Okwui Okpokwasili and Peter Born: “Sitting on a Man’s Head”
May 31, 2021
Closed captions are available by clicking the “CC” button on the video.
Sitting On a Man’s Head is a practice and an installation by Okwui Okpokwasili 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. This video edited by Peter and Okwui is an excerpt of the recurring four hour practice that engaged a rotating assembly of 30+ artist activators. A shorter video excerpt, released in June 2020, can be found here.
A central question of PLATFORM 2020: Utterances from the Chorus, “How do we weave a collective song?” builds on the ideas behind Okpokwasili’s and Born’s durational piece, Sitting On a Man’s Head.
Okwui’s 2016 research into Nigerian women’s embodied protest resulted in the durational performance created by Okwui and Peter. The practice known as “sitting on a man” was a disruptive durational practice and a public act of shaming carried out by a collective of women in Southeastern Nigeria. It involved gathering in the private courtyard of a colonial official, dancing and singing songs that expressed their grievances and was designed to embarrass the official until he promised to address their concerns. This practice was used by women as a critical tool to protect their economic and social interests.
Rather than “shaming” or seeking redress, Okpokwasili’s and Born’s Sitting On a Man’s Head created a “space of restoration and restitution,” writes Okpokwasili and Born. “We are engaged in a creative practice concerned with the formation of new bonds of kinship. In collaboration with a select group of artists, we use the tools of our performance practice to build a space for the creation of an improvisational public song composed of aural and choreographic gestures. Can a shared creative practice be generative and generous while also being instructive in imagining new possibilities of communal relations?”
The work featured a rotating chorus of artists, who activated the practice: Martita Abril, Peter Born, Jennifer Brogle, mayfield brooks, Leslie Cuyjet, André Daughtry, Eisa Davis, Brittany Engel-Adams, Lily Gold, Naja Gordon, Melanie Greene, Audrey Hailes, Remi Harris, Jasmine Hearn, Justin Hicks, Shayla-Vie Jenkins, Chaesong Kim, Tendayi Kuumba, Breyanna Maples, Priscilla Marrero, Anais Maviel, Okwui Okpokwasili, Maya Orchin, Kay Ottinger, jess pretty, Greg Purnell, Hans Rasch, Katrina Reid, Jean Carla Rodea, Lily Bo Shapiro, Samita Sinha, Eleanor Smith, Tatyana Tenenbaum, David Thomson, Pyeng Threadgill, Asiya Wadud, Charmaine Warren, AJ Wilmore, Anna Witenberg, and Nehemoyia Young.