Ecological questions and the colonial past lie at the heart of the stories running through the latest creation, entitled Leçons de Ténèbres (Lessons of Darkness), by choreographer Betty Tchomanga. She has been invited to extend her project by curating an exhibition at Passerelle Centre d’Art Contemporain in Brest.
The “Leçons de Ténèbres” was originally a liturgical musical genre of the seventeenth century which sets to music “Jeremiah’s Lamentations” about the destruction of Jerusalem in the Bible. It is also the title of a 1992 film by Werner Herzog on the 732 burning oil wells of Kuwait, set on fire by retreating Iraqi forces. The director presents us with an apocalyptic vision like a long poem on the end of the Earth.
The Leçons de Ténèbres by Betty Tchomanga evoke those who have disappeared, ancestors, and their ghosts. These lessons tell of darkness, explore the obscure, our hidden and long-buried stories.
“I designed this exhibition as the natural extension of my choreographic work and of the research associated with it. The works and artists I have chosen to invite are all linked to the thoughts, imaginings and images enriching my two latest creations, Mascarades and Leçons de Ténèbres.
I based my ideas on the notion of ‘Giving shape to the world’ developed by Malcom Ferdinand, Doctor in Political Philosophy, in his book A Decolonial Ecology, Thinking from the Caribbean World. In this essay he proposes a new way of tackling the ecological question by linking it to colonial history. The figure of the slave ship here appears as a political metaphor of a world characterised by relationships of domination. The ship-world figure offers an alternative history of the world and of the Earth where it is possible to bring together and share beliefs, thoughts and imaginings. This metaphor resonates with my research into the voodoo cult and the myth of Mami Wata [a water deity of the African cult of voodoo]. Like the ship-world of Malcom Ferdinand, my choreographic work, just like this exhibition, is based on the dissemination, coexistence and juxtaposition of images, imaginings and beliefs.
Prendre corps au monde (Giving Shape to the World) extends the ‘mantra of Frantz Fanon [psychiatrist and essay writer, a major figure in anti-colonialism] aimed at making the body the starting point for questioning the world.’
How can bodies be the anchor points of commitment to the world? How can bodies in a subordinate position (that is, racial, gender and social minorities) interact with their environment, and with that of their ancestors? How can bodies transform violence and anger into the energy for an emancipatory rebellion? How can we bring out tales that are forgotten, long-buried, erased or hidden? How can we talk to ghosts?”
Prendre corps au monde
Passerelle Centre d’art contemporain, Brest
February 17 – May 20, 2023
Photo : Aurélien Mole