by Marie Yan
Unsure of where to look towards, the audience stands outside of the concrete grey, brutalist architecture of the University of Cologne. A large tree hovering over us. The banners announcing the African Futures All Around programme hanging at the fences behind it. The intermittent bells of bicycles passing us by.
When Zora Snake appears, it is with slow steps that differentiate him from the agitation of our expectancy, despite our standing still.
He is wearing a lose brown outfit, cut in a thick fabric and carries a baton with a plume that he shakes in the air. He stops in front of one of the members of the audience and brushes him with the plume, holding up his gaze. To which the uncertain audience member answers with a rapid bow of the head.
The man happens to be the head of the cultural programme of the Humboldt Forum in Berlin. An institution who possesses a large amount of artworks looted or acquired under colonial rule and has been the object of a boycott. The topic of this afternoon’s dialogFORUM discussion, of which this performance is the opening, is: «Recognise, restitute, repair», making this moment where Zora Snake, Black performance artist and choreographer from Cameroon, having worked for years on the damages caused by colonisation and Jan Linders, white German representative of a neocolonial institution, becomes immediately a scène of its own. Which I receive from a place of having worked in and experienced that institution. The performance rips open with genius the power plays that traverse two individuals and, I learn later, at the time where they had in fact gotten acquainted and were discussing the commission of a new piece.
Zora Snake continues by kneeling down on a mat and placing in front of him a wooden statuette representing a pregnant figure with its arms raised. After pouring water over it, he takes off his outfit to reveal a black office suit underneath. Then dips his hand in a bowl of clay that he uses to cover his face, his mouth, exaggerating his features and building a grotesque double chin. When he is done, his body twitches as if trying to expel something. A soft «oh» grows, that transforms into a word: «capitalism».
The tone is set for the panel that is about to take place. We are going to grapple with what mechanisms of domination do to the realm of the sensitive and how to look at them with clarity, hoping we too, can find the means to expel them from our common bodies.
Zora Snake furthers transform his face into another one, with tape and thread, attaching branches and feathers to it, becoming a creature that leads us to the hall of the university, before disappearing. We now step alone into an amphitheatre where the speakers are being set up. Dr. Ndongo Samba Sylla, Director of the africologneDIALOGFORUM, proceeds to the introductions. We then embark on a panel and discussion whose density will bring us to run over time by at least an hour and whose energy I will now attempt to relate.