Chapter A: The Anatomy of History
Performance 2 of 3 (please begin reading from here before continuing)
Kukama's grip on an audience is her presence. This must be why during her performances, from start and long after the end, her audience follows her seemingly hypnotized. The processional element of Kukama’s first performance continued to this second one. She begins and the audience is transfixed by her, her words, actions, movement, and the narrative she creates. Her second performance took place in Museu Afro Brasil (Afro-Brazil Museum) located in Ibirapuera Park, the same park where the Bienal pavilion is located.
The museum layout is confusing. There’s a library and then a temporary wall fixed between it and the exhibition. Temporary walls are set up all over the place so finding the location of Kukama’s performance was a pilgrimage of sorts. I had visited the museum once before and even during my second time there I still felt like I was walking through a concentrated maze filled with photographs, paintings, masks, attire, furniture and more. Overall the museum is filled with color, patterns and designs except for the room that houses the wooden skeleton of a slave ship.
The ship, centered in the room, is surrounded by 4 walls that pack large text descriptions in Portuguese, diagrams, maps, blown up photographs, and objects, including chains, metal masks, and dolls. The room is dimly lit as it exhibits an even darker history of slavery in Brazil, the last country in the Western world to abolish slavery. On one side of the wall, footage of slaves is on loop on a large screen. Kukama’s performance took place in this room, she and her co-performer standing at the end of ship, facing away from us, looking up at the screen. A group of 30 or more of us arranged ourselves around the ship. We quieted down. Kukama’s performance began with a story, “I was once a queen…” Flashlight in hand she then proceeded to walk clockwise along the parameter of the room stopping at specific places to add to her story about how the objects/diagrams/photograph played a role in her life. Eventually she had gone all the way around the room and led the audience outside the room to other objects that were significant to her story.
Kukama adds body to the forgotten or rather subordinate histories to which she brings a more visceral, physical dimension. What was once hegemonically disowned or distanced now becomes present immediate and clear - our collective engagement with the past within the present.
"I was once a queen..." Kukuma began... . Thus turning on its head the very notion of the black woman occupying the worst of the enslaved human condition. Kukama, herself a black woman, commands a primary power and authority during her performances. Unlike Brazil’s past history and current political context where white conservative men are controlling everyone, she and her colleague, also a woman of color, commanded the environment. Here we, the audience, were encaptured by her story and presence - enslaved, as it were to the power of her story.
The endings of Kukama’s performances are unclear. Even after directed to exit the primary place of Kukama’s performances, the audience is repeatedly drawn to follow Kukama to her next destination wherever it may be. At the closing of this second performance, Kukama and her colleague led us outside the museum into the surrounding park. Once outside, Kukama and the other artist split ways, each walking in opposite directions, into the trees. We, the audience, were left to determine if we wanted to continue to follow- actually some did. But, when the two women split ways, after performing side-by-side for the duration of this performance and the first, it was my signal the performance was over. The way I see it is that the unclear ending of the performance signals the after-effects of historical experiences. The story of slavery, that which Kukama highlights, does not end. Although the practice has, its repercussions continue.
Continue to Chapter B: I, too