BRICK MOON, Nathalie Mba Bikoro & Seven of Eglise

Seven of EngliseOn Thursday 2nd May, Nathalie Mba Bikoro and Seven of Eglise (Dagmar Glausnitzer-Smith) performed at Mind Pirates, accompanied by the experimental sounds of Eru (Alexander Rues). No area was designated for viewing, and  the audience moved freely within the space. What, at first, seemed to be disparate performances by the three artists, gradually gathered layers of meaning, and became something of a whole.

Nathalie sat beside the entrance to the space as the skin on her shoulder was carefully prepared by a tattooist. Dagmar and Alexander also sat upright, back to back, beside a large sheet of perfectly white paper, hung between the rafters. Nathalies soft, unmarked skin mirrored the large, unmarked paper, and the tapping and buzzing of the tattooist preparing mingled with the beginnings of Eru’s sound.

As Dagmar began to mark the paper; bending and twisting her body, leaving fragile and soft marks with her hair, a feather, soap, the tattooist began to mark Nathalie’s skin with deep, forceful strokes which left behind blood.

The tattooist drew the shapes of star constellations in white ink. The marks he left were raised and raw.

“I came from a dream, that the black people dreamed long ago, a presence sent by the ancestors. I come to you as the myth, because that’s what black people are…. myths”
Sun Rae (taken from Nathalie’s statement about her work on her website)

Nathalie Mba Bikoro

As time passed, Dagmar and Alexander’s performances came to a close and Nathalie remained, hunched and shaking in the chair, as she struggled to hide the pain. As viewers began to drift away, the authenticity and subtleness of Nathalies performance was revealed. I considered the raw marking on her skin, the human desire for continuity and a sense that we are all connected under the same sky, however separate and remote we feel.

The concept of ‘Creoleness’ permeates Nathalie’s work, from the subject matter and themes she explores, to the methods she uses to create it. The term ‘Creole’ was first used to describe the theory of the creole language. Since then the term has extended its meaning far beyond the limits of language and into wider use as a way of describing a ‘mixing’ of disparate elements (be it cultures or artistic traditions) to form new identities and new understandings. Nathalie’s work is complex and compelling, and I am privileged to have been introduced to her. The explanation of Creolization given by Okwui Enwezor in his introduction to ‘Documenta 11’ references to how Creolozation redefines cultural systems and identities and can provide a means of understanding the ways in which Nathlie’s work is disrupting and expanding the existing boundaries of contemporary art.

“If globalization has defined and reworked old circuits of capital, creolization represents its strongest cultural counterpoint. While globalization tends toward consolidation and homogenization, creolization moves towards differentiation and dispersal.” Okwui Enwezor

UPDATE: In the week after we saw Nathalie’s performance she told us more about what we had seen and shared the inner meanings of the work. The tattoo is actually an old constellation of stars that we cannot see in the sky anymore that was used to navigate the waters during the slave trade. It is inked in reverse so that the navigation returns to the West coast of Africa. The constellation is inked with white dots and lines because it remains almost like an invisible scar but when the skin gets darker in sunlight and exposed under UV light the constellation appears very brightly. The black dots on the right side of the constellation show the modern migration routes between North and West Africa into Greece and Istanbul, showing the routes of modern slavery/human trafficking.

Nathalie’s work continues to fascinate us. This short interview/film about her and her work is a great place to discover more…

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