In a moment, he takes an audience who is laughing and chatting loudly, and renders it speechless, quietly weeping and praying. This is the starting point of Albert Silindokuhle Ibokwe Khoza’s Red Femicycle, which has enjoyed a few platforms in Gauteng this year. An essay on the scourge of violence against women in South Africa, the work is sophisticated as it is important, terrifying and extreme as it is meant to be.
Aside fromweak theatre support, and an obscure diary fixture which deflected the attention the work warrants, this is a piece full of images and contexts which rip your heart out and score scars in your soul, offering a portrait of a society in which women are fodder for abuse on such a scale that it no longer makes the news. Little girls get kidnapped, raped, murdered, daily. Elderly women, too, and the list of names of broken women that our society remembers for their deaths rather than their lives grows longer and longer. Remember Karabo? And Uyinene? Remember Precious? It’s a litany of shame and there are literally millions of Karabos, Uyinenes and Preciouses out there.
Khoza is easily one of South African performance art’s more important and vital players, but he’s better known and easily more respected out of South Africa, where his career has blossomed. A frequent collaborator in the work of Robyn Orlin, Khoza debuted on South African dance stages in the last Johannesburg-based Dance Umbrella in 2018. His is a stage presence that on some levels evokes that of Steven Cohen in full regalia, particularly in Cohen’s early impromptu works.
When Khoza enters the work’s improvised space, with his regal headdress and frock of red, a hush settles over the audience. It’s as though a god has stepped into the room. He attracts swarms of goosebumps when he sings, breathes with split-tone knowledge or utters words in the rhythm of prayer. When he places himself at a violent vantage point and shouts with pain, the audience feels his hurt.
Coupled with an extremely violent performance by Oupa Sibeko, armed with sjamboks and a voice that resonates through your soul – if not your history – the work is unapologetically direct. It takes the notion of advocacy and puts horns on it. Sadly, State Theatre visitors missed out on many elements of the piece including an exhibition of photographs embroiled within the performance itself, due to venue issues.
The work, like that of Brett Bailey’s or Jay Pather’s, takes the form of a trajectory, putting its energy and power in charge of the audience. It flows down a passage in the theatre, and up another, leading you, with the aid of a narrative, to vignettes and contexts which are often difficult to look at and be in the presence of because they are so extreme and terrible. There’s a moment of Nina Simone and a presentation of slides of portraits women damaged by the misogynistic world in which they exist, be it physically, emotionally or in other ways, including images of choreographer Mamela Nyamza, recently dismissed from the State Theatre.
There are other moments that resound with the strength of biblical narrative and mourning. As you look into the proffered mirror of this work, as you contemplate the blood and animal heads on the ground, and breathe in the fumes of burning imphepho, you are swept into the work’s vortex of cruelty and pain which is unrelenting. It’s a work you will not forget.
- Red Femicycle is created, designed and directed by Albert Silindokuwe Ibokwe Khoza. It is performed by Albert Silindokuhle Ibokwe Khoza, Tsholo Mogolola, Tubatsi Moloi and Oupa Sibeko, featuring child performers Kamogelo Khoza and Samkelisiwe Khoza. Featuring design by Superella Ane (collaboration on Khoza’s costume), Blungisi Mlungwana (photography), Nikiwe Dlova (hair), and the support of stage hand Vuyo Magodla and Princess Zinzi Mhlongo (Khoza’s manager), it performed for one night only on December 8 at Satchmo’s and adjoining corridors on the fourth floor of the South African State Theatre in Pretoria, as part of that theatre’s 16 Days of Activism festival.