By Tanya Steele | Shadow and Act April 23, 2012 at 10:00AM
When I first saw this "performance Art" piece, I was horrified. Here we go again, another irresponsible product that uses the black female body as a playground. And then, a Facebook friend gave me a link to the Artist's work.
As an Artist, I needed to understand Makode Linde's context. After seeing him, I became most curious.
In 2000, I was in Venice, Italy, checking out a retrospective of Jean-Michel Basquiat's work. I was the ONLY black person in the room. I sat down and stared at the European onlookers as they gazed at Basquiat's work. I had never felt so protective of anything, let alone a person I never knew. Or, an Artist whose work I could not, fully, embrace at the time. What was this squiggly, misshapen, incomplete representation of blackness? I was pissed.
I watched Europeans looking with fascination and curiosity at, what I felt was, a private expression of our pain. I caught myself. I wondered why I was so consumed with the response of the 'white' onlookers. Why did I give them so much importance? What mattered was the connection I felt to the work. So, I unfolded my arms, stopped looking at them and went in on Basquiat's work. That was the first moment I became deeply connected to Basquiat.
Similar to this work, I was horrified by the response of the onlookers. There is something that happens when we see "white people" gazing and delighting, peering at our bodies, even as Art. It's visceral. We are frightened, protective and f***ing pissed. That is what happened when I first viewed this work by Makode Linde. And, where I don't believe that he is in Basquiat's realm, I do think this is an important 'performance piece'.
Female genital mutilation is a horror. It is the one thing I have to turn the channel on whenever there is a documentary about it on television. Forcing anyone, especially a child, to undergo something that, well, it exceeds the word pain, is too damn much.
F*** any conversation about not understanding African culture - pain is pain - wrong is wrong. Period.
So, my initial take on this work of Art is changing. Yes, Moolaade by Ousmane Sembene is a must see film. And, Alice Walker's "Possessing The Secret of Joy," is a pivotal work. Adding Linde's absurdist voice to the mix is a good thing.
Lately, I've been thinking long and hard about how to confront racism, sexism, you know, the awful isms. I'm always mulling this over with my playwriting buddy. Everything feels too stodgy, predictable and restrained. Few things get at the feeling of what it means to suffer through racism, to suffer through rape, what it feels like, what it looks like.
The same can be said for FGM. The conversations are so reasonable, or pretentious, or sanitized. We must get at the horror of what it feels like to occupy a traumatized (black) female body (especially a child), that is being genitally mutilated, or raped, or otherwise defiled. I say this is an explosive continuation of a conversation.
Honestly, I think this cake could be served at any rapper's listening party where "bitch" or "ho", or the aggressive serving of lyrics that promote violence against women, is in the air. Apart from putting a live body on the table, this is as close as we'll get to seeing the results of the damage. What image comes to your mind when you think of violence against women? Does that image, truly, capture the horror? The importance of the 'red' interior. The lower region of the body being eaten away (alive). The commentary on the 'white gaze' as the black body suffers. The title,"Weeping In The Playtime Of Others", comes to mind.
It's an Absurdist, provocative piece. I say, yes, about damn time. More please!
The act of female genital mutilation is horrifying. And, framing it within the context of "carefree colonizers", is a good thing. Europeans feeding off the pain of Africa. The scream of the adult/child becoming fodder for the onlookers. The adult/child's cries being overlooked, laughed at and ignored. The confused scream of the adult/child, attempting to conform, rebel or suffer. All of the questioning I do with myself. Am I a rebel in the horror show of the defilement of the black female body? Or, are my rebel cries, merely, fanning the flames?
So, I'm changing my mind about this piece. I think it's important, difficult, horrifying and imprecise, yes. Makode Linde created a work that surpasses his ability and intention. If you think this is horrifying, have you looked at an image of a little girl being genitally mutilated, lately?!
The video and the artist's own words below, startng with the footage of the performance piece:
How did this idea come about as an art installation?
Was the Minister of Culture aware of your art installation or was it a surprise?
How have people responded to you and the art installation?
Why did you choose female circumcision as the subject?
Do you expect to do something like this in the future, after the reactions?
How did social media impact the way the art installation was perceived?