Some performances go beyond what ordinary words can express.
At the “Exploring The Nowannago: Kentifrican Modes of Resistance” exhibit in the CSUF Grand Central Art Center, the spotlight was on two artists as they played an intricate and complex game of tug of war. The double noose that tied them together was not wrapped around their hands, but around their throats.
Both performers’ faces were contorted with tension as the tug of war ensued due to the noose tightening around one’s neck as the other prowled around the boundaries that was set by a large circle of soil.
The performance and the exhibit is a collaboration between Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle and Tyler Matthew Oyer, who both make a habit of digging soil indigenous to the place that they have performed in.
“That’s a really important ritual because it’s about honoring the lives of people, plants, animals and living beings that were here before us,” Hinkle said.
Hinkle also said that the exhibit as a whole stems from a project about a contested geography called “Kentifrica” that many people might not know existed.
Kentifrica was a primarily unknown geography because it had never been formally colonized throughout history.
Hinkle had been working on the project for seven to eight years. “It entails collaborating with people in order to figure out what Kentifrica is what Kentifrica means in relationship to being empowered to tell your own stories and your own history,” he said.
The double noose served as a representation of Nowannago, forcing a mating ritual between a British or Portuguese male trader and a Kentifrican woman. If the woman won, she would be free; otherwise, losing meant that she would be enslaved as the man’s concubine.
On an abstract level, the double noose connected the past and the present by telling a rather dangerous story of a European man and a Kentifrican woman that teetered between independence and subordination. The performance was also able to transcend into issues plaguing the world today.
“This piece and this exhibition is really inspired by what’s going on globally and nationally in relationship to white supremacy, the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBTQ awareness and so many instances of trauma that afflict a lot of marginalized communities,” Hinkle said.
John Spiak, director and chief curator of the GCAC, was responsible for providing the exhibit a home in the art center. He said that the exhibit was a good way to open a dialogue about the world’s current problems.
“How do we bring those forward to have civil discourse?” Spiak said. “To have a conversation; to bring it to the forefront in both exhibition and performance in a way that allow people to speak in a public setting; to allow people to voice it in a way that provides almost a safe zone through the arts.”
Spiak said that an exhibit like “Exploring The Nowannago” is an interactive and new approach to breaking down such structures. Prior to this live and recent performance, Spiak had only seen it on video format. Even so, the experience still had a powerful impact on him.
“I felt the intensity of the performers. I felt their struggle. I felt a little scared for both of them because I think they take the performance to levels that I know I humanly couldn’t,” Spiak said.
Part of that fear could be instilled in the fact that the performance itself is entirely improvisational.
“Tyler and I don’t know what’s going to happen each time we perform it,” Hinkle said. “The noose could kill both of us. We really don’t know.”
Oyer further explained that even as the performance escalates into moments that are extreme or violent, both performers always talk about how important it is to take care of the other during the act.
“It’s intense to both confront Kenyatta on the other side of a double noose, but also to put myself in a noose,” Oyer said. “But then there’s also an excitement to the liveness, but also to this idea that we’re both working toward something beyond where we’re at right now.”
However, both artists were mentally and physically safe by the end of the performance, surrounded by cheers and applause.
“It can be very dangerous, but it’s important because this performance creates this kind of abstract confrontation with all of these issues that are going on and it also represents how we’re chained to the past and to the present at the same time,” Hinkle said.
Along the exhibit’s white walls is a chalkboard border filled with names. With chalk provided by the art center, visitors are welcome to write down the names of those whose lives have been lost to any severe societal injustices.
The exhibit will run until Oct. 16.