Thursday, October 18, 2012

studies in choreography for the camera

Studies in Choreography for the Camera...after Maya Deren

On Lagos Island, between Jankara Market and Bead Market.

Monday, October 08, 2012

muddy market with sugarcane

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Sunday at Bar Beach

my first bus ride by myself!

late night road food

Friday, October 05, 2012

"We will be seen and we will be heard" --Kelly Gabron

Wura Comfort Akinpalu Morakinyo Ogunji

I am working on a performance which is based on the relationship between my Nigerian grandparents, Gilbert and Wura. It was recently confirmed that my grandfather's family was Muslim, while my grandmother's was Christian. My grandfather converted to Christianity and became a pastor which led him to travel all over Nigeria--Kano, Kaduna, Zaria. The meta-narrative of this performance is about Muslim-Christian relationships set against the backdrop of current religious conflicts in this nation (of Nigeria). As I develop the piece, however, I am struck by the fact that in telling that particular story I am forgetting about what came before, what is so easy to forget: Islam and Christianity, two colonizing religions, did not always exist. There was a time when they didn't exist at all. Imagine that world.

I am thinking about the conditions that made it possible for my grandparents to meet, come together, marry, have children. Attraction, love, longing, politics, family?  Roads crossed.  While this lineage intersects with Islam and Christianity it goes back further. How do I account for what came before? I find myself obsessively looking for archival film footage of a time before moving pictures even existed, so I'll settle for anything right now which includes a smattering of anthropological films and newsreels with condescending overdubs.

The pinhole camera is the great ancestor to photography and film. I have long been entranced by the idea that our people long ago watched moving images. Why wouldn't they? Light entering between leaves in the forest, projecting the movement of clouds overhead; a hole in the wall of a shelter or home reflects the upsidedown dance of people walking and talking just outside.  

Chronicles of a Lying Spirit by Kelly Gabron (a film by Cauleen Smith)

I recall Cauleen Smith's 'Chronicles of a Dying Spirit'. This film is a brilliant portrait of a girl, no, an artist making herself, recalling history, speaking about the moving image, making film. The story changes, repeats, and leaves a stunning after effect. Wait, I think the title is actually 'Chronicles of a Lying Spirit'. I so strongly remember the words of this spirit, girl, woman, 'I decided I'll just have to make my own damn films.'  That is how I remember it.

I am working on a performance—a film?—about the history of my grandparents, about their love story, about the history of Nigeria, before it was even Nigeria, about the history of colonizing religions like Islam and Christianity, about what we believed before (and now), about our relationship to the land and each other, about the history of the universe, this universe, about the moving image before film.  

Thursday, October 04, 2012

the point where you perceive that you are

(today's writing is from an email to a friend)

This place is amazing. It welcomes me in deep, perhaps unexpected ways.  It's a sense of belonging that I also feel in San Francisco but of course much deeper here, a longer connection though at the same time so recent.  I spent last weekend with my family--sister and brothers--and it was quite lovely.  I miss them today, the constant company and laughter is really quite amazing.  It's so interesting to feel like such a person of solitude and independence and at the same time like I feel much energy from being around other people.  It is a strange realization, to know my own solitude and ability to be alone and to feel longing of company.  I feel so lucky to be in this flat.  It is spacious and my room is sunny and we are around a courtyard (of sorts) so it feels totally peaceful to come home and do work when I need to, or when I feel I've had enough of these moving, breathing, muddy streets.

The ideas are pouring out of my head and heart and I am excited for what's to come.  People say that life is art here but I also believe that there is another place for art.  That art allows us to remove from the everyday (even when life and art are so connected).  Art is always something more, something just outside, on the edge.  I have gone dancing a few times and feel (surprisingly so) that this is where I must spend much of my time.  Dancing all night at a bachelor party (one of 3 women there) was the most incredible experience.  I would normally (in the US) feel so unsafe at a party with all men drinking, etc.  It was truly magical.  To feel completely free in my body and protected, taken care of, sexy, moving, awkward and at the same time absolutely perfect.  Such a gift.  I went with my housemate who is a fulbrighter.  She's a white jewish girl--not important except for the fact that i felt/realized it was not u.s. race, racial, racist experiences and defenses come down in lovely ways.  How do we fully escape the experience of racism in order to be more fully human ourselves while also acknowledging what is real in the world?  My housemate requested a dancehall song from the dj in the midst of some fast moving music; there was a pause from the crowd packed into the garage, a brief silent moment at the party when the music unexpectedly changes, and then an almost audible sound of joy as we immediately shifted our moves to match the rhythm.  There is a generosity here that is unparalleled.  

