Brett’s been giving be jibes all week for that “writing him off as an asshole” comment. Good – I like a reaction.

And I don’t know if it’s because of the post – he denies it - but there’s a real shift in his presentation style. No more of that offhand, cocky voice we heard in Yangon. Instead we have a more cautious approach, laying out contexts and controversy.

He spoke again about Big Dada and Exhibit B, but with much more info on the latter. He acknowledged his past:  his ancestors came in 1674 to Cape Town, he was born in 1967, and grew up during a period of intense apartheid.
Brett: The first black people I got to know was when I was in university in 1989, apart from the domestic workers who worked in our houses.
Not long ago, he came across a book called Africans on Stage, about the 19th century to early 20th century phenomenon of human zoos, Europeans fascinated by these specimens of exotica. And he realized there was an eerie parallel between himself and the white guy on the cover.
Brett: For 10 years I’ve been taking black performers to Europe to stimulate them. 

Race is a strange thing. In South Africa we’ve been drenched in it. It’s in the newspapers all the time. About blacks, whites, Indians. Chinese people were called honorary whites in our country. 

When you go to Europe, you find how people are very scared to talk about race. I don’t know how it is in this country.
I’d assumed Exhibit B consisted of a number of stand-alone installations in different countries. Seems what happens instead is there’s about eight actors, playing different taxidermy mummies, asylum seekers, strangled deportees, colonial mistresses. And you go through rooms, one at a time, confronted by the eyes. It’s just you and the stock-still victim, and the voices of a four-member Namibian choir, live, mourning the atrocities.
Brett: I was like a seed that was dropped into soil that’s full of toxic material. To make this work is a cathartic purging, in a way.
And one of the reasons these actors feel empowered is because they become icons of the atrocities of colonialism – marmoreal monuments of truth, surrounded by the gorgeously ornate dreck of empire. Beauty, horror, a dream-world where you can’t find a firm place to land your feet.

There’ve been protests: in Berlin an activist group held protests every day, grabbed the mike from the moderator at a symposium – they’d been so intent on documenting the faults of the show that they’d passed through the installations that they hadn’t bothered to look into the eyes of the actors. 
Brett: The postcolonial space is littered with landmines and I’m the fool that goes where angels fear to tread. I can’t really stand political correctness and the pervading ideological ethos is only temporary. So I just trust my instincts. And I try to push myself beyond my own borders all the time.
Framing the entire talk were his plans for an upcoming reinvention of Verdi’s opera Macbeth, pervaded by the Patria Oppressa, the song of the refugees. 

He envisions it as being re-performed by a group of Congolese refugees who discover the paraphernalia in a shipping container. (Echoes of how Haitians after the Haitian Revolution took over the commedia dell’arte costumes to dress their voodoo gods.) 
In case you didn’t know, the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the war that’s killed the largest number of people since WWII: 5.4 million. Ignited by Rwandan refugees destabilizing the region, it’s driven not just by ethnic rivalries but also the multinational corporations who supply the armed groups with guns and money to gain access to the tantalite, the coltan, drawn out of the nation’s mines. Any money that’s made is smuggled out of the country, not channeled back in. 

He’s planning to drench the whole thing in glamour and decadence, just like Big Dada. He envisions the murderers chilling at a bar where a naked woman is tied up to be raped, Lady Macbeth going mad surrounded by a sea of severed hands. (Echoes of Leopold II of Belgium, colonial master of the DRC, and how his men would collect thousands of chopped-off hands of natives.) And no coronation of a new king at the end, no shiny dawn full of promise. Just the three witches hauling in their mining equipment to extract minerals from the mud.
The big thing is, he can’t quite figure out who the witches are. Foreign businessmen, he thought at first, but the more he researches, he realizes that it’s not a simple saga with easily divided heroes and villains. 

And then his own doubts.
Brett: There are thousands dying in refugee camps right now. Can I really turn their misery into art?

I shine a spotlight on the issue. But when I enter the space, I don’t play the role of journalist or activist. I’m a storyteller.
 


Comments

07/23/2013 15:11

Formal realization he came across actually matter. And that realization of his is clearly given at the end of the article. The more he researches; he realizes that it’s not a simple saga with easily divided heroes and villains. Thanks a lot.

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