Performance artist Jaamil Olawale Kosoko conjures themes of paranormal activity, loss and resurrection as he explores black identities through his work for the Brighton Festival.
Séancers (Nigeria/USA) is on Thursday, May 16 and Friday, May 17 at 8pm at the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts.
Jaamil, who lives between Philadelphia and New York, explained: “I was reading a book by Christina Sharpe called In the Wake: On Blackness and Being, and she is asking what does it mean to defend the black dead and dying, very specifically the black dead and dying, and I was trying to think what it means as we, as black people, are all pushing towards our own death. It was a proposal that was very provocative to me, the idea of being in a wake because I have had my own personal losses. I had lost my brother who was murdered and I had lost my father as well. There were these personal deaths, and then there are also the state-sanctioned murders that were happening all around in me in various parts of the States, deaths like Michael Brown (an 18-year-old African American man who was fatally shot by a 28-year-old Ferguson police officer on August 9 2014). I was thinking about these black people that were being essentially murdered by the police… these things that were very much in the news.
“I felt it was important to create a space to conceive essentially and to think about these losses and what the implications are that you carry with you, but also what the implications are in your every-day present, how we might go about disarming this space and thinking through it.”
Christina Sharpe’s answer was to talk about wake work: “Séancers is my way of doing wake work. We are all living in this wake, in this wake of slavery, the participation in the colonial project. There are all these ways that are linked. The privileges that exist in the western world are very much built on black people and on a lot of labour, specifically the American project.”
The aim is to find a proposal that produces and carries joy, Jaamil says: “It is about finding joy in the wake of such hard realities. It is about how we produce black joy in the midst of such trial and tribulation. It is about all these questions, about reckoning, about shifting through and finding a way. I am trying to be optimistic, but it is certainly not easy being optimistic. But I want to believe there is a way.
“And that became a point for departure for the show. It is not the show, but it is that backdrop to the show, the beginning of the conversation.”
The show’s Brighton Festival date is its first in England. The show premiered in December 2017. It has been to places including Montreal, Zurich, New York and Los Angeles... and now it has reached the UK.
“To be honest, I never thought that my work would travel as much as it has over the last few years.
“I am not making easily digestible performances, if you will. You don’t necessarily come to one of my shows expecting to come out feeling really good about the state of the world.
“With that understanding, I never anticipated international success.”
But the point is that Séancers deals with universal themes: “Loss is loss –no matter the creed or the colour or the nationality. We all have to experience tough emotions, and I think the more opportunities culturally to engage with that and for us to come together is good. Loss is something that you need the space to deal with in very private ways, but for me, I think it has been really important to my own healing to be in a conversation, to be in a community. I certainly feel it has expedited my feeling both in personal situations and also in a wider context.”
Tickets from Brighton Festival.