Saturday, September 12, 2009

Performance: Aisha Tandiwe Bell

Bear with me folks. I'm going to try really hard to describe what defies description. Artist Aisha Tandiwe Bell's performance at Brooklyn's Corridor Gallery was mesmerizing and soul-stirring. I've never seen anything like it.
Aisha is a multimedia artist. She works in performance, sculpture, and painting, so I arrived at Corridor not knowing what to expect. I found a space that was alive with her installations of Black girls gracing the walls.
When viewing Bell's visual works, I was struck by the skilled rendering of her figures. The Black girls were drawn with sullen expressions on their faces, and had hollow white ceramic faces attached to their heads. I loved the fact that the ceramic faces cast shadows onto the girls' heads.
Other figures incorporated fabric and more of her beautiful sculptural pieces. The repetition of faces and forms, with some emerging out of bodies suggest connections to ancestry. And for people of African descent, ancestry can be fraught with pain and mysteries to unravel. Bell's characters appear to carry around ghostly weights. Aisha says her work "is about our individual burdens, insecurities, and self-prescribed traps, walls, armor, masks, stereotypes, that we wear/carry out of habit, comfort, fear, sloth, and shame. However, my work also explores our ability to transform, resist and escape these traps." In the center of the room was a tin tub filled with blue water and surrounded by rows of ceramic faces. When the performance began, she handed each member of the audience 2 faces and instructed us to bang them together in a particular rhythm. As we beat the faces together, Aisha donned a white skirt and top, and a belt with the ceramic faces hanging from it. She began to wind her waist in time to the beat, and the faces began to clatter and crash together. The sound it created was otherworldly. Bell danced until the faces broke in pieces and fell to the floor. When all the faces had broken and fallen off, Aisha got into the tin tub and began bathing herself in the blue water. By this time the energy in the room was so heightened that the rhythm the audience had started beating with the faces sped up to a feverish pace.
The performance and installation were so powerful. It was the finale of Bell's month-long residency at Corridor Gallery, and what a finish it was! Aisha Tandiwe Bell is definitely an artist to watch. Expect to see much more of her here on Black Butterfly. For more on Bell and her work, check out her website:

And for more info. on the Corridor Gallery:

And check out this amazing video of one of Aisha's past performances: