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May 04, 2023 · Anik Fournier

Devika Chotoe with Anne Jesuina and Paula Montecinos

“These places of possibility within ourselves are dark, because they are ancient and hidden: they have survived and grown strong through that darkness. Within these deep places, each one of us holds an incredible reserve of creativity and power, of unexamined and unrecorded emotion and feeling. The woman’s place of power within each of us is neither white nor surface: it is dark, it is ancient and it is deep” (Audre Lorde)

Within the context of her fellowship at If I Can’t Dance, Devika was invited to intervene into artist patricia kaersenhout’s exhibition The Third Dimension at CBK Zuidoost. The exhibition consists of a selection of beautifully executed series of work, in a range of media and spanning several decades. The show highlight’s kaersenhout’s relentless commitment to retrieving forgotten and erased stories, showing how the bodies and lives of black women have been rendered invisible, or conversely, eroticised, in official histories and representations. Kaersenhout’s work reassembles existing images, materials and narratives, stitching and puzzling them into new imaginaries and narratives that reveal how history is malleable; it can be reformalized and rewritten so as to revisit the past in order to reconfigure understandings of the present.
In the exhibition space of The Third Dimension, Devika’s intervention, Forthcoming (Not Yet Here, But Always Been There), moved these charged questions to the site of the body, where histories of colonialism and slavery remain in the form of embodied archives within diasporic communities. With her background in dance, choreography and writing, Devika invited performance artist Anne Jesuina and choreographer and sound artist Paula Montecinos to create a space where their own stories, struggles and desires could be shared. For this, they darkened the exhibition space so that the images and narratives already present in kaersenhout’s exhibition became ghostly figures that conversed with the stories and soundscape of the performing bodies; bodies that carry ancestral histories directly tied to colonialism and migrant labour.

Darkness for Devika is not a negative state. Rather, inspired by the words of Audre Lorde, darkness is a site of empowerment and creativity. Throughout her practice Devika strives to tap into such dark places in order to find the strength to encounter and find a vocabulary to articulate the complexities of her ancestors travelling across the deep sea to the Caribbean as replacements for the formerly enslaved, people of the past for whom, in her words, she is the living future horizon. Darkness allows the audience to follow this quest, as well as, a set of different identity struggles shared by Anne, by taking away the visual and opening up auditory and affectual registers that are more immediately connected to the imagination.

The depreciation of the visual realm together with the powerful soundscape created in live-time by Paula situates the audience in Forthcoming (Not Yet Here, But Always Been There) as co-creators and co-interlocutors of the shared moment. Sitting in clusters like islands around which Devika and Anne continually move in, out, and between, the visitors find themselves immersed in a shifting landscape: from the sea shores of India, to the belly of a sinking slave ship, to protests in Brazil and the Netherlands, sound allows time to break away from a fixed linearity, instead inscribing the past and present into feedback loops. A call-and-response structure permeates the piece: Devika, Anne and Paula’s intergenerational response to kaersenhout’s body of work; Anna and Devika’s calling out into the depths of darkness in search of answers about their ancestral pasts; and the opening-up and handing over of questions about the systemic violence of colonialism, patriarchy and modernity to the audience to sit with and to respond to in turn and in time. Such questions, as kaersenhout pointed out, in her response as an audience member of the performance, are slow to yield answers and change. Yet, as the title of the performance makes clear, other possible narratives and worlds are nevertheless latent, palpable and in the making.

In the following interview, I ask Devika, Anne and Paula to share their thoughts on three aspects of Forthcoming (Not Yet Here, But Always Been There): its fore-fronting of a non-linear concept of time and history; what darkness means to them; and how the call-and-response structure functions throughout the piece. Along-side the interview are a glimpse into the rich audio registers of the piece.