Being mixed, of two cultures, races (so-called) I find myself moving between, around perspectives so much.  I met an artist last night from Abidjan.  She is doing an installation at the CCA and staying here for a few days.  We spoke in English and French.  My very broken French from high school emerged.  It's incredible what the body remembers.  It was kind of a spiritual experience for me talking with her.  She is also mixed (from Cote d'Ivoire and France) and we've had some similar, perhaps parallel realizations about life, energy, destiny, one's path in life.  She was talking about how in high school she realized life is made up of three points: the positive, the negative and the point where you perceive that you are.  And that perception can always change depending on the mind.  Ha! I had this feeling when we were speaking like, are we really here in the room together, or are we floating in space with this imagined architecture of table, chairs, floor, air coming off the fan, generator hum.  She said, Africa is the future of the world, everything is here.  She spoke about being black in France and white in Africa.  I know this word in French, 'Ironie'.   

I am making a list of performances I want to do in Lagos.  This includes:
Walking down the street on stilts
Running down the road blindfolded (from a Guillermo Gomez-Pena exercise)
Flying at the ocean

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

listen while reading

The rain here is incredible. I noticed the darkening sky and cool air just in time to pull my clothing from the line. I arrived in Lagos a week ago and it has been so, so lovely. This past weekend I saw Call me Kuchu as part of the Lights, Camera, Africa! Film festival. It's a documentary about the LGBTI movement, activists in Uganda. “Amazing and devastating” as Ernest Hardy describes. Powerful to see a film about queerness while in Lagos.

After the film there was a short discussion with filmmaker/writer/photographer Femi Odugbemi and Mahen Bonetti, Executive Director of NY's African Film Festival, about the state and future of African film. Bonetti talked about the 'fight for the image of Africa' which has me thinking about archives. Odugbemi described how during Nigeria's celebration of fifty years of independence in 2010 the same 5 minutes of BBC footage was shown (footage which had to be purchased at a great price from the BBC). We don't have these kind of film archives in Nigeria. I am thinking about the nature and necessity of archives. Books, photographs, audio is so critical to remembering and claiming place, not just place in the physical sense of home or nation-state, but one's place in the world. An archive shows us that we have a place in the world not delineated by identity; we have a place because we witness stories that expand our notion of who we are or may become in the world.

Bonetti mentioned the importance of the recently-discovered Russian film archives of 'Africa'. Apparently, the Scandinavians have 'African' archives too. I scoured the interwebs for this footage.  Alas, I believe she was referring to a film by Alexandr Markov called Our Africa: Thousands of Kilometres of Soviet Film. Despite the obvious failings of the paternalistic title, I look forward to seeing this work if/when it plays in Lagos.  The trailer looks beautiful.

I want a million stories about one place. So to add to this endeavor...

Last Friday, September 28, my new housemate moves (a Fulbrighter researching alternatives to the juvenile justice system in Lagos...Wow!). She invites me to a party after the film festival opening. Her three guy friends pick us up around eleven and we begin the dark, bumpy journey through the streets of Yaba (my new neighborhood!). Though initially cautious (people warn not to go out after dark) I am v excited for my first Lagosian party.  Oh la la!  The guys in the car are notably quiet and about twenty minutes into the journey we slow in front of a church. Is this what she meant by party?!

The car keeps moving and we continue down the road and eventually park. We get out and are led through a large, winding house, into and out of a kitchen--where Auntie's are cooking over huge pots of vegetables, meat and rice--then up several flights of stairs. I hear my roommate ask one of the guys, “So this is your brother's bachelor party?”


Of course it was amazing. The party started on the roof where we could see an incredible lightning storm in the distance, and a full moon directly above us. At some point it began raining so we all rushed into the garage and I danced my booty off until past 5am. Then home, safe and sound, but not before I received the complement of a lifetime.

guy: Are you Yoruba?
me: Yes.
guy: I could tell by the way you dance.

And thus the bar, club, party, dance floor becomes an important site for this year's research and archive.