Tag Archives: Performance Art

Ole Time Carnival in Trinidad

This week’s video feature is a series of three clips called Ole Time Carnival, 1959.

The colour footage is accompanied by the somewhat suspect ‘Ole time’ ‘authoritative’ voice of the ethnographer-journalist akin to that heard over the posthumously completed documentary footage of Maya Deren’s Divine Horsemen: the Living Gods of Haiti which similarly ends with a look at Haitian carnival from 1947-1951.

Part one opens with a trio of devilish looking masks grinning out at us who give way to footage of preparations for carnival in 1950s Trinidad – we are told that participants delve into the archives to research their annual creations inspired by cultures, histories and more recent characters as disparate as the Ancient Egyptians, Ivan the Terrible of Russia and Charlie Chaplin.  Contemporary political comment too is visible not least through a large group of participants dressed as a “complete naval taskforce U.S. style” pointing guns at the crowd or hobbling around in drunken groups – the commentator prefers to see this as part of a “theatre of much-happiness” rather than a biting satire on U.S. Imperialism.

Throughout the wealth of costumes and performances shown also present the endless interweaving of histories that Trinidad and the Caribbean region as a whole embodies. Characters and dress inspired by African, European, Asian and (Native) American cultures remind us of historical migrations – forced and otherwise – the cultural clashes, and commodity flows of the transatlantic slave trade and indentured eras of the Atlantic World.  The at times problematic commentary reminds us of the discursive legacies of these systems, while the fluidity of their inter-mingling in the crowd anticipate the continuation of movements across the globe into our contemporary era and the proliferating scholarship of hybridity, diasporas, creolisation and relation.

The comments for each of these videos on Youtube also make for some interesting reading as many commenters respond strongly to the costume and performance presented, harking back to carnival of the 50s to 80s which resembled “street theatre” before the event “deteriorated into a ‘masquerade mockery’ of Brazil”. Whatever your opinion of contemporary Trinidadian carnival though, the beauty and creativity of costume and performance in these videos of “the greatest show on earth” is worth a watch.


Arcade Fire in Haiti and Kanaval in Jacmel

The stimulus for this week’s video feature was a montage of clips made into a short video by the world-renowned band Arcade Fire from a couple of trips they made to Haiti.

These clips were filmed during a number of trips Arcade Fire made to Haiti in March 2011 and February 2012 and played to one of the best tracks – Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) – from their latest album The Suburbs. There are some great shots of the mountainous landscape that gave Haiti its name but also a lot of great clips showing Haitian carnival masks and costumes being used in performance in the Southern Haitian town of Jacmel.

These clips reminded me of the arresting images of Haitian carnival revealers by photographer Leah Gordon in the book Kanaval: Vodou, Politics and Revolution of the Streets of Haiti published in 2010. These extraordinarily potent images are surrounded by a number of compelling essays by scholars working in a variety of disciplines and an array of oral testimonies from contemporary carnival participants who discuss: their costume, their performance, and its meaning for them.

More images of Kanaval – with some short descriptions of stock characters – can be seen on Leah Gordon’s homepage. The Guardian also posted a review of the publication in 2010 that provoked a heated online debate with some though-provoking comments. This is still available to view online, click here to see it in full.

Showing the vast preparations for this annual event is another film created by Haitian youth working with Ciné Institute who are based in Jacmel. They began by creating Film Festival Jakmèl which screened international films to thousands of Haitians annually. This event was held for three years before Ciné Institute expanded to provide film education and edutainment, technical training, and media related micro enterprise opportunities to local youth.

This film is an assembly of stories filmed by Ciné Lekol students during the 2009 Jacmel Carnival under the instruction of Jonathan Stack in a workshop on Documentary Production and posted on Vimeo. This video follows a few individuals and groups who take part in carnival every year in the run up to the 2009 event. Its features a brilliant set of short interviews with participants who explain how they prepare for carnival each year revealing a mix of motivations behind carnival performance. Even such esteemed politicians as René Preval and Abraham Lincoln makes appearances among more familiar carnival characters like Charles Oscar and the lansekod.  Click here to find out more about Ciné Institute – whose latest film Stones in the Sun had its world premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival this weekend.

Video of the Week: Regalos (Gifts)

This weeks video of the week is a bumper package – containing 2 videos freely available online – each featuring the contemporary Boston-based artist, Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons:

“a woman, an expatriate, and a Cuban, [she] makes art about identity and memory. Like all good art that begins in the personal, her work echoes the lives of all Black people rooted in Cuba, and of legions of fellow travelers from around the world at the turn of the 21st century. Born in Cuba of Nigerian ancestry… She settled [in Boston] not because she wanted to leave Cuba, but because she married a Bostonian. She decided to stay, to make a marriage, to have children, to live as one from somewhere else. ” (via North Dakota Museum of Art http://www.ndmoa.com/campos/index.html)

The first is a short video of a performance Regalos (Gifts) Campos-Pons gave at the opening of “Everything Is Separated By Water” at the Indianapolis Museum of Art in February 2007.

