South African choreographer Boyzie Cekwana talks about The Inkomati (dis)cord

South African choreographer Boyzie Cekwana talks about The Inkomati (dis)cord, a collaboration with Mozambique artist Panaibra Canda

Time Out New York: It’s brave and dangerous.
Boyzie Cekwana:
Taking risks is what artists do, and for me it was also the first time—for both of us, even though we had worked with them among a whole lot of others with various degrees of ability and mixed ability. And of course, there is no way in which you can engage in that kind of work and at first not be so torn emotionally because at first this is what you’re encountering. But they teach you. They really teach you. And the more you learn about them, the more they learn about you and then this disability disappears. And this is what, in a sense—this is the risk you take. You see the value of the person as a person and as an artist and this influences the work we make and it enriches it. But we deal with voyeurism.

Time Out New York: What did they teach you about yourself? How is it related to what you wanted to express in this piece?
Boyzie Cekwana:
I think it is less of a new lesson in something I didn’t know before; it’s more of a reminder of what I already knew. This is the experience we all went through. In those sessions, we had literally a big group of young artists with mixed abilities. All of us had to really share the memory of what it must be like to be human. To really have a sense that you are dealing with a complete person; if one takes away the fullness of the humanity of the other because they have a disability, you take away your own in a sense. They were reminders that I want to complete my own vocation of full humanness, and that desire alone is strong enough to give these people I’m dealing with theirs. I think these are some of the more simple and the most profound reminders—more than lessons. In a way, it’s been the spirit that has carried the work through. This work and all the works that we were doing with the young artists—there really is a sense of joy in how we are together, because we’ve really shared these experiences. We’ve been through the roughness of meeting. How do we cross these boundaries of fear and doubt? Of convention and how to behave? Well, there’s no way to behave. Just be yourself. This is a gift, at the risk of being emotional and sentimental, but it’s important. I was having a conversation in Europe a few weeks ago, and I was thinking, I have struggles and I watch a lot of European work—Western European work in particular. It’s trying so hard to be unsentimental that it’s lost its humanness. There is no sense that you are dealing with human beings who have feelings and emotions. What is wrong with this? We are dealing with a turbulent world. It is turbulent. How does our art respond to this? It’s a world of people. Where are the people in this work? So in sense, I am not interested in work that doesn’t deal with people. I’m interested in people, I’m interested in the world—I’m interested in the world of people. For me, there is no world without people. History and context and hopes and fears—all of these things are part of…this is what makes my work possible. This is why I think it’s too big a price to pay to sacrifice that.

Time Out New York: I’m sure you travel all the time, but where do you live now?
Boyzie Cekwana:
In South Africa. It’s a privilege—I’m not taking away from the other side of it, which is the hard work. It’s fine. At the same time, there are many people who work even harder who don’t get these opportunities. So for me to live there with the life that I have as an artist is very fortunate, and I’ve always been grateful for that. It’s kind of a sacrilegious thing in the highly intellectualized art world to be grateful. I don’t give a fuck. I’m grateful. I’m very fortunate. I know where I come from, and for me to have the kind of life that I live is an immense privilege and I will not yield and participate in this cynical structure.

Time Out New York: You said that you made the choice to stay and work there. Why is it so important that you stay?
Boyzie Cekwana:
There have been many stages in my life where I have contemplated the possibility of being elsewhere. No particular elsewhere, just elsewhere.

Time Out New York: Not like Berlin? I’m kidding.
Boyzie Cekwana:
[Laughs] Certainly not Berlin. Especially now. But it’s great that those invitations are there. For various reasons, I felt compelled to stay where I was, because I felt very strongly that I was part of a young country. A lot of what we were just discovering had already been discovered in other places, so to a certain extent I needed to be present to glean and receive some of the gifts that come with being in a place and being of a place and being part of the struggle to shift things. These struggles are various little gifts, some of which come through hardship, but they yield something. For sure, the choice to stay in a challenging place has a lot of its own gifts. And secondly, I have a sense that my presence offers something that would be of very little value elsewhere. This is not entirely true, because it depends where. And here I am in the very first of the first world. Right in the heart of New York in the U.S. of A. Who would imagine that the work that we do would be of any value here? But Simon [Dove] thinks so. Lili [Chopra] thinks so. And the people who present the work in Europe and elsewhere think so. So, in a sense, it’s also part of my own need to remain open. I don’t have all the answers. I can only do and offer what I have to say and what I have to share if there’s a space for it. Those who are there know better than I do. I just need to trust them. This goes some way to answer questions about the public—who is the public? One can’t be concerned about that. You have to really trust that you are showing your work to people. It matters not where they come from, which language they speak. They are people. 

Time Out New York: You spoke about how you had to make this piece with as little means as possible. In Inkomati, the set and the masks and frames are an ingenious use of props. What were you thinking?
Boyzie Cekwana:
We didn’t really have any ambition to make simple work. We had the ambition to make a work, and the work would be guided by our ideas and then our means. So our means match our ideas. And then where we could match the ideas, we found ways.… We have a frame that is portable and we break it down or up, which we had made with very cheap wood. [Laughs] The guy who made it for us sprayed it a horrible goldish yellow. We were like, oh dude. We’re not making some kind of a garish wedding. For him, that was the idea of art—this is beautiful, this is visible. So, no, I think we were mostly guided by our ideas. And then the means.

Time Out New York: I meant that it’s not slick, it’s not overly produced.
Boyzie Cekwana:
It is important for us to honor and reflect as much as possible where the work is made. It’s made in these conditions. It’s simple. These are simple objects, and you can find them without much expense or free even. When you travel, you have networks of people who can also help and offer things like a projector—great, but if we have to go back, and one of our dreams was to take the work and travel on the continent of Africa, we have to keep it in mind that in most places you don’t have this. It would be wasted. We need to be able to do the work under the hardest conditions. In a way, the materials were guided by desire and reality.
Boyzie Cekwana and Panaibra Canda present The Inkomati (dis)cord at New York Live Arts Sept 25, 26.

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