(Video and Text)
This artwork is part of a bigger project that I have been working with since 2012. This project uses the motif of ritual performances to explore nuances in gender and generation. My curiosity with rituals started with a personal interest in historical (herstorical rather) narratives that rooted from personal stories of my mother’s, grandmothers’, and great grandmother’s generations of hardship due to discriminatory social, economic, and political systems. They used cultural and spiritual ritual and performances such as rites of passage—birth, marriage, death, etc. as mediums for moulding, resisting and subverting the status quo. One can easily look for clues in ritual performances, where factors such as class, generation, the construction of gender and other identities are inscribed and demonstrated.
Letters to… is inspired by excerpts of text by Demere Kitunga, my mother, to her mother, my grandmother, and her grandmother, my great grandmother, and explores the ritual of Kukandwa widely practiced in many regions of Tanzania. Because the body of the new mother is believed to have gone through a lot (from pregnancy to labor), for her first week (or first two weeks) after giving birth, the new mother is on complete bed rest and scheduled to receive hot baths/hot water massage at least once a day (accompanied by a diet of hot soups and blended foods), as a way of nursing her back to health. The new mother sits on a kigoda (African stool) and a hot towel massages her whole body, until she is clean. Afterwards, her body is oiled. This practice is most cases carried by her mother or grandmother.
In my case, this work was entirely created as a tribute and a love letter to my grandmother for the love and care she had shown me in the two most life changing experiences of my life, the births of my two kids. As response, and/or in conversation to this video, my mother wrote two texts that accompany the video, ruminating with the two important female figures in her life (her mother and grandmother), and processing through the writing some of the most difficult conversations that she never had with either of them, concerning life, death, and becoming.