Sitting On a Man’s Head (Video)
June 23, 2020
Sitting On a Man’s Head is a practice and an installation by Okwui Okwpokwasili and Peter Born. This work was the centerpiece of the Danspace Project PLATFORM 2020: Utterances From The Chorus, co-curated by Okpokwasili and Judy Hussie-Taylor. Sitting On A Man’s Head, developed from Okpokwasili’s research into “Sitting on a Man,” an embodied practice of protest conducted by Southeastern Nigerian Women, instrumental in 1929, at the onset of the “Women’s War.” This five minute video (edited by Peter Born) is pulled from documentation of a February performance. This is an excerpt of a recurring four hour practice that engaged a rotating assembly of 30+ activators.
“The first utterance, ‘Breath…give me breath.’ Performing artist and activator, David Thomson, calls out in a refrain. In response, disparate voices accumulate in a swell, a chorus of recognition, a collective wail, in mourning and in ecstasy. The voices of Black women—anchoring the buoyancy of Thomson’s plea. We cannot hear this and deny the demand for justice, the demand for life and the body. We can hear a spirit that cannot be touched. Enclosed in a swaying tent, Okpokwasili and Born built a space for restitution within the sanctuary of the St. Mark’s Church. On the periphery of this womb of restoration, a visitor might find a question, ‘What do you carry that also carries you?’”
— Seta Morton
“What is it to be a part of a chorus that will write the song as it sings it?
We walk, we tremble, we moan, we ache, we cry out, we hold still, we tune together in accord, and even our dissonance is an agreement we all reach through a voracious listening. In this practice we walk with friends and we walk with strangers into the sonic space the way one steps into a cold sea on a hot day, slowly, with care, until plunging with relief into the bracing water. And then maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll be carried away by the tide, unmoored, though buoyed by our shared breath, which we attend to with care. That is the only thing we know. We find the words, we find the tune, we discover and might even be surprised by who cries out first. But we always know breath. Our song begins with breath. We must attend to breath, ours and the breath of everyone around us, with utmost care. To impede breath, to deny breath, would be to leave ourselves wounded and bereft and without song.
I ache with gratitude, and with the echo of the electric cries that filled the space between us. David writes that in watching the excerpts it ‘…feels like a prelude…a gathering of spirits in transition…in the darkness with their lanterns lighting the way…’ Today I hope that we are being led out of the darkness and that the lantern of justice is lighting the way.”
— Okwui Okpokwasili