NdinguNina for Black History Month
The first time I performed NdinguNina was at an exhibition called,”The Other’d artist/s” just before Summer, at Transmission gallery in the city centre of Glasgow. I hate cliches as much as the next person but in many ways, the piece felt like it was meant to be written and performed. I remember sitting in the library with my friends, going back and forth on whether I should write something for the exhibition, whether it would feel too rushed, and what I would even write about. With submission only three days away I felt that I was cutting it too close.Moments later, a message came into my WhatsApp, it was a message from my father’s girlfriend with an image attached, nothing else, no “hello Nanillia” as she would usually start our conversations, no enquiries, “ don’t you find this interesting?”, nothing, just an image. An image, that even my red, itchy, sleep-deprived eyes could tell right away would be something important and thought-provoking. I began to read the inscription at the bottom of the sepia coloured page. It read, “Lord Macaulay addresses the British parliament.” and penned in in bright red numerics was the date 2-2-1835. I was certain was my father’s handwriting.
Bright red pen, I learned from a fairly early age was my father’s signature colour of curiosity, when he wanted to draw attention to something, or when something was flat out wrong. i kid you not, in that moment, it felt like fate, that this artefact had been placed into my hands, (or onto my screen if you want to be pedantic about it )moments after I heard about the exhibition. Ideas began to flow out of me. I knew that I wanted to respond in some way to this aged piece of paper that allowed for no introduction, no “hello Nanillia”, no “isn’t this interesting”, nothing. As I studied the words attached to an image of what I could make out to be an aged “ colonial hero” I could feel a heavy wave of emotion come over me. Something of anger, and irritation and sadness. The extract spoke of a strategy “To break the very backbone of the Africans, to break their self-esteem and make them succumb to the British”.
The words cut deep as they relayed to the systematic invention of racism that oppressed my ancestors and would later govern my country in later years. A system that would create a domino effect of racism that still lives and breathes in my country, today. For the sake of this article, I won’t go into the nitty-gritty details of the damage the British caused in colonising South Africa. And so with everything else in my life that causes pain or discomfort, I decided that I would turn to artistic expression and create a performance that would respond to Lord Macaulay and his merry men. I wanted to create a piece that would say I am still here, “NdinguNina”, and that myself and others like me will not be broken.
“NdinguNina” encompasses memories of my past, it encompasses the struggle to reinstate one’s identity in an environment that does not always feel open to difference, but most importantly, it encompasses an ongoing battle and a growing strength that imitates the struggle that POC face every day, worldwide.This was a piece that I wanted to share with my fellow people of colour in hopes that they would feel empowered by the piece too, as I performing it.
On the 28th of September 2017, as part of the Black history month in Glasgow, I would have the opportunity to share NdinguNina again in the GoMA at the launch event ,and this year I would be one out of a handful of beautiful black artists to perform at the event, to commemorate the start of a month that celebrates myself and beautiful black artist, women, daughters and people like me. I felt proud to be a part of this event and although at the start I felt uncomfortable being in a building that represented such an oppressive history for people like myself, later, as the room filled with mamas (respectable term for older black women) wearing head wraps and west African traditional garb , little black kids with braids in their hair and beautiful smiles, song of freedom and celebration by Jamaican songstress Brina and familiar faces of friends and colleagues, the room ultimately began to feel like home ,filled with a sense love and community, and this place became ours too .
The GoMA, I learned this year, used to be the mansion of William Cunninghame, a tobacconist and a pivotal figure in the Triangle slave trade in Glasgow. I learned that his name, along with the many other names that lay on plaques above the streets of Glasgow belonged to slave traders, and yet ironically Nelson Mandela square stands in the middle of the city centre. The realisation brings about some confusion, but perhaps that is a discussion for another day. The CRER representative who asked me to perform at the event shared this information with me and joked earlier that month that,“NdinguNina could be seen as a ‘revenge performance’”, I laughed, because in many ways it was, but it was also a celebration of my people. And being in that space on the 28th of September and performing NdinguNina felt like a way of reinforcing once again, that “I am still, we are still here” and it was beautiful.
Special thanks to my baba Marina Bastos for doing my tech and offering me hugs and kisses after a tough performance.
ps.Thank you to everyone who came to see me in both performances.
Love, Light and Happiness