As the days flow into week 2 of our residency we fall into the rhythm of Sara’s household and surrounding neighbours. The air is always filled with the constant sound track of mooing and clucking, of the same church song sung over and over again, children playing and crying, gentle singing coming from the family behind us, banging coming from the brickyard down the road, loud distorted preaching, the swishing of banana tree leaves, the punctual and discordant call to prayer.
Exploring and gathering material to project on our rock art animals many more texture experiments eventuated with Dotahn filming every natural surface he could find and Emmily laboriously drawing animations with pencils and then moving onto the ground with sticks and earth.
As we continue to peruse Leakey’s rock art book we are fascinated with the various forms the human figures take. Some are depicted with hoof like feet and insect antennas or long tails and elongated bodies. Their heads are often the most unusual with some of the figures depicted with large square heads textured with horizontal lines or big bulbous circular sun heads. Our favorite are the heads made up of lines radiating from a central part.
We begin to discuss how we can incorporate ideas of these human figures into our work. Hitting upon the idea that it would be great to be able to work with the dances from Ibuka dance foundation and play with shadows as the rock art figures are mostly pictured as silhouettes. Anna, Ibuka’s director and Michel the co-creator of their next performance have casually mentioned that they need someone to film their show, but do not have money to pay someone. We decide to offer them a trade, Dotahn documents their show and in exchange we get to work with their dancers for a shoot of our own. With the agreement sealed Emm begins to work on fashioning props for the dancers to wear during our shadow shoot. Experimenting with ways to subtle change the human figure with abstracted interpretations of the rock art. It was not an easy task given the minimal time and materials and there was a lot of trial and error. Eventually it was the ever ubiquitous banana leaves and bark that was used to make two heads and a shaggy cloak.
One of the main themes we come across in Tanzania is that of the loss of tribal culture and the disappearance of history. This coincides a lot with the loss of habitat, the huge decline in animal numbers and the growth of land use by industry and mass agriculture. Quite often it is impossible to maintain a tribal culture with such dramatic change. This is where the stories, the artistry, the echoes of that culture become all the more important. Also there are elements of some tribal culture which are deeply troubling, destructive and prejudiced. Thus we wanted to explore the shadows and echoes of the past and the ephemeral nature of native cultures with reference to the beauty and darkness inherent in some of these cultures. The use of contemporary Tanzanian dancers to carry the message of the ancient tribal cultures focuses on the importance of keeping the artistry and stories of ancient cultures alive in contemporary arts practice. The use of projection or light to carry elements of the past is true of light itself. Light can carry history through space, with the images of the stars carrying a history a millennia apart from us.
The town of Aursha, far from being a tourist destination with little to no places for sight seeing, is a bustling town saturated in the busy everyday Tanzanian life. We went for a long walk, exploring parts of the town, while avoiding the market for fear of being hassled too much. Everywhere you look the evidence of the Coke and Pepsi war proliferates, with nearly every shopfront sign sponsored by one or the other. Even street signs and civic landmarks are branded in soda. Including the central clock tower in town. (Coke seems to be winning) The national museum which is housed in an old German fort (boma) was a fading mess of partial ancient history and housing no artifacts, but amusing dioramas. It did, however, have a large exhibition of nature photography where we reconnected with our love for chameleons. It was dry and dusty and we stopped for something resembling ice-cream before making our way back to the homestead via a local bar.
Soon enough our play with primitive figures ventured into the third dimension as we began to gather and combine the various plants found around the yard into an effigy. Soon a figure began to emerge with a full belly, the spirit of plenty or Tumbo Tumbo man. Representing the full harvest and satisfied tummies, Tumbo Tumbo man journeyed around the workshop and garden before residing in the house to bring plenty to the family.
In the darkness of evening and the loud rumble of the generator we set up a screen to test some of our experiments and to watch a film in the company of home made choya, a red alcoholic drink made from millet and Rosella flower. A welcome reprieve from the darkness and quiet of most evenings.
Sara’s son Michael had been on holidays for our first couple of weeks in Arusha and the time had come for him to return to school. We took the opportunity to say goodbye and to tour the high school campus of St Judes. The campus was reminiscent of Australian university grounds with beautiful gardens and great facilities. We were sorry to see Michael go, but he was obviously excited to begin his last year of high school.
Another inspiring outing in the second week of our artist residency was to the United African Alliance Community Centre. Escorted by George, a local who had spent two years living at the centre after being taken in as a wayward youth. Encouraged by the family of UAACC to expand and embrace his poetry with fierce determination he started up and runs the Arusha poetry club. Started in the early seventies by Pete and Charlotte O’Neal the community centre has grown to include a large children’s home, artist studios, music studios and more. The center focuses on building up the local community through arts and education and provides many free classes. They take in many homeless and troubled youth and help them build self-confidence, skills and strong futures. Both members of the Black Panthers in the 60’s, Pete O’Neal was the founder of the Kansas City chapter. He was later charged with firearm offenses and forced to leave the country and is still living in exile, unable to return to the US. We met Charlotte who is known as Mama C and is a warm and amazing woman with welcoming hugs. An artist, poet and musician she has a passion for social change through the arts. She treated us to a personal concert, playing a traditional Eastern African instrument called the nyatiti. We were also introduced to a local musician who was using the studios at UAACC and recording with Mama C. His name is Emma Masai and his music is a great blend of traditional African music with all his vocals in the Masai language.
The week before our departure to South Africa, during the beginnings of the miserable winter Melbourne was to suffer, Emmily took an afternoon course in weaving with natural fibers. When looking around Sara’s garden for Tumbo Tumbo Man materials Emm found the exact same plant that was used in her weaving class. Putting to the test this new found technique she fashioned a bowl using the twine that is forever on her person.
The time had come for the Ibuka dance show Dimensions, so we arrived early to get the best seats and to set up the camera. The stage was completed just in time and was stunning, with a great view of Mt Meru towering behind. The show was an eclectic mix of dance, clowning, projection and theatrics and really was a spectacle.
The next evening the Ibuka stage was set for our shadow shoot. Emmily stepped in to direct the dancers and to garnish them in banana leaves and sticks. The dancers really embodied the spirit of our concept, working with the costumes despite the discomfort of their slapdash construction and we came away with amazing material for our final piece.
Big thanks to the dancers Brian Otieno Oloo, Stella Situma and Jason Jason. It was wonderful working with you.