Katuntu - Alude Mahali and Injairu Kulundu, South Africa/Kenya

Katuntu (…and you too): A performance happening in 4 movements (2009)

A  45minute site-specific performance was developed in a collaboration between South African born Alude Mahali and Kenyan born Injairu Kulundu. Katuntu (…and you too) is written, devised and performed by Alude Mahali and Injairu Kulundu under the direction of Alude Mahali.

Katuntu is a story of loss and journeying. A figure has banished herself to an open unidentified landscape in a desperate attempt to find what she has lost. She is probing, calling, hearing, searching in hopes of fixing, of repairing and most importantly in hopes of healing- she is in exile, albeit in her mind. Katuntu as a process also serves as a sense of renewal, acceptance and forgiveness seen through the eyes of the girlfriend ‘other’ that is also so much the self. In Katuntu, as the audience you enter a gendered world where the voices belong to black girls and women, with vocality forming the primary performance modality. We play ourselves as well as each other, seemingly like each other and then very different, seeing each others ‘selves’ around us, in us and through us.

In collaboration with Injairu Kulundu, we journeyed though the various paths of nostalgic memory in a collage of sound, visual and narrative passage. All this through the use of song performance, old photographs and letters, childhood images and iconography, written and spoken text, practical exercises, language and ‘girl friendship’. Through incantatory call and response, the voice of memory, although fragmented, is summoned into being.

In Katuntu, we see how shifting identities occur. This is black girlhood; we are multiple bits working against loaded historical signifiers, omnipresent influences, as well as, each other, whilst furiously battling to piece together and re-construct a composite whole. We take turns with play, at times vacillating between play and reality. Whether we are mocking one another playfully through song, engaged in a dance with one another, at once becoming the exhumed spirit of the alternate other, screaming in agony or hollering with laughter or becoming the witnesses of each other’s purging.

Here, language is at times non-verbal, gestural, seldom uses a recognizable vocabulary all integrating the call and response pattern perpetuated by ‘girlfriend play’. These calls and responses include murmurs, muttering gibberish, melodious harmonies, screeching cries, piercing laughter, shattering wails, sporadic uttering, screams, grunts, panting and heavy breathing. Sometimes the language is held in a look, a sideways glance, a penetrating stare, a rolling of the eyes, eyes open wide that cannot see or just vacant eyes. There is something fierce about the vocal and gestural language, almost feral- where fierce protective love is coupled with fierce unacceptable hate. We become sound-makers, barely understood, except by each other. We are bits for so long that we are only whole when we are together and, even then; the strain of this dichotomous relationship becomes almost too overwhelming to tolerate.

Landscape is an important word throughout Katuntu mainly because the piece is site-responsive and takes place outside. The audience is required to shift location three times during Katuntu, creating a sense of discontinuity, disruption and motion that is necessary not only for the movement of the piece but also as a device for reinforcing the sense of discord, disconnectedness and disorder experienced by the ever-shifting figures.

Katuntu takes place in four movements; I would like to share extracts of text from each movement.

1st Movement

Katuntu begins in front of a building where towering white pillars serve as a backdrop to the action. A white sheet hangs across the pillars and casts shadows as the figures move in the space, while a single follow spot light enhances the play on shadow- creating a sense of presence and absence, of the figure’s merging and splitting. There is a feeling of expectation, an anxiety triggered by the feeling of being confronted with the familiar, a thing, an emotion, a feeling of the past that has long since been forgotten.

Sometimes when I was quiet in the open air, I could hear her. I could hear her say all the things that I wanted to say to myself in ways that I struggled to articulate, formulate, propagate. My eyes would open wide listening to her, my ears would tingle seeing her, my whole body would react. What strange and comforting sensations?  And so it was with this figure dangling from my hair, clinging to my leg, pouring out of eye when I wept that I learned to walk, to make imprints, to make impressions, to see and to be seen. Where would I be without the comfort of the hum in my head, the itch in my sole that reminds me to keep walking, sometimes run?

