(Video and Text)

This artwork uses the motif of ritual performances to explore nuances in gender, generation, and sexuality. 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 generation 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 molding, resisting and subverting the status quo. One can easily look for clues in ritual performances, where factors such as class, generation, gender construction and other identity formations 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.