Land of Zanj, 2019

Land of Zanj, 2019
Performance by Mohau Modisakeng
Performance view: Sharjah Biennial 14: ‘Leaving the Echo Chamber’


Approaching the body as a bearer of collective memory, Mohau Modisakeng’s work invokes historical mechanisms of violence and grapples with the tensions and contradictions of inequality, exploitation, slavery and race. In his large-scale photographs, film, installation and performance, Modisakeng engages with the history of South Africa’s apartheid era and its legacies of protest as well as more recent struggles to decolonise extant knowledge and attendant institutions.

In his SB14 project, Modisakeng draws links between experiences of displacement within South Africa’s history of racial segregation and those of formerly enslaved diasporic Africans. Land of Zanj (2019) is a choreographed procession and site-specific installation named after the island of Zanzibar or Azania, an ancient term used to describe various parts of southeastern Africa. In the performance on Friday, 8 March 2019, an ensemble of over twenty dancers and musicians, led by Modisakeng, move along Kalba beach from a space within the decommissioned Kalba Ice Factory. For Modisakeng, the procession’s movement along the coast of the Gulf of Oman, with the Indian Ocean extending beyond, mediates the migration and memories of historical confluence between the Arabian Peninsula and the Swahili Coast, which encompasses the modern states of Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya and Somalia. Before setting out and while still at the ice factory, the performers interact with various objects that recall the material history of the Swahili Coast, a convergence of sailors, merchants and commodities such as ivory, gold, spices and African slaves. Along with audio material, photographs and video documentation of the performers, these objects, including a carved wooden double door, a wooden rowboat, oars and metal wind chimes, form Modisakeng’s installation. Part of the opening performance will be restaged in the Kalba Ice Factory on several occasions throughout the biennial.

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Land of Zanj (2019)

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With a focus on metaphor, ritual practice and the human body, Modisakeng’s photography, film, installation and performance are a testament to the complex process of grieving historical events and honouring subjective experience.