One afternoon earlier this month, the Cape Town, South Africa–based group Chimurenga, which bills itself as a “multi-tiered programming platform,” settled into the Performa Hub in Tribeca for a short-term residency that proved to be one of the more multifarious projects in this year’s performance-art biennial, Performa 15.
First, some background. Chimurenga translates loosely to “struggle for freedom/liberation” in Shona (spoken by the eponymous people in Zimbabwe), a name that is something of a statement of purpose for the group. At this year’s Performa Chimurenga created a radio station, a used-books and records market, a hair salon/braiding academy, and a constant rotating cast of collaborating conversationalists billed as a “library-of-people.”
Journalist, researcher, and DJ, Ntone Edjabe founded Chimurenga in 2002 as a publication, but it has since has taken on a far more amorphous shape. While Chimurenga has continued to produce a semi-regular annual gazette, they are unbound by pages. Rather, their energetic activity has extended across time and geography, and connected with a growing community courtesy of a broadcasting wing, titled the Pan African Space Station (PASS).
Described in it’s own terms, the interstellar-minded PASS defines its “mission” as seeking to “challenge the concepts this present has of Africa and to excite new transitory and transient communities with each journey, bringing focus to collective experience and targeting an investigation into how we locate ourselves and how we mediate our human and historic commonality.”
In other words, it wants to rethink our current time and space as it relates to history, a concept which fit in rather well with the Performa 15 theme of “Renaissance.”
“I was very interested in putting a bit of pressure on the notion of what is a renaissance, and what happens in a renaissance,” said Adrienne Edwards, a co-curator of Performa, who found a perfect collaborator in Edjabe. “I don’t think that very directly relates out in the [Performa] biennale, but I wanted it to be a bit more oblique so that these things could kind of stand on their own…not be reduced or compressed into a singular understanding.”
Sparking things off during the residency was photographer Marilyn Nance, who offered a rollicking commentary alongside her slideshow of shots from FESTAC ’77, a global “Black and African festival of arts and culture.” At another point, there was poet and choreographer Harmony Holiday, riffing on some recordings from her “Astro/Afrosonics” archive of “words and sounds.” PASS co-curator Neo Muyanga, a composer and musician himself, delved into the role of protest music in the liberation struggles of South Africa, Egypt, Brazil, and Uruguay. And, in a similar vein, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts of the Freedwomen’s Bureau, staged a marathon reading of “We Charge Genocide, the Historic Petition to the United Nations for Relief From a Crime of the United States Government Against the Negro People (1951). Zimbabwean-born musician Tanyaradzwa Tawangwa performed some songs with the help of her mbira, a distinctive-sounding, wire-pronged instrument, which provided a melodic end to the PASS proceedings.
Those are just a handful of the activities, talks, and performances that took place at the Chimurenga residence that together formed a coherent whole. What that whole comprised of was certainly better experienced than described. Further proof of this could be found by glancing at the residency’s program, which offered less a timed schedule of events than a map requiring one’s physical presence.
Of course, it’s too late now for that. Fortunately though, living up to it’s name, PASS has archived all of its Performa 15 proceedings. They all live on in the space-time continuum (the Internet), right here.