The second video is a focussed exploration of the work of Campos-Pons through a lecture by the artist also given in 2007  as part of the Contemporary Perspectives Lecture Series hosted by the College of Fine Arts School of Visual Arts, Boston University.

Campos-Pons’ De Las Dos Aguas was one of the artworks exhibited in Tate Liverpool’s 2010 exhibition Afro Modern: Journey’s through the Black Atlantic. Her profile page on the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston website describes her multidisciplinary work as follows:

“Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons’ work of the last 20 years covers an extended range of visual language investigations. Campos-Pons’ work emerges from the early 1980s focus on painting and the discussion of sexuality in the crossroads of Cuban mixed cultural heritage to incisive questioning, critique and insertion of the black body in the contemporary narratives of the present. Installation art, performative photography and cultural activism define the core of Campos-Pons’ practice of the last two decades. A cross collaboration with musician composer and husband, Neil Leonard, that started in 1988, has complemented and enriched the scope of Campos-Pons’ work. Together they founded GASP, a lab and studio for the 21st century. She has lectured from the Tate Modern to the Brooklyn Museum and the School of Art in Dakar.”

To find out more about the work of this artist click here.

To see more images of this artist work click the links below:

North Dakota Museum of Art

Bernice Steinbaum Gallery

Universe in Universe

Liverpool Biennial

ONLINE VIDEO: One Tribe, One Style?: A Text with an Agenda!

Christopher D. Roy, Professor of Art History, at the University of Iowa has added new videos to his Youtube channel: CDROYburkina.

Professor Roy has put together a short presentation on YouTube that describes the art of the Mossi peoples of Burkina Faso, and says of these resources:

“The intention is to help students and teachers who are interested in the great diversity of Mossi mask styles. Anyone who has read any of my publications since 1976 knows that the idea of one tribe one style certainly does not apply to the Mossi: thus the title “One Tribe One Style: A Text With an Agenda”.

“The Mossi are made up of several peoples, all of whom were conquered in 1500 A.D. by invading horsemen from the south. This resulted in a variety of styles, based on the locations of each of those conquered peoples.   In addition the Mossi create political art in the form of figures and spiritual art in the form of masks. The result is a great diversity of object types and styles.

“You can find my YouTube channel at: http://www.youtube.com/user/CDROYburkina look for “One Tribe One Style: A Text With an Agenda”. Of course the YouTube presentation includes numerous slides and videos of objects in each of the styles being used in village context.

“I think it would be very interesting if more scholars of African art put some material  on their own areas of expertise on YouTube to make it available for us to use in our classes. YouTube makes it possible not only to use narration–that is text– but also to use video, and slides.”

Please leave any comments or questions and these can be passed onto Professor Roy.

MoCADA and the 2011 College Art Association Conference

The Black Atlantic Resource is delighted to announce a collaborative programme of posting over the next five weeks during which we will be making available information about some of the activities and discourses which the New York based Musuem of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA) has been involved in recently.

So here is the first:

MoCADA’s Curatorial Fellows reflect on The 2011 College Art Association Conference

On Friday, February 11th, we had our first experience in the field as Curatorial Fellows at MoCADA. We attended the 99th annual College Art Association (CAA) Conference at the Hilton New York in Midtown, Manhattan. The atmosphere was lively, with artists and scholars bustling from lecture to lecture, introducing each other to colleagues, and browsing the legendary Book and Trade Fair.

The day began at 12:30pm with thirteen poster displays by scholars in the field, including MoCADA’s former Director of Exhibitions, Kimberli Gant. Kim’s poster presentation was on Staff Diversity in Museums, and drew from current research that she is conducting at the University of Texas at Austin in pursuit of her Ph.D in Contemporary African Diasporan arts. Kim’s display visually represented race and gender demographics in museum workplaces in …read more

At 2:30pm, we attended a collection of presentations, followed by a panel discussion entitled, “The Ethnographic Ruse: Early Erotic Photographs of Non-Western Women.” Five scholars presented papers on their research, and common themes of colonialism, exotification of the female body, and photographs as documentation versus fantasy, emerged throughout the afternoon.

One of the papers, Shadow Catchers: Legacies of Early Photographic Images of Samoans, written and presented by Dr. Caroline Vercoe of the University of Auckland in New Zealand, bridged historic representations of Samoan women as hypersexualized, with a discussion on the practices of contemporary Samoan women photographers, designers, and performance artists. Dr. Vercoe referenced multimedia and performance artist, Shigeyuki Kihara …read more

The session concluded with a panel discussion moderated by legendary performance artist, Coco Fusco, from Parsons The New School for Design. During the question and answer portion of the discussion, the point was made that while in the Pacific, there is a history of the nude female body being constructed as sexually inviting and welcoming, the Black female nude has historically been associated with the slave auction block … read more

A question to ponder:

To what extent are there parallels between contemporary works by women of African Descent and other women of color who construct images of the nude, racialized body?

Please comment or add questions on this discussion!

Contributed by: Zemen Kidane, Isissa Komada-John, Jabari Owens-Bailey

To read this post in full and view related video and audio clips click here.

