“Our meeting was full of chance and sparks”: An interview with Marilú Mapengo Námoda and Teresa Vittucci
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Mozambican performance artist and activist Marilú Mapengo Námoda and Swiss choreographer and dancer Teresa Vittucci share reflections from their fortuitous meeting in Maputo, Mozambique in 2019 and their experience working together and exploring vulnerability and agency in the very different contexts of Maputo and Kaserne Basel, Switzerland where they reunited in late 2020 to continue their collaboration. With a shared interest in critical feminist practice and interrogating gender and body politics, the work-in-progress piece that the artists created – EMERGENCIES – expresses the urgency for rebelling against structural systems of suppression.
How did you meet and what piqued your interest in working together?
Marilú: Meeting Teresa was a beautiful synchronicity event. I heard about her work in 2018 with Quito Tembe who is the KINANI Festival Director. He was mesmerized by it and found similarities in the way we both relate to our bodies in our works. When Teresa finally came to participate at KINANI Festival in 2019 after a few words the identification was quite immediate, at the time I positioned myself as feminist as well so there was a lot to share. But the collaboration happened very spontaneously, we have never really thought about working together. What happened is, we were in the middle of the Festival and Quito had offered Teresa a slot at Quarto Andar – 4th floor – to try out something new, to experiment and when she shared her idea for this improvisation with me I simple realized that it was the same idea I had one month ago! Hahahah… How rare, no? So yah, of course we grabbed the chance!
Teresa: Our meeting and coming together was full of chance and sparks. I was invited to perform my work ALL EYES ON at KINANI festival in Maputo. Quito Tembe, the festival director, told me about a great artist that I should definitely meet. We were both going to perform at Quatro Andar – 4th floor, a site specific performance festival in the frame of KINANI, and Quito thought that maybe we can take a look at each other’s works and share feedback with each other. I knew that this performance would have to be improvised to a big extent, because I had no idea what kind of “site” this site specific place would be. When I saw the place, a raw and very rough skeleton of an unfinished high-rise building, cement and metal everywhere, I knew that I wanted to do something that relates to a certain vulnerability and softness. I also knew, that I needed another performer for what I wanted to do. Marilú was performing in her own work, so I thought that was not an option. But when I told her what I wanted to do, we were both extremely surprised: