For as long as I can remember, I’ve been performing | Buhlebezwe Siwani

Personally, the question is not “why theatre”, performance is the more pertinent word because it allows one to not pocket or define what it is that one does in such a linear way. I am also writing and responding to the question coming out of a performative background that was strengthened by the Fine Arts and Live Arts.

Performance and what it is, is ever changing. Depending on where I am in my life, performance continues to change. The type of performance might change, where I am might change, the type of work I am making, who I am making it for, what I am trying to communicate and where I am making it.

I have so many questions for myself thinking about performance, I even thought about how what I have written could perform itself using the many different ways performance artists have to answer interview questions. I began to interview myself, how I would, could articulate what I was asking myself without it being to respondent.

I wrote a text, take it how you will, as a poem, a monologue, speech, dialogue or engagement… Whatever it is that you will or you might imagine it is. It has been a conversation, which has plagued my innards for the large part of my life.

Long have you eluded me was the thought that ran rampant
Of course, the black body must monkey itself and is expected to
do so, when it no longer does this, it serves as an oddity, because
what do you look at, how do you begin to encounter the body that
is presented to you in a way that I myself have chosen.

What of the layers and the complexities that the body presents
Led to this place of work, willfully boxed, so you can see it the way
it wants you to, does this not change the view and the dynamic
Are you not performing the same way that this body in front of you performs?
The dynamic of power and manner of shift has shifted, or surely should.

This inner dialogue is the basis of why I have decided to make performance art. It is what has led me on this path. We all perform, objects perform and humans can change objects and their meaning using performance, making you believe that one thing is something completely different. For as long as I can remember, I have been performing. We come out of the womb crying, we arrive, and our mothers introduce us to performance.

So, what is my first active memory of performance, the memory that made me think that what I was doing was normal life for everyone? The one that stands out to me is, when I was around 5 years old, the kids in the neighbourhood reenacted a wedding, and I do not remember why I was the bride. What I do remember is that we, the children, were between the ages of three years old and 16 years old. We all played together when something was this big, there were costumes, we wore make-up, held a procession, we were children creating their own joy in a township during apartheid in South Africa. Not even two years later South Africa entered its democracy and the township changed in ways we could not see, but our performances and our dances changed, the music changed.

Again, why performance? Because it made me feel like I could breathe.

Buhlebezwe Siwani is a South African visual artist working in performance, photography, sculpture and installation. Within her work she interrogates the patriarchal framing of the black female body and experience. she is also founding member of the influential collective IQhiya, which was formed as an activist response to the lack of exhibition opportunity and the under-representation of black female artists.