An Exhibition of Fabulousness
“It’s hard to be beautiful in Africa.” So says international performance artist Albert Ibokwe Khoza in Robyn Orlin’s “And So You See…” which explores the politics of pleasure in a homophobic South Africa, and in Africa in general. Twenty years on from its freedom from Apartheid, with gender equality enshrined into its constitution, reality can feel very different from policy in a South Africa were corrective rape and widespread homophobia are practiced. Yet overt reference to such hate crimes feature little in “And So You See…” which chooses instead to celebrate the beauty of diversity through an exhibition of fabulousness. If it borders on self indulgence and exhibitionism at times, that in itself makes “And So You See…” a subversive act, one which refuses to conform to the cultural constraints of a conservative Africa, not matter what the cost.
Throughout, the influence of, and uneasy relationship with, Western culture is ever present. Employing a canticle styled, choral soundtrack as a sort of musical base line, “And So You See…” explores this relationship, with Khoza frequently interacting with the music’s evocation of beauty and longing. Throughout, Khoza spends much of the time seated with his back to the audience, his image projected onto a large screen at the back of the stage. The live experience mediated through image reframes that experience, highlighting both what is found and lost in the live experience, and the broadcast, in the process. Wrapped from head to foot in a white sheet, pared away to reveal Khoza dressed in what appears to be a clingfilm dress, the sense of layers trapping the flesh is perfectly realised. As he slowly sheds these skins, Khoza begins to sing, cawing like a wild bird, asserting his own rhythms above the choral soundtrack, dancing with a cowbell, or simulating sex in a performance of pleasure. A delightful sequence involving oranges revels in an opulence of rapture that is both comic and deeply affecting.
Things take a turn for the lighthearted when Khoza, dressed only in shorts, bridges the distance between himself and the audience by inviting audience members onstage to wash him. If Khoza’s gentle ribbing ensures the politics behind these actions are humorously framed, there’s a subtle yet palpable power at work behind Khosa’s playfulness. Throughout, “And So You See…” Khoza undergoes a series of robings and disrobings. If clothes do not make the man, they very often define him. Khoza plays with this, while delighting in ensuring that the body made flesh is revered and celebrated. A date with Putin foregrounds, rather too obviously, both the corruption and homophobia that informs much of African politics, with Khoza, like a blue plumed bird of paradise with a peacock tail fan, dancing defiantly in a disco of colours reflected in semi kaleidoscope onto the back wall. An almost durational covering of his body in blue paint near the end, as his wonderfully haunting vocals sing plaintively, offers a different politic. One of keening, and heartfelt longing, for the pleasures of the flesh, and of the mind, to be freely enjoyed and expressed by all.
In “And So You See…” Khoza dances with his weapons, sees dance itself as a weapon, advocating that we dance with people rather than killing them. If there’s sometimes a thin line between performance art and exhibitionism, Khoza delights in both blurring and transgressing it. A series of close ups suggest that it is Khoza’s joyously overwhelming personality we are really experiencing, with overt political commentary coming a distance second at times. If, in the end, “And So You See…” persuades more by force of the pleasure of its personality, feeling unnecessarily durational on occasion with pace lagging at times, it’s a pleasure whose fabulousness, like Khoza, overflows with joy.
“And So You See…” by Robyn Orlin, performed by Albert Ibokwe Khoza, runs at Project Arts Centre as part of Dublin Dance Festival 2018 until May 9
For more information, visit Dublin Dance Festival 2018 or Project Arts Centre