From the public activation of wearable artwork through the city’s streets to a site-specific, autobiographical movement and dance piece in St Luke’s Bombed Out Church, visitors will find their experience of this year’s Liverpool Biennial enhanced as artists respond to the theme of ‘uMoya’ by using their bodies as vessels and vehicles for change.
Taking place across the festival’s 14 weeks in three stages, the public programme of free events creates a triangle, intended to mirror the journeys undertaken during the Transatlantic trade of enslaved people.
The three phases are The Opening Door, focused on live art and public installations, The Middle Passage, dedicated to movement, film and moving image, and The Reflective Return which is centred around artist talks and music.
The Opening Door events take place throughout the opening weekend of 10-11 June and include live works and activations by Albert Ibokwe Khoza, Raisa Kabir, Sandra Suubi and Lorin Sookool, alongside talks including an in-conversation between LB2023 Curator Khanyisile Mbongwa, artist Torkwase Dyson and Christina Sharpe, writer and Professor, Canada Research Chair in Black Studies in the Humanities, Vanier College.
Albert iBokwe Khoza‘s live offering ‘The Black Circus of the Republic of Bantu’ (2022) is presented for the first time as an installation at the Biennial and exposes the violent and shameful legacy of ethnological expositions such as human zoos and exhibitions, popular in Western society between the 1870s and 1960s. The work investigates the impact of the imperial and colonial gaze on Black bodies, how it sits within Black bodies today and how it might be remedied. Through an examination of the ongoing pain of historical and continuing racism, the artist creates a space for collective healing and an opportunity for dignity to be reclaimed.
Presented at St Luke’s Bombed Out Church, Lorin Sookool‘s ‘Woza Wenties!’ (2023) uses dance movement to trace and unpack the violent erasure of her Black identity during her schooling in South Africa. Through the title of the work, Sookool calls for the resurrection of lost aspects of her being and expression; ‘Woza’ is the isiZulu word meaning “come”. ‘Wenties’ is the affectionate term for the Wentworth township, located in Durban South. The area, previously reserved for people of colour, was Sookool’s home before the artist moved to a suburban area to attend school. Using dance movement as a tool to symbolise a body under duress, Sookool references colonial and modernist systems of dance techniques and uses improvisation as a means to decolonise the body.
Sandra Suubi‘s ‘Samba Gown’ is a statement of resistance. The work, originally devised as a performance piece, imagines and re-enacts the Ugandan independence ceremony of 1962 as a wedding ceremony. A procession in the Samba Gown is used as a metaphor for what happened that day when Uganda (bride) entered a binding contract with its former colonisers (groom). The work draws attention to the transactional relationship that exists between former colonies and their colonisers. Comprised from plastic waste, the gown comments on plastic pollution as one of the major aftermaths of colonialism – Uganda receives thousands of tonnes of plastic waste from wealthy nations each year.
Raisa Kabir‘s durational performance at Stanley is part of the survey of her work at Bluecoat. ‘Utterances: Our vessels for the stories, unspoken. Subaqueous violence. Sea. Ocean…’ (2016-present) encompasses woven text, textiles, sound, performance and video to convey and visualise concepts concerning the cultural politics of cloth. Using the material histories of cotton, silk, indigo, cochineal, jute and flax, Kabir investigates the production and global trade of these materials, referencing the maritime boats, ships and sails that arrived cargo-laden to Liverpool’s docks. The exhibition is inspired by Kabir’s research into the journey made by Bengal Lascars – Indian sailors employed and exploited by the British East India shipping company – many of whom docked and settled in Liverpool.
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Liverpool Biennial 2023, ‘uMoya: The Sacred Return of Lost Things’, 10 June – 17 September 2023www.biennial.com