World Without a Head

Sandarbh International Artist Residency, 2010
Partapur, India

World Without a Head: India was an evening length performance that involved over 300 villagers from Partapur, a remote Rajasthani village, and the surrounding area.  It speaks to the universal expectations of women and men and how alienating various gender roles can be.  This performance was directly inspired by the colors, people and sounds of India and how I felt there as a western women. I was welcomed with warmth and huge generosity, observed at times like a spectacle or circus attraction, or treated to undeserved privilege.

We installed a backlit scrim or backdrop spanning a local cricket field allowing audience members to see a parade of enlarged and distorted shadows of both me and different members of their own community. Later, the scrim would become my canvas.

My costume was constructed of colorful scraps of fabric by a local tailor.  It was both ridiculous and bird-like, highlighting my awkward sense of foreignness.  

Women and girls carrying locally crafted terra cotta candles circled the ground in a procession symbolizing how women are constantly embracing and supporting their family and community.  Five local women entered center stage to sing three devotional songs about Krishna and Radha.  As the women continued to circle with candles, I began to paint on the back of the scrim. Making marks that were somewhat disembodied by shadows.

The devotional Spring song to Krishna expresses: 

 May I stay with you every moment. In the months of the Spring, the swing will be swinging.   In the month of the monsoon, you will swing. I will be the rope and I will swing with you every moment. In the months of the oil lamps, you will be the light and I will be the wick that will burn willing to self destruct.  In the Monsoon, you will be the cloud and I will be the water...   

Throughout the performance, I added more color to the painting.  As the women finished their songs, the field shifted from being primarily women to almost entirely men.  Around twenty men performed the Gair Dance, a popular folk dance of Rajasthan.  It involves long sticks and repetitive sequence of steps set to drumming.  The dancers allowed me to rehearse this dance with them, however I never completely gained command of the choreography. I entered the dance, entered their tradition, boldly, clumsily, trying to assimilate and failing miserably.   

Throughout the Gair Dance, I re-emerged to dance with my long paintbrush.  As the music, drumming and dancing heightened, I began throwing whole buckets of paint, so that soon my painting resulted in variations of black and grey. The transition of the painting throughout the performance reflected the varying states of interaction not only between sexes, but also between cultures and how blurry, confusing and discordant they often become.

To view the full performance video click here

Enormous gratitude to the Sandarbh International  Artist Residency and the community of Partapur for welcoming me into their village and creating this performance with me.