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29.01.2014 INTERVIEW

Rine Rodin og Lotte Løvholm "We're probably drag queens trapped in female bodies" Foto: Maria Bordorff.

Danish neo-feminism and Nigerian performance art

Last week, Nigerian performance artist, Jelili Atiku, performed at Charlottenborg in Copenhagen. The two young curators behind the event, Lotte Løvholm (27) and Rine Rodin (26), are highly engaged with performance art and have got great ambitions for their future work within the field. I met them for a talk about black discourses, red art and pink hair.

AF Maria Bordorff

Why African performance art?
Lotte: Well that's a good question. Initially I was quite
surprised myself, to learn that there was so much performance art in Africa. So I went to Nigeria where I met Jelili Atiku and his fellow artists and did a film about him which I presented to Rine. She was very enthusiastic about his project and his art. So, I think it was just curiosity to begin with, that brought me to Nigeria. Then it has become a personal project in a way, to invite artists, who, for some reason, perhaps because of nationality, do not get that exposed in our part of the world, to come to Denmark.

Rine: I just fell in love with the whole project. It simply moved me when I saw the film that Lotte did.

You went to Nigeria last year to spend time in the field of performance art there, how is the status of performance art in Nigeria?
Lotte: I think it's quite similar to here in a way, because the scene in Denmark is also quite young actually. But of course it's a lot different too. Here it can be difficult to be very provocative, as everything has been done, so to say, and we don't have censorship here, which they have to some extent in Nigeria. In that way, performance art in Nigeria turns out to be very much about politics and whatever you do will be very political and daring. The surroundings and circumstances certainly are different from here.

Rine: While we worked with Jelili here in Copenhagen, he said that everyday he could risk dying back home. So there are some really big issues involving performance art in Nigeria; it's not like performing in the streets of Denmark.

How was the initiative of bringing Jelili Atiku with his performance series ”In the Red” to Copenhagen received by Kunsthal Charlottenborg?
Rine: They were actually quite glad - especially because we decided to give them the project. It was kind of a gift.

Lotte: Jacob Fabricius, the director of Charlottenborg, curated an exhibition at Den Frie some years ago; a collaboration with an internationally known gallery, CCA, in Lagos, which Jelili also was part of. They never got to meet though, the two of them, back then, but now they did.
But yes, they were happy with it at Charlottenborg, also because a lot of people showed up. Usually there would be some 20-30 people attending a performance here in Denmark, at least at the kind of stuff I go to. At Jelili's performance last saturday, the estimated number of attendants was 80. Among them there were tourists and others, who did not know about the performance but who saw Jelili at Nyhavn and decided to come along.

Rine: That was one of the most interesting things about the performance, because normally when you make a performance, you do it in an art institution where you have a certain amount and type of audience, but in this case we actually got some ”non-audience” into it as well. It was quite interesting.

How did the environment/space around Kunsthal Charlottenborg and Nyhavn work as setting for this performance, in comparison to the whole different setting we see in the film from Lagos? Did it change the political gesture in some way?
Rine: Yes, definetly, I'd say. And that's mostly because we have to think of the institutional space, wihtin which the performance took part here. But also the environment made it different. Going out into the cold really was one of Jelili's biggest worries, and he was freezing. But when he was doing the performance, he managed to enter the feeling of it entirely.
The political gesture is different, yes, because he is trying to tell a story about violence - not solely in Nigeria, but also in the rest of the world, which is why this specific performance can be reenacted in another place, in another context. So his performance here became about our history and about how we, for example, have used slaves to build Nyhavn.

Lotte: You might not get that from the performance, unless we tell you. His performances are also very much about the emotions they provoke in people.

What does a performance like ”Obaranikosi” bring into the Danish scene of performance art?
Rine: I think it does something to history, and about how we happen to ignore the violence in our part of the world. We are not proud of saying that we were in the Second World War, for example, on the wrong side.