NEW REVIEW: The Political Calypso and Conflict Transformation

A new review of  The Political Calypso – A Sociolinguistic Process of Conflict Transformation, by Everard Philips (published 2009) has been added to the Black Atlantic Resource. This piece was contributed by performance poet and current PhD student at the London School of Economics (LSE) Ursula Troche:

This is a very useful book, especially given the urgency with which we need to engage in finding solutions against violence and inequality in the present times. Violence has increasingly become a problem in urban areas in Britain as well as in Caribbean countries such as Trinidad, Jamaica and Guyana. This book shows that the political calypso is an art form that has created a space where violence and inequality is problematised, and thereby transformed. This function has positive implications for social and even legal processes, argues Phillips, by showing that this art form is, in fact, a form of informal alternative dispute resolution (ADR). With this, it offers a creative healing space for communication, consciousness-raising and healing – and thereby acts as a ‘theatre of emancipation’. The original context and conflict was of course that of enslavement … read more

A fuller version of this review will be published in the Journal of Self and Society. If you are interested in buying a copy of The Political Calypso – A Sociolinguistic Process of Conflict Transformation, please email Ursula Troche at:  ursulatroche@yahoo.co.uk

ONLINE VIDEOS: Art and Life in Africa

Christopher D. Roy, Professor of Art History at the University of Iowa has started a Youtube channel at CDROYburkina which presents videos he and his colleagues have produced over the last decade while researching Art in West Africa. Currently these include:

African Art: Mask Performance in the Bwa Village of Boni
African art: The performance of a Mossi Bagba Diviner 2010
Art and Life in an African Village
African Art: Mask Performances in the Winiama Village of Ouri
African art : Masks Perform at a Funeral in a Mossi Village
African Art: Fulani Men Dance at the Gerewal Celebration in Niger

Professor Roy says of these resources: “I make these videos in the course of my research in West Africa. I travel with a driver and my friend and cameraman Abdoulaye Bamogo, or his uncle Jacob, through countries I have been visiting since 1970. I do not travel with a film crew, so I do not have a sound pole and separate audio recorder, nor do I have any of the other luxuries the videographers from National Geographic enjoy. If I traveled with a crew these videos would cost $249.50 each, instead of $24.95. I do not use a script, but I film what I see, as it happens, without any interference from me. Nothing is staged, no Africans are told how to act or what to wear. If an artist is stamping adinkra patterns on cloth next to a busy highway in Kumasi, you will hear the sound of passing traffic. I take pride in being able to find spectacular, authentic, traditional African art that is used or made in the same ways it has been for decades. I enjoy mask performances in Burkina Faso, royal funerals in Ghana, and beauty competitions in Niger. I am fascinated by potters in Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Nigeria. I have been interested in African technology ever since I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ouagadougou from 1970-72, at the National Art Center. I enjoy seeing the innovative ways Africans make art.

“I believe strongly that the improvements in video technology in the past decade make it possible for scholars to make excellent videos that are very useful in their own classes, and are of interest to teachers, collectors, and students. For many years we were forced to depend on independent film makers or National Geographic to create films and videos we could use in our classes. These often did not present the ideas we wanted to communicate to our students. 16 mm. was excellent, but very expensive, you had to have a separate sound system and, if you wanted to do it right, a full camera crew. In the mid-1970s I had a Kodak super-8 film camera with sound that was useful but very limited, especially because the Kodak film cassettes were only eight minutes long. Then I had a VHS-C video camera, better quality, but still vastly inferior to 16 mm. film. Now we have digital video, and even high-definition digital. The quality of image and sound is outstanding, it is possible for a young scholar or a teacher to carry a small camera and make excellent images, and to do all the post-production editing on a personal computer. A high-quality professional camera is only marginally more expensive, still very portable, and the results are excellent.

“I also enjoy video footage my colleagues Abdoulaye Bamogo and Jacob Bamogo have made for me in Africa while I am at home in Iowa. Since 2001 I have left very good digital video cameras in Burkina for the Bamogos to use, and for Yacouba Bonde to use in Boni. If I am not there, they film on their own and mail me the tapes. I pay them very well indeed. I have trained them carefully, and they have learned very quickly. They are skilled at getting permission to film from people who might be reluctant were I there, and they are skilled with cameras. They are African, so they film what they find interesting, and they ask questions that they feel are important. I hope that to some extent this gives my videos an African voice.

“Finally, as you watch these videos, you will be seeing performances that took place a month ago, a year ago, or at the earliest in 2001. These videos make it abundantly clear that “Contemporary African Art” includes the superb masks and figures, music, pottery, textiles, and other media that we have enjoyed for decades, and which you see in my videos. Art is still very much alive and important in the lives of many Africans, and it is still very possible for scholars, as well as casual visitors to Africa, to see and enjoy traditional art in the communities for which it was created.

“If you subscribe to my channel CDROYburkina you will be notified when I add new videos: http://www.youtube.com/user/CDROYburkina

“I would love a bit of feedback from those of you who look at these: are they useful, do I need something else, are they too short or too long, should I add more, should I add voice over narration…?”

More related resources can be viewed on the pages of the Art and Life in Africa Project: http://www.uiowa.edu/~africart/