image endlessly scrolling through pictures on the blackberry). taking a photograph carries with it responsibility. it must be an exchange.
the samurai would also say, you have to give back what you take.
a photographic conundrum. i'm not exactly sure when it happened--when i noticed, felt the limits of the single image. i am always taking photographs, but rarely, rarely show them. i wonder if the single photographic image is even interesting anymore. can it draw us in and disorient or re-orient enough to be exciting, or more importantly, relevant? and relevant in a way that causes action (whether in thought or response). currently, the moving image solves this problem for me. it is photographic of course, but not fixed. and people are not fixed when they are moving. they remain whole, dynamic.
i made a video a couple weeks ago with my phone. a group of rollerbladers wait under bridge for danfo. as i enter the bus, one catches the window. i am filming him negotiate the traffic. he is awesome. i watch the footage endlessly. i have a mission to find him before i leave lagos, to give him photographs of himself, a collection of stills that i have excerpted from the moving picture. i want to thank him for being different and unafraid, for giving back all that the city has taken, for being free in this place that is not for everyone.
Posted by Wura-Natasha Ogunji at 10:54 AM
Monday, May 06, 2013
Queens. a performance by Ruby Amanze and Wura Ogunji
Saturday, May 11
Bar Beach 2-6pm
The performance 'Queens' was developed and inspired by the following writing from Ruby Amanze.
I think about worship. What it means to worship something or someone. I think about worshiping oneself. Being god-like somehow. I see a throne. Women can’t sit on those here. But what if? And a crown. Something about wrapping your hair with one of those traditional, elaborate, crunchy fabric headwraps. But the fabric is super long. Awkwardly long and maybe heavy. And the wrapping takes forever and makes your arms tired. And then your head gets a little wobbly as a result of the weight. But it’s still a crown. Somehow. An invisible one because there is no actual fabric. Just the action of wrapping. OR an actual super long fabric. Maybe long enough for two people to wrap their heads at the same time from the same fabric. Like a mirror. Or someone else to wrap your head? Either way, at the end you still manage to balance yourself. Delicately. But with some obvious strain. There is an elevation of sorts. A ladder? A step? Being prostrate is such a beautiful position to be in sometimes. A way to worship something higher…or lower, like the earth. I think about a woman that has a boy inside of her. But I’m not sure how to show that visually. Maybe the wrapping is done by a boy? There is something about a visual balance. Confict. Duality. The chief eve is part boy. Graceful but choppy. Abrupt. Heavy. Delicate. Women here are all woman. It’s all or nothing. Yes and no. Black and white. But what of a diluted woman? A slightly less woman concentration but still capturing the gentleness. The fluidity. The ability to seduce. And to kill.
So in summary: Queen. God. Worshiping self. Elaborate heavy crown. No crown at all. No one worshiping. Duality. Harmony. Dilution. Balance. Graceful. Choppy. Abrupt. Awkward. Delicate. Boy inside woman. Elevation. Prostrate.
Wednesday, May 01, 2013
Thursday, April 25, 2013
|Image: Ema Edosio|
from an email i wrote to another performer a few days after 'Will I still carry water when I am a dead woman?'
(saturday, april 20)
your words are so important, changed something in me, opened something.
i have been wanting to write about this performance but my body has felt so exhausted. i know i wrote in my journal but it wasn't enough and i haven't looked back at it again, and my mind keeps returning to two moments (one of fear and one of survival...will write about below). at the same time i felt/feel (as i did with beauty) 'now you can do anything'. and yet i have this strange exhaustion which i hope will pass soon....i imagine it's a combination of continued lack of sleep due to wavering electricity + hot nights + mosquitos. the piece itself was exhausting too...but can i be feeling it only now?
i think you and i talked later that day about doing the performance again (with more people) did that conversation really happen? i know i was in a daze.
your email reminds me of so much i was feeling. i think i mentioned this, but this performance was the first time i felt that i might not be able to do this. i was worried about everyone else. i didn't check my mask's eye holes. i didn't test the weight of the water in my own kegs. i didn't take the time to cut thicker pieces of fabric for myself which i intuitively knew i would need. once we crossed the street i thought, oh fuck, i totally fucked up. this will take an eternity and i will be way behind the others and i may not make it at all. pulling the water kegs by the ankles was intense (i too had that same feeling about the strength of my legs...i knew my legs could carry me and these kegs. after all, i had crawled with water kegs before). but somehow the mask, which made it hard to breathe, and the amount of water really terrified me. i have always relied on the strength of my body. even as a young child i would challenge people to races, including adults. i always knew i was a fast runner. i could trust that strength.
and yet in that beginning moment i doubted so much. i had to remember the words i had spoken upstairs. trust, rest, trust. i learned so much in the first five minutes. walking required my entire body (were we actually even walking? it felt like something else). i had to throw my arms ahead of me in order to garner the force to move. and there were many moments when i lost my balance, it was awkward, it felt so awkward to move this way. the fabric cut quickly into my ankles and i couldn't help but think about slavery, slave ships, it was a momentary flash that i quickly tried to dispel from my vision.
