Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you an excerpt from a conversation between artists Anna Martine Whitehead, Mamela Nyamza, and Meryem Jazouli. At the end of an interview that spans geography, race, performance, and limited resources, Jazouli notes, “If you are an artist [here], it’s as though you are different than everyone. But an artist should be talking about the world and what’s happening in the world in an artistic way.” This article was originally published on November 17, 2014.
Mamela Nyamza lives in Cape Town, South Africa, with her son, where she draws on her international and township training in ballet to make dances about women, mothers, and South African life. Meryem Jazouli, also a mother, lives in Casablanca, Morocco, where she is the founder and director of a cultural center (Espace Darja) and a choreographer investigating the social and geopolitical landscapes of Casablanca. Both choreographers were invited to this year’s Time-Based Art (TBA) Festival in Portland, Oregon, through the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) and the Africa Contemporary Arts Consortium (ACAC). One would be remiss to think that their affiliation with the ACAC implies a common practice. Indeed, Nyamza and Jazouli come from opposite ends of the world’s second-largest continent. They arrived in Portland with vastly different worldviews, political alliances, and importantly, relationships to the state of Africa and to the world beyond. Rather than being easily apprehended as “African” artists, the two are in dialogue—with one another and with the wider dance world.
Performance scholar Brenda Dixon Gottschild’s description of the “Africanist presence” located in contemporary American performance is a useful entry point to thinking about the artists’ practices, collectively. Gottschild posits the process-oriented, postmodern, and polyrhythmic turn in contemporary American performance as particularly influenced by the same motifs in African life and culture, both contemporarily and historically. Gottschild identifies an Africanist aesthetic that originates in Africa and is reiterated throughout the continent and the United States. I would further complicate and extend Gottschild’s term to reflect Nyamza’s and Jazouli’s economic and cultural specificity as working mothers as well as African subjects.