The Flower, 2014

(Video and Text on Fabric Installation)

Pleasing to the eye your veiled familiar rendered unbeknown
A blanket of colour so snugly hugging as if it were your second skin
Beautifully patterns traced on your limbs akin to the blooming of a creeping vine
Garbed as a sensuous wrapper of modesty to which you are partially beholden
To the ritual of pleasing, a wedge for thriving in a woman’s station
(Demere Kitunga, 2014)

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.

The flower‘ explores the Henna ritual widely practiced in the costal regions of Tanzania and rooting from the Swahili coast history of being crisscrossed for centuries by merchant vessels bearing traders and adventurers from the oriental and the middle east and later on intermarrying with the natives, fusing their own traditions with the Swahili. This female ceremony consists of adorning the body of a bride-to-be with leafy and floral designs. The body thus embellished is considered an offering to the future husband. Henna’s other traditional decorating purposes vary from culture to culture, closely tied with rituals around circumcision, pregnancy, and birth; for good luck and protection from the ‘evil eye’ and ‘jinis’ (malignant spirits, or “genies”); female camaraderie and beauty.

The video features a figure standing in a white dress. Her body is veiled by white fabric upon which the floral designs progressively appear. The drawings invade the screen until the body becomes completely invisible. A woman’s voice can be heard wailing a Mwambao chant. The chant tales of a woman who is giving birth alone: the pain she experiences, the fear she feels, and her need for her mother’s support. Likewise, The Flower is projected onto a veil, which bears a poem written by the my mother, this intergenerational dialogue has become an important element in the making of my artworks.

Through this approach and its extended metaphor, the work points a finger at these religious and cultural rituals that contribute to the persistence of patriarchal oppression that reduces women’s bodies into a colonized territory. The floral designs obstruct the woman’s body and identity: however, as the chant persists, the designs begin to disappear; the flower vanishes and the body reappears free of any exterior marking.