the water kegs bumped into each other. i would pull with all my strength, only to have one keg slide up against the other, momentum lost. in that moment i thought how unnecessary it is to struggle. struggle is a waste of energy, it does not necessarily produce results. it can exhaust us and leave nothing in the end. how ironic. even after all that work i arrived at the finish with one keg completely empty of water. i had hoped it would leak out much sooner. and this was not the keg on my right side that had been leaking so slowly from the beginning. this was the keg on my left side. it remained totally full until the last street. it was heavier that the other one the entire way and it gave me no relief. and yet when i was almost finished with the performance the water completely drained out. that was disatisfying. i had journeyed so far, i should at least have water to show for it. this was a lesson about struggle. 'struggle for what' fela. ah. 'now your fault be that'.
|Image: Ema Edosio|
(sunday, april 21)
you asked yourself, “am i a masochist?”. i thought about that question, about the relationship of pain to pleasure and what it is about it that makes us feel alive. controlled pain. also, the performance was intimate but i think it was more self-intimacy if that makes sense.
there were even moments when i thought i should wait but where i went into a deep survival mode decision. there were times when i was thinking, if i stop now i won't make it and i must make it, even if the others do not, i must. different from beauty where the physical connection was so absolute, certain.
ALSO, read Wana Udobang's response on her blog
I created the first version of 'Will I still carry water when I am a dead woman?' in 2011 in Lagos. I crawled along the ground with water kegs tied to my ankles. The piece was inspired by the daily task of carrying water at my cousin's house. I observed how this particular work was largely something that me and my female cousins performed. This is not to say that men do not do this task.
The performance on April 18 built upon this work but was performed with a group of women walking through the streets of Lagos, again hauling water kegs. While the piece poses questions about the work of women, it is also about labor and the politics of change. How much is enough? What is the tipping point in a society where people struggle to meet basic needs? When do people have an opportunity to rest, reflect, envision, imagine, and enact another way of being? I am particularly interested in the role of women in these dialogues.
The costumes refer to traditional masquerades but with an Afrofuturisic touch. Here, I am thinking about the Egungun masquerade which women are not allowed to perform. Masquerades are quite powerful for both community and performer. The masked dancer is allowed to go anywhere; they are protected. People are not allowed to even touch them. There are men who holds sticks, the cane men (and use them) if you attempt to get too close. 'Will I still carry water when I am a dead woman?' draws from this tradition by allowing women to occupy a sacred and dynamic space within the public environment. But in this case, there is a constant movement between or perhaps confusion about the sacred and the profane as we perform the arduous (if not impossible) task of hauling water kegs through the city.
Saturday, April 13, 2013
|Photo: Ema Edosio|
(saturday, april 13)
my friend Lyndon gave me a journal for my trip to nigeria. on the inside cover he wrote: create fearlessly, love openly, make sacred spaces everywhere. all this intersects with jelili's 'egungun method'. egungun may go anywhere. there is no place egungun isn't allowed to be. this is critical. nicole was here this week. she said she had been thinking about the ulay and marina performance piece, relation in time, 1977. we began discussing possibilities for here in lagos. women with hair braided behind their backs. connected. public space. 4 hours. obalende.
later in the week we are talking and nicole speaks about wanting the braiding to be part of the piece itself. so it happens, april 11, thursday, obalende motor park. everything flows when there is trust and action. i meet tope the day before the performance. she does nails and eyelashes under the bridge. i explain the project and she says she will gather the women to do the hair. we show up on thursday (i bring the hair) and meet the women. they seem excited about the piece but are not happy about standing in the sun to braid. we explain that we are artists and the performance has to happen in this place. just before we go to the place near the brt buses, one woman adamantly asks for more money. she is annoyed. i speak with the head woman who is dressed in this lovely pink. she is gorgeous and friendly. i agree to pay more. they set up the chairs. we are side by side for the braiding that begins at 2p.
|Photo: Soibifaa Dokubo|
the order of the chairs: deola ruby coco veronny wura
people are watching us already. the braiding hurts. the women are not gentle but they say “sorry”. veronny tells me how one woman says (in igbo or yoruba) that she's lucky she got veronny because it's only about 6 braids. my woman isn't happy because my hair is very slippery. nicole later tells me that it hurts her head a lot. we are both tenderheaded and the women braiding hair are ripping her hair as they go. i am thinking it will feel so much better when we get to stand. i can't wait. even before we are finished braiding a group of men (city workers/lagos state something) come over. they want money. they speak about how we should have taken permission to be in this place. i have already given connor money to 'settle' them if need be. they are harassing the women. i stand to speak with them but they aren't even very interested in what i have to say. veronny is amazing. at some point soon after this ruckus she says, “no, i wouldn't pay them anything!” she is always so clear and vocal. “we are artists. we have a right to be in this place for artistic expression!”
these words give me more strength. i know that public space is always contested here. everyone wants to get paid. connor comes over and asks how much i am willing to part with? he says they want 10,000 naira. i have only given him 2k. after veronny speaks i tell him “nothing, do not give them anything.” i trust this will work out and that we have a presence equal or greater to that of the men who want a bribe.
|Photo: Soibifaa Dokubo|
|Photo: Soibifaa Dokubo|
we started at 2p and by 3p we are finished with the braiding. while getting our hair made, my favorite moments are:
(1) two girls are watching us. blue checked school uniforms. they are 7 or 8 years old. one has her arm wrapped around the shoulder and neck of the other. they stare from about ten feet away. they are in a deep discussion about what they are seeing.
