Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Too Leite - debut performance art exhibition directed by Carla Fonseca.

Bare Breasts. Dictators. War.

That is Africa according any media company owned by Rupert Murdoch. However, this is not what I expected to encounter when I went to check out my first real performance art exhibition on Wednesday 15 June 2011.

There was a small storm brewing - bits of lighting happening in the distance and a cold breeze blowing through the trees (we were in Observatory so forgive me for observing-the-trees). An obscure, empty double-storey building in Barrington Street, was the venue and it only added to the uneasy feeling I had inside.

As I got out my car, I bumped into a couple of familiar faces and we proceeded to get into the usual chit-chat. I calmed down. Nothing to worry about. After about 15 minutes of jealously watching them smoking cigarettes (I used to love smoking in cold weather), I got fed up and bored of the banter so I walked away from the crowd to make my entrance into...well, I didn't know what I was making my way into.

Through the hallway and straight into the first room.

My jaw dropped and I think I twitched slightly. It was the kind of shock that a little boy experiences mistakenly walking into the girl's bathroom. I shuffled awkwardly out the room without taking note of anything other than the variety of nipples on display.


There was only one thing to do at this point: down my first glass of wine and take the second glass with me. I peered back at the door of the room and saw a few people exiting with similar half-smiles on their faces.

"Okay," I told myself, "don't go straight back into the room, you'll look like a pervert." So I asked one of the full-clothed hostesses if there was anything else to see. She pointed me towards the second room at the back of the bottom floor.

This was much easier to digest, more like what I'm used to in the world of so-called'art'.

There was a projection of documentary footage on war in Africa, amongst other things onto a jarred backdrop of African fabrics. This was safer, but my mind was working over-time trying to digest the previous scene. And that first glass of wine wasn't really helping slow the thoughts, so down with the second...

"Where to next?" I asked. "Upstairs," she said, almost daring me.

Here I found the House Nigger serving shots, shots of milk. I couldn't decide whether the prospect of rediscovering my love for breast milk was strong enough so I declined and continued sipping my third glass of wine. I nodded respectfully as I walked up past the coon, looking back as I walked up.

Coming up the stairs, I could vaguely hear war-like sounds approaching - army general-like speeches and exploding paraphernalia. But I was so thoroughly mixed up in my thoughts that I just kept going as if nothing was happening.

As I approached the next room, what the cape coloureds call a klappetjie went off...okay...walk slower...gulp...

There was the Dictator sitting taking notes, devising her plans whilst a speech about freedom that I vaguely remember hearing somewhere was blaring in the background. She kept throwing klappetjies against the wall, adding to the unapproachable atmosphere of the entire installation. Above all of this commotion was the violent humming of the breast milk pump...

I couldn't figure out if this made me want to go back and take those shots of milk or not. I lost my composure and slipped into the next room like a scared little rabbit when gets out its hole not knowing where it popped out.

Escape. Next room. Be calm. BE A MAN!

Fresh, bleeding hearts with the flags of African states pierced into them.

Shit! What the fuck?!

I went downstairs to join the crowd outside. A place of safety. More hipster chit-chat. I made irreverent jokes about breasts - I don't like to project myself as an art aficionado.

But the truth is: I was moved.

Art is meant to move something inside you, if it doesn't then it has failed. And art is really art when you're left feeling unsure what inside you has changed. But who am I to say what is and isn't art?

I hung around for two more hours and finally managed to work off my immaturity and took the time to notice the nuances. The writing on the wall surrounding the breasts. The milk being collected beneath each of them. The photographs and scraps of paper around the Dictator.

But I am not go an artistic interpretation of the meaning behind all of this because a) I do not like to present myself as an art critic because I am not one; and b) I do not yet have the right words to describe my interpretations.

I went to dinner with some people straight after this and the one girl who is definitely an artist herself said: "Never show the nipples, they're too powerful, no-one will take anything out of the performance."

I must admit, this is somewhat true, the breasts were pretty dominating. But I find this interesting. I had no idea that nudity could have such a profound impact on my ability to digest information. But I do believe that this was part of the message. The breasts were not randomly placed in the middle of nowhere - they were the message.

The power of the female form and the centrality of breasts to human life was demonstrated brutally. Breasts are the source of our first comfort and sustenance in this world. Aren't breasts the real reason why we love our mothers so much?

But in later life, men find all sorts of new ways to feed this hunger and to seek comfort from this world - one of which is the lust for power, much like my seemingly uncontrollable lust for breasts...and one of the most ghastly aspects of war for me is not the killing but the raping that goes mostly unspoken. Why are men such beasts?

Am I a beast?

I salute the creators of this brave piece of art. You have shown me just how raw human nature really is and how much I still need to learn about myself in order to be able to digest the reality of the issues facing myself and our continent.

The poster said "get the taste out your mouth" and I haven't quite yet managed to.

Photography courtesy of Adam Kent Wiest

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