crazinisT artisT: Rituals of Becoming

crazinisT artisT: Rituals of Becoming
Ghanaian-Togolese artist Va-Bene Elikem Fiatsi, aka crazinisT artisT was born in 1981 in Ho, Volta Region of Ghana. He earned a Bachelors degree in Fine Arts (Painting) in 2014 from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi, Ghana where he is currently pursuing his Masters in Fine Arts. His thought provoking performances explore various aspects of human rights violations, gender/sexual prejudices or stereotypes, religious extremist violence, political injustice and the objectification of marginalised citizens within civilized societies. He has participated in significant exhibitions including the KNUST End of Year Exhibition (2014), Silence between the Lines(2015), the Gown Must go to Town (2015), The Return of the Slaves (2015), Protest (2015), and TERRITOIRE DE CRÉATION 5ieme édition, Chale Wote Art Festival (African Electronics, 2015).

You’re also known as CrazinisT artisT, spelt with an emphasis on the letter ‘T’. Has your immediate community coming to terms with, and trying to better understand performance art thrust this alias on you?

No! To be ‘crazy’ is a pun I used to express an extreme passion or love for my art, earlier on at art school  (KNUST in Kumasi) before I started performance. However, many people associate ‘crazinisT’ to a title linked to the radical approach I take to my work especially in performance within the context of a conservative society. The ‘T’ is a gesture of the corrupt word, to be crazy as [virus] language suggesting an ambiguity.

crazinisT artisT, That’s Why You are Mad, at KNUST, Kumasi, Ghana, 2014, image courtesy the artist

This emphasis on letters also appears in the titles of your work. Can you explain your thinking behind this?

The emphasis on letters has begun to appear lately in my works as I started thinking of how to play with the ambiguities in my titles and the forms they take. For instance ‘eAt me…’ is a sexualised pun in the cultural space and territory this performance took place in. To eat someone could suggest sex, or intercourse with the person in twi (bedi mi), one of the largely spoken Ghanaian languages of the Asantes. Now, you can imagine my nude body in a pool of my own blood on white clean sheets for dinner on Easter Friday…

I also intend for my works to generate dialogue from their titles on posters and social media platforms. I remember some of my posters were torn up for their titles such as ‘live sex’ and ‘eAtme…’ so nothing is separated from my work, not even titling or adverts.

crazinisT artisT, Crucifix, at KNUST, Kumasi, Ghana 2014, image courtesy the artist

How would you describe the growing appreciation for performance art in West Africa and Africa, as well as compare local reception to the recognition your work receives internationally?

Performances have been part of Africans, their life, art and everything since the birth of humanity, but in recent years many artists have reinvented performance art to engage the public and their audience in artistic conversations around socio-political concerns or activism across the continent.

However, its reception varies from one community to the other depending on the content and context of the performance, the cultural makeups of the space and religious networks. I think if my work falls within the representation of the ‘carnivalesque’ in festivals,it would have made much sense to the conservatives for better appreciation but unfortunately, I ‘live’ my performance as though it is an eternal life and the audience has to confront it as part of their system,it is invasive anyway.

In works like pieta – African resurrect (2015) and ѐAtmѐ (2016), you reference major Christian religious themes. For example in the latter work, which you spoke earlier about, you lie nude in your blood as an Easter meal, to draw inferences from the breaking and eating of Christ’s body and flesh. What exactly are you saying with this piece?

crazinisT artisT, eAT me, performance at KNUST, Kumasi, 2016, image courtesy the artist, photo credit Anwar Sadat Mohammed, Martin Toloku and Justice Amoh

To me religion, specifically Christianity, is part of my colonial nurturing, which I battle against for personal liberation as a process to question its continuous damages to humanity in a very ‘loud silence’, without our realisation. I try to question the contradictions in it by exploring themes that are [halo-ed], I mean, made so sacred to touch and want to re-present them in metaphorical imageries to our current socio- political issues of violence, marginalisation, racism and whatever.

Since 2013, your performances have involved subjecting your body “to pain, humiliation, psychological trauma and torture”, to speak against various forms of prejudices and violence against humanity.” In this regard, what personal experiences inform your work?

Before 2013, few of my paintings were connected to agony, especially of women and their humiliation in a corrupt patriarchal society. I thought of pain and trauma so much that they became part of me unconsciously. I was left in an unrecoverable mental ruin following my mother’s death when I was 16, and the memory of her silence in polygamous marital conflicts. I grew with this trauma and began to pay attention to the marriage of many other families I lived with until I became independent, but their stories didn’t seem to have been so different. I have always found myself sympathising and empathising with women in marriage as though they are victims of cultural constructs. I tried to overcome these experiences in my early days at art school yet at the same time was the rise of news across the globe about Black violence, homophobic, sexism, religious conflicts and xenophobic actions, through the Internet and especially social media. I think I have been infested with compassion; I wanted to investigate what necessitated such violence especially relating to identity, prejudice, gender and sexuality, and how I could place my body within these dystopian spaces. …‘you’ dare not defend the safety of LGBTs publicly in Ghana because you will be as condemned as they are, so I began to attack myself publicly in performances, humiliating and enacting violence upon my body.

Very briefly, the exhibition and performance is titled ‘Rituals of Becoming’ and is post-studio art that will re-imagine process, materiality of space, documentation and archiving as integral rituals of my performance work. It is to recolonise a new territory; the traditional ‘gallery’ space, and the paradoxical [dis-staging] of art and life through daily performance, multichannel videos, sculptural photography and installations. The show will raise questions on de-categorisation of gendered bodies and generate bio-political dialogues of possible redefinitions of the social and biological body. In other words, it will explore the frictions between gender-identity, sexuality, and aesthetics of the body. I hope to engage my audience constantly as inherent participants in the theatricality of space, exploiting the tensions of voyeuristic and exhibitionist re-imaginations in my rituals. I hope for no audience but indecisive co-performers; their relationship and every move in the work makes it complete.

 

crazinisT artisT, Rituals of Becoming, curated by Maria Rus Bojan, Gallery 1957, Accra, February 26 to March 12, 2017 www.gallery1957.com


Oliver Enwonwu is founder and Editor-in-Chief of Omenka magazine, Director, Omenka Gallery and Chief Executive, Revilo. He holds a first degree in Biochemistry, advanced diploma in Exploration Geophysics (distinction), Post Graduate Diplomas in Applied Geophysics and Visual Art (distinction) and a Masters in Art History, all from the University of Lagos. He is the founder, Executive Director, and trustee of The Ben Enwonwu Foundation. He also sits on the board of several organizations including the National Gallery of Art, Nigeria and the Reproduction Rights Society of Nigeria. Enwonwu is also president of both the Society of Nigerian Artists and the Alliance of Nigerian Art Galleries.

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December 13, 2017

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