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Reviews Glasgow Published 2 March 2017

Review: #negrophobia at Take Me Somewhere, Glasgow

Tramway ⋄ 26 February 2017

Extraordinary in its range, excess and incision: Andrew Edwards reviews Jaamil Olawale Kosoko’s “challenging, necessary and entirely relevant” work as part of the Take Me Somewhere festival.

Andrew Edwards
#negrophobia at Tramway, Glasgow, as part of Take Me Somewhere. Photo: Scott Shaw.

#negrophobia at Tramway, Glasgow, as part of Take Me Somewhere. Photo: Scott Shaw.

“they’re my brother’s shoes”
“they’re my brother’s shoes”
“they’re my brother’s shoes”

As we filter into the space the audience is divided into four. A large bank of audience sitting end-on to the performance space, and three pockets of audience sitting (and indeed sprawled) on stage. There are black balloons and black cushions, Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste is stood at a set of decks, and the performance artist IMMA regularly enters and re-enters the space, dancing, strutting and high-stepping. IMMA takes out a smartphone. Its camera feed is projected onto the back wall. She leaves the space to find the work’s creator Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, waiting in the corridor, microphone in hand, wearing a white jacket. We follow him through the backstage of Tramway, as he quietly sings and emerges on to the stage. This superstar, this man chained to a basketball, who wrestles with white fabric and raps. Who sits draped in gold, who is afro-d, who is reading the right literature to the soundtrack of laughter. This a Black body. It’s glorious and tragic and raging and acquiescing and liberated and persecuted. And it builds to a chaos, to a ro|

Colliding séance, lecture, dance and poetry together, #negrophobia is erotic, provocative and extremely important, possessing a relevance and urgency that becomes activated at Tramway, in Glasgow, on the eve of Saturday 26th February 2017. Shifting between different ideas of Black bodies, Kosoko reveals the narrow confines through which Black bodies and culture have found expression, and the apparatus through which these expressions have been commercialised, criminalised – and in pursuit of both these ends, sexualised.

These identities, these bodies, that are presented to us tonight are more often that not mediated through the lens of a smartphone, which acts as a disturbingly recognisable aesthetic, a filter through which we perceive a racism that belongs to history and to our current actions. The grainy visuals, the demi-documentations, the tragic evidence of institutionalised brutality and racism that has driven the movement Black Lives Matter. IMMA documents the work as it happens, shifting our attention to these screens rather than what’s on stage, perhaps mimicking the way that we, a Glasgow audience, have the privilege to typically engage with a violence that happens right under our noses through such distances. A violence that we are perhaps wilfully ignorant of at a local level, engaging with only from a safe distance.

The text, written by Kosoko, is extraordinary in its range, excess and incision. The poetry is at times hugely expansive, kinetic and carried forwards with an infectious rage. Yet the work is also populated by small refrains, repeated phrases that shift between minor linguistic variations.

“they’re my brother’s shoes”
“they’re my brother’s shoes”
“they’re my dead brother’s shoes”

The sparseness of these words, and their repetition, work to gently create a rupture between this audience and this performance. This rupture marks the limits of this audience’s experiences, where we can only glimpse an understanding of the losses experienced by Black communities and Kosoko’s own grief over the loss of his brother, Abdul Muhammad. In the absence of more words, this gap is made visible through silences. The experiences of Black communities are not offered to this audience to cannibalise, to comprehend, to fully understand. Instead an inaccessible grief suffuses the stage, a grief not for the consumption or use of people who are not of colour. The small moments are incredibly emotive, and through very little, speak volumes.

The words of Ta Nehisi Coates, American writer, journalist and author of Between the World and Me are echoed into the space, detailing a pessimistic (referred to as more “Malcolm” than “Martin” by Jon Stewart, formerly of The Daily Show) position on the direction of racial equality.

“I feel like [the arc of history] bends toward chaos… When we talk about arcs I think it’s very, very important to respect every individual’s arc. So if you were someone who was killed in Auschwitz, that’s the end of your arc. And that’s devastating. That’s tragic. We should not make ourselves feel better about that.”

This pessimism is ingrained in the work’s dramaturgy, which similarly bends towards chaos, culminating in a noise of music, recorded text, spoken text, images and movements. The work finishes abruptly, seemingly arrested, stopped in its tracks, without conclusion. The performers leave the space and don’t return, and this audience in Glasgow is left to applaud an absence, where these black bodies used to be. It is a painful and discomforting ending, denying the expected satisfaction of resolution, or an ending that carries meaning. The expectations this audience might have are shown to clash with the lived experiences of Black American communities, where endings occur more often, without warning, without justification.

It is to Take Me Somewhere’s immense credit that #negrophobia made its UK debut here in Glasgow, at a time when it feels incredibly relevant, given the close pop-cultural exchange between both sides of the Atlantic and the recent activism of #BlackLivesMatter in the UK. In the current context works like #negrophobia are hugely important for Scottish audiences to see, highlighting that racism is about structure, and one that permeates across borders, states and histories, regardless of their configuration. For Take Me Somewhere, works such as this entirely fulfil the festival’s promise to maintain the spirit of The Arches, yet avoid lapsing into nostalgia for days gone by. There is surely no better tribute to that institution’s legacy than to programme works like #negrophobia through Take Me Somewhere, those that are this challenging, this necessary and entirely relevant to the current moment.

Take Me Somewhere is on until 11th March 2017. Click here for more details. 

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Andrew Edwards is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Review: #negrophobia at Take Me Somewhere, Glasgow Show Info


Written by Jaamil Olawale Kosoko

Cast includes IMMA, Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste, Jaamil Olawale Kosoko

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