(2) a group of schoolgirls in blues and skyblues gathers to our left. on the pile of small stones. there are about 15 of them, 7-10 years old, 6 feet away. they watch and discuss for quite a long time. they give us energy.
|Photo: Soibifaa Dokubo|
it is time for the connecting to happen. our chairs are put into a circle and the women begin attaching our braids. when it is time to stand my neck is uncomfortablely hyperextended. i wonder if they have connected us too closely. we adjust. it is uncomfortable. i will settle into the discomfort and eventually the pain. we are five but i can only communicate with the two right next to me. deola to my left and veronny to my right. i start by facing the radio tower direction. veronny says, “wow, this is powerful”. around 4pm during the piece she asks if we can finish early. i am thinking 'no way'. i tell her to go inside her mind. we have agreed ahead of time to make small rotations in order to adjust perspective, move a bit and also to give breaks from the direct sunlight. we speak only a bit about it. “do you need to move?” we grab hands and slowly rotate 1/5th of the way around.
veronny speaks to me and nicole. she is vocal about the pain and exhaustion. i feel responsible but i am only one of five. i don't ultimately have the power to stop the piece even if i wanted to. her words begin to make the exhaustion worse. i tell her to be quiet, to try that out. we are perhaps pissing each other off. i go into my mind. at around 4:15/4:30 i am looking between the radio tower and the brt buses. i am beyond pain and fatigue. my eyes are no longer people watching. they are taking in everything and nothing. i am this piece, these 5 women, i am these artists, i know in this moment, post-pain, that i can go on forever. it is like running, my 3 mile mark, now i can go all day. it's decided. my neck is still being pulled back by the weight of the hair. i adjust in small shifts. it is painful. i try to make myself more comfortable, knowing that perhaps i will make one of my sisters more uncomfortable. i can't see them or talk to check in. i have to trust that they will take care of themselves.
i see my sister and brothers arrive in the audience. and efiom burns. it gives me such strength to see familiar faces. they are witnesses to this. to my life. to our presence. they will remember this one day and i can go to them for the story if i need to confirm it, just to know that it happened.
i don't want to write about the australian guy who was videotaping because that is not an important part of the story. and it is not what i want to focus on, though if i let myself his presence will leave a bitter taste in my mouth. he is filming with a huge mic and windscreen. at first i am happy to see more cameras--the archive of all of this is so important. but he doesn't respect the piece itself. he asks to interview me. he is excited. i say, “at 6pm i will talk to you.” he is up in our faces with his camera. unlike ema and soibifaa, he does not respect the power of the piece. at one point he says, “i don't know about you guys, but i'm having a great time.” no more white people archiving (i did not invite him by the way). connor tells me how the meaning of the piece changes with his own presence as a white man. and also this australian dude. people think it is a shoot for an advertisement. this is good information. but connor also tells me how one gentleman says, in yoruba that “this is ours” meaning “this is for us nigerians, these artists speak to us.” this is more important.
|Photo: Soibifaa Dokubo|
after the performance olu translates as i speak with a yoruba woman about the meaning of the piece.
i ask a schoolgirl what she thinks. we have a lovely conversation.
|Photo: Soibifaa Dokubo|
|Photo: Soibifaa Dokubo|
the evil men ask for money again when the performance is over. 100,000 naira. i am prepared to give 5k max though first i want to know what for. 100,000 is such a ridiculous request--pay us men in uniforms for your creative presence in this public space. this is rubbish. when he asks for 100k a switch goes off in my head. we have been at this performance for 4 hours. we have stood in the nigerian sun for 3 hours. we are beyond exhaustion and i know nothing can touch us now. i feel a calm, clear fury.
“100,000 for what? i will not give you one penny!” the anger rushes through my entire body. “i am nigerian! we are artists. we have a right to be here and express ourselves!”
|me and 100,000naira man Photo: Soibifaa Dokubo|
i refuse to give even one cent. i am furious. crowds gather. more uniformed men emerge. soibifaa, the photographer, isn't taking any of this either. he is taller than all of them. he hands his camera to olu (i think). he is beyond ready. people must express themselves. and there are lines that get crossed. i have seen tons of loud arguments here in lagos. people must express their anger. the only actual fight i have seen was among schoolgirls. we must leave this place. we go to freedom park. it is difficult pulling the guys out of the confrontation. i want us all to be safe. i trust olu and soibifaa. i am also angry because i want them to leave this argument and come drink beer. i trust that the performance will not end badly. we take care of each other. nothing can touch us now.