At the Launch of the First Black British Entertainment Awards, guests witnessed a unique and challenging performance art by BBE Award Best Creative Artist Nominee, Eugene Ankomah.
Here is the breakdown of the performance.
This piece of Performance Art is really an expression of the journey that is taken by an “immigrant”, or “immigrants”. Not from any particular country, or to any particular country, but the West.
It is a piece littered with symbolism and meaning. From the very materials used in the performance, to the very pacing of the performance, and even the race of the very artists involved in it. But also, the soundtrack created for it, also plays a huge role. It is a performance which was both designed to exist both on and off the stage. In a sense there is no stage for it. It assumes the shape and form of where it is performed and uses that space as part of its language or communication.
The performance begins with a sound taken from Universal Movie Studios, which repeats twice (this is a symbol of the media and their influence through movies. Selling the idea of Europe as some sort of utopia – whether conscious or unconscious), which in turn attracts foreigners to escape their homes and travel in search of a happy, easy life and lifestyle. The Universal sound very quickly blends into sounds of excitable, energetic African drumming, which from hence forth is heard through out the performance –as some sort of a backing track which compliments the act.
Upon hearing the Universal Studios Soundtrack and drumming, we see two characters making their way to the audience. They walk quite slowly, and seem to carry a piece of white cloth over their their heads, hiding their faces , as they appear to struggle under it. They end up on the stage (after loosing their way). We notice the cloth has a very simple inscription –‘Home’ and a very basic image of a ‘house’ drawn on there. This is because the two characters are escaping from their comfort (their home-represented through the use of the white cloth-bed sheet). They take off the white cloth after a couple of minutes of confused erractic behavior and reveal themselves to be people seen as “immigrants”. This is symbolized by the rodent heads and the Ghana Must Go bags being carried by the two characters. Itself, a symbol of the traveller, the low class visitor who is seeking some sort of asylum. The symbol of them being in the form of rats, is to project both the idea and reality of the unwanted guest. This new status is not of their making. It’s out of their hands. In their naïve state, they pounce around joyfully, looking here and checking out the location they have arrived at (Europe or America). They dance around and generally are happy, as they have “arrived”. The soundtrack confirms this state of these new arrivals, by referencing news reports of migrants having arrived on a Spanish beach, and other such reports on migrants.
In the process of all the jubilation, the two characters stop moving and are on what appears to be a pause. At this point, two other characters planted in the audience gets up and with their torch light start to search the audience. Shining the light on their faces, and bodies. They walk around for 2/3 minutes doing this to the audience. The symbolism here is quite heavy in meaning. The two new characters here are not black by race. One is English and the other is Chinese. They search the audience in a manner that reminds us of border police and how they often inspect tracks, ships and any form of vehicles suspected of either carrying migrants, or infact trucks where mygrants could be hiding.
The other symbolism being explored here is the reality and suggestion that the very audience watching this art performance unfold, are themselves immigrants-as it’s a Black Awards. So immediately this interaction makes them a part of the act, and they themselves are being accused of being immigrants, which creates a phsychological discomfort, perhaps reflecting bits of either their own stories, or possibly reminding them where they sit isn’t their original Home.
Before the two characters would disappear of stage, they make their way to the rodent characters paused on the stage and give them a similar treatment by searching them suspiciously too, with their torches. The two mysterious characters bearing the torches walk off and disappear somewhere. At this point the two rodent characters on the stage continue their happy exploration of where they find themselves. Again, this state of mind is backed up by the soundtrack playing in the background.
Next, we suddenly here several rounds of shocking gun shots, and immediately, one of the rodent characters fall to the floor (this part is all about the unexpected way of life, harsh life slaps most people across the face,with jobs they have to do to survive, with the unexpected weather which sometimes kills, but its also symbolic of the racial treatment that awaits some people).
Several seconds later, another round of guns shots send the other rodent character to the floor. There is now a 20 second gap of silence. Mean while a woman (Chinese) walks to the fallen rodents, and touches their bodies, shakes them and tries to get them up, checking to see if they are “dead”. Unfortunately, she is also floored by a another sudden third round of gun shots. Now, its all silence. But the sound track takes over, it becomes more prominent, as it’s at this point talking about the Black Lives Matter movement, amongst the now lowered sounds of the joyful African drumming sounds we have been hearing through out. The scene contnious to have no physical movements, as all the characters lay down.
The next thing that happens, is we see two mysterious characters (same two characters who previously searched the audience with the torch lights. Its to give the idea that people can and do change their minds about people they once judged ) approaching the space where the 3 fallen characters lay. They are holding a red cloth which bears a white cross on it (symbol for Christianity,or the belief in God, as a healer, the resurrected Lord – the main or biggest religion carried over from most African countries to the west). The two characters walk slowly and closely to the 3 fallen characters and sort of pulls or drags the red cloth over their bodies. Each character who is touched by the cloth gets up (healing, resurrection, hope). Eventually all three characters get up and then stand together with their heads together. They take off the rodent masks (Symbol to say they are both free of the “immigrant”stigma, but have also changed what they think and feel of themselves. They are now “free“.
One of the characters grabs three candles from their bag (Ghana Must Go) and with their heads still together, seem to ponder whether to light up the candle (hope). They don’t in the endThey spread out and walk into the audience for interaction. They gently touch the audience members on their arms and shoulders, whilst whispering ‘Hope’ to them.
At this point on the soundtrack, we hear the words of the famous poem by Maya Angelou – But Still I Rise – that line being read out by her 3 times, as it fades into the ‘He lives In Me’ song from the Lion King Animation movie).
One of the characters grabs the opportunity to “free” one of the audience members through a dance of freedom.
All the characters then walk off, leaving the candles and matches on the floor, a test to see if anyone in the audience would go light them up. The symbolism here is quite simple. Hope is a choice or even an attitude we carry around, buried deep within us, a belief. As for the But would one access it and use it?, or like the candles on the floor, leave our hope to lay dormant?.
The artworks hanging on the walls were some of the imagery directky relates to the performance.
Also, when the performance finished infront of the audience, it transforms radically and continuous for the rest of the award show. How? We noticed the male performer (myself) now re appears and this time, he has a tall gentleman carrying an umbrella on top of his head, almost to say “you are important”. That symbolizes the triumph of the ‘Black man, Black person, the survival spirit. In another sense, the symbol of the imigrant succeeded, they got to over come to live a respected life).