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.