JEZEBEL by Cherish Menzo, Kiasma Theatre & Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine by Mette Edvardsen, Helsinki Kunsthalle, 12.11.2022
It wasn’t until the last minute that I got aware of the tricky program choices I made for that evening. Heading to Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine living book reading session just after the intense, hip-hop show of JEZEBEL felt like a challenging transition. Strong aesthetics and deep beats were still resonating in my body as I push the massive doors of Helsinki Kunsthalle and step into the thick silence of the lobby. My chosen book Silence will not protect you by Audre Lorde takes me into the exhibition hall, and, as we lean to the window frame, we immerse into the essay Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power and two poems.
It doesn’t happen so often that I have a feeling that something has chosen me, like at that very moment. Almost half a century apart, the conversation between Audre Lorde and Cherish Menzo sounded so urgent and relevant. Even more moving was the fact that this imaginary encounter happens in the shared space of two white women in Helsinki.
In these two works, two women of different generations and backgrounds address mechanisms of oppression and control over the female body, the black female body in particular. They both protest (hyper)sexualization and manipulation of the female image in a men-dominated society, and turn to powerful, sensuous self-consciousness as a response. Resisting the male gaze and its attempts of imposing exotic, objectifying and stereotypical frames happens through speaking up for oneself and owning one’s sensuousness to surface. Whether in 20th-century non-fiction literature or in the contemporary hip-hop industry, publicly reclaiming the body from the inside out is an empowering and genuinely seductive endeavor.
The warm presence of Sarah Ludi as the living book makes room for a unique and generous experience of the feminist texts. Her calm voice and relaxed posture articulate a deep commitment, yet spacious reading of Lorde’s ideology. As soft words land in my mind, I let my gaze wander toward the high white ceiling of Helsinki Kunsthalle, where it meets its echo. Just an hour before, I was sitting in the black box theatre in Kiasma, losing my sight in a deep blue stage filled with heavy smoke. Urban style appearance infused by stark allusions to “hip-hop honey” stereotypical black femininity evolves into energetic self-confirming performance.
It is not a coincidence that these two experiences feed associations for their cross-reading. They both affirm female existence as liminal to submissive and dangerous, inferior and powerful; both advocate self-recognition and fulfillment beyond rigid and numb gendered constellations. Overall, they articulate cross-generational voices to confront a tendency to instrumentalize and commodify womanhood within unjust and insensitive social dramaturgies.
Nina Vurdelja is a performance researcher and cultural worker of international background, based in Tampere. Her interests reside around more-than-human sensuous encounters and ecologies of being together. She has been doing Ph.D. studies at Tampere University, dwelling in meeting spaces between culture, art, and philosophy.