Thursday, April 25, 2013

'Will I still carry water when I am a dead woman?'

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.

Will I still carry water when I am a dead woman?

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.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Thursday, April 11, 2013 
2-6:00pm, Obalende Motor Park 
Lagos, Nigeria

Performers: Ruby Amanze, Deola Gold, Veronny Odili, Wura-Natasha Ogunji, Nicole Vlado

Conceived by Nicole Vlado and Wura-Natasha Ogunji, beauty explored the relationships that women have to each other and to their hair. The performers had their hair braided beginning at 2:00pm in this public transportation plaza and then stood with their hair connected until 6:00pm.

This work was conceptualized during Vlado's first visit to Lagos and was partly inspired by the 1977 performance Relation in Time by Marina Abramovic and Ulay.