Lotte: I have been doing a lot of research about African artists - and now I'm using a very generalising term, that I hate - and about how difficult it is, to break with certain frames. You are, as an artist from the African continent, understood in a certain way, you are expected to deal with certain themes like, for instance, diaspora or post-colonialism.
Nigerian/UK artist, Yinka Shonibare, deals with these discourses in his art. He knows they exist and says, that in order to change anything, he has to work within the discourses. I saw an interview with him once, where he tells to a friend of him, who said he did not want to do ”black art”, that he will then be known as a black artist who does not do black art. He will always be framed as a black man. So in relation to this performance, Jelili is covered in red. You have no idea that it's a performance artist from Nigeria, it could as well have been a Danish performance artist.

Rine: Also the gender part is interesting. It's difficult to say whether it's a man or a woman. I love that part.

How is the status of Danish performance art today, in your opinion?
Lotte: I think it's exciting, because I think the scene is quite young. It's evolving. The scene is also quiet small, so whenever there's a performance art festival or so, artists from all over the world are invited to participate. I currently follow a Danish artist, Jeanette Ehlers, who's performances I like quite a lot. And there's another one we like as well..

Rine: Oh yes.. Miss Fish!

Lotte: Miss Fish yes, we like him/her/that very much. The whole drag scene of performance art is quite interesting and Warehouse 9 is a great place.

I know you are both very interested in future work with performance art and that you've got high ambitions on behalf of performance art – what's your statement? Which ideas do you have?
Lotte: I think that bringing artists from a lot of different nationalities to Denmark is one goal of ours.

Rine: And getting to work with some of the students from the academy would be interesting. In general to get more focus on the performance scene, make it more international instead of focusing on what is Danish performance art in particular.

Can we expect to see more African performance art in Copenhagen in the near future? and now I'm using that very generalising term, that I should not be using
Lotte: It's okay, you definitely can.

Rine: I actually always thought that I should be specifying, for instance, that Jelili is from Nigeria, but he always says ”People from Africa”. But of course, we should be aware of how we frame what we say and we will definitely get to see more performance art from around the world and from the continent of Africa.

Lotte: There are great artists there, and also some based in Berlin, which makes it a lot easier bringing them to Denmark. For example, we have an artist called Nathalie Mba Bikoro in mind. We would love to work with her. She works a lot with cultural heritage and the western construction of history.
I was organising the first performance art festival in Zimbabwe last year in November, where she really wanted to participate too. But as she was pregnant we made a skype performance with her, where she was banging on a rock, trying to destroy it and I kept thinking to myself: ”she's pregnant, this can't be good”. She has been doing performances together with a colleague of hers, Ato Malinda, from Kenya/Netherlands, whom we are also interested in working with. They two are very concerned with the female role in their respective home countries. So in relation to the skype performance I just mentioned, it was also very much about motherhood and expectations to a pregnant woman.
So yes, we have some in mind already, who we thought would be interesting to bring to Denmark in a near future

Last, but not least, what's the pink-hair-statement about?
Lotte: It's in itself a performance of womanhood. We rebel against the female role in the Danish art scene in our own dolled way. We're probably drag queens trapped in female bodies. We are feminists, but with a very open attitude towards gender. And we are not afraid of not being taken seriously or to be read as "dumb blondes from Hellerup". We embrace people's prejudices in choices of glitter nails and pink lures.

Rine: We are neo-feminists and in our exploration of womanhood and gender, we become a mixture of drag and queer. We seek to articulate gender as moving and constantly evolving.

Thank you!

Obaranikosi (from the series "In the Red"), 2014, Performance. Foto: Maria Bordorff.

Obaranikosi (from the series "In the Red"), 2014, Performance. Foto: Maria Bordorff.

Obaranikosi (from the series "In the Red"), 2014, Performance. Foto: Maria Bordorff.

Obaranikosi (from the series "In the Red"), 2014, Performance. Foto: Maria Bordorff.

Obaranikosi (from the series "In the Red"), 2014, Performance. Foto: Maria Bordorff.

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