But once, I no longer saw or heard her. My face froze, my body paralyzed, how I felt the tears well up in my eye, held out my hands, my palm so that the tears might land in them. I waited to make her out, I waited to see her, I waited for the windy breeze to brush against my cheek, how I waited for her to make herself known, then…nothing.

I marched; I clicked my heels,  I stomped my feet, I kicked at nothing in the air, I rubbed one foot against the other, I shook my head violently as though I were shaking my  thoughts, my words, my very conscious being away. I thrust back and forth, I tore at my hair, I searched, I scratched, I scraped, I threw myself with fury to the ground, spitting and shouting what must have gibberish, writhing in agony, tongue-tied, wordless, my palate on my teeth, my jaws on my gums, my tongue stuck to the insides of my cheeks, my whole mouth twisted, unrecognizable, not what it was, I shut up, I kept quiet.

I wanted to die, I wanted to die. I looked to the sky with furrowed brow. For the first time I was completely alone...and then…I could not see.

2nd Movement

The action then commences in a large tree. This tree, much like the girlfriend other, comes to represent a holder of memory, a container in which all memories are stored and erupt upon discovery. There is something magical about the tree; there are yellow light bulbs in it that illuminate the figures faces in a beautifully dreamy way. There are all kinds of fabrics and materials draped in and around the tree, raffia, Hessian, rope, wool and various cloths from around Africa. In the tree hang wind chimes, shoes, bells, buckets, pots, tins and pans, tens upon tens of white dolls with red fabric accents and various other objects and talismans. The tree becomes alive with memory particularly when the two figures occupy the tree, managing to climb to the very top. It is a place of childhood games, dreams and dangerous nightmares.

There is a woman, sometimes a child, sometimes a woman. She‘s grown weary, you see? There is a clang-clanging of bells in the landscape, the landscape is dry. No moisture, she’s grown weary you see? An ashen emissary sent flying into a cacophony of language she doesn’t understand. These pale creatures stare at her with their disinterested eyes, staring over the disruption that she creates, she’s grown weary you see. Heavy tongue stuck stumped. She’s grown weary you see. (Figure screams into the open night air) Bring back my things. Do you hear me? Bring back my things, I want my things!

3rd Movement

This movement moves into an alley leading to a small white building (outside a narrow dilapidated janitor’s old toilet). This space creates a sense of captivity, of decline, being trapped and unable to move forward, juxtaposed with a feeling of having traveled far and for a long time (a literal interpretation of the audiences’ journey and a metaphoric passing of time for the figures).

Keep walking…the journey does not stop for her, all the time she is unsettled, unrooted, moved to a new place. She is compelled to move…sometimes run, I cannot catch up with myself; I cannot take all my things. I collect what my feet land on…I collect the earth under my feet. You must move with me.

I muttered and mumbled to myself in a way I imagined to be awkward in anyone where around to hear. I had no place. I sometimes sensed that I was revisiting spaces that I had been to before already alone, and with her. I had no way of knowing but there was something strangely familiar about these places. My feet felt a kind of warmth when they made contact with the earth and the gravel and the mud but still…I could not see.

4th Movement

The final space is trench-like; there are many nooks and alcoves in this space and the figures alternate between being up top amongst the audience to down below in the pit. This section represents emancipation from this girlfriend ‘other’: this is the nature of this relationship as girlfriend subjectivity fluctuates between states of claim and abjection of union and hysteria.

I find her, after searching, I find her.

She will not leave me now.

I find her haggard, tired…fire!

What has she got to be angry about?

Has she suffered what I have suffered?

Has she held up a mirror to find no one there?

Is she not the deserter?

Does she suffer what I suffer?

I cannot care, I will not care.

She had promised refuge, security and then nothing.

It is settled then.

I will live in her!

She holds my language and home in her.

I will live in her.

She must avail herself.

The time for court is over, I will live in her!

I will set up home in her.

Bring me my things.

Build with me.

The time for journeying is over.

I will live in you.

You have been reified.

I can see and I can see you.

Edifice, holder of my place.

Edifice, container of my thoughts, dreams, memories.

Reason for my nostalgia.

I will live in you and you in me.

Do you hear me?

© Alude Mahali and Injairu Kulundu. All rights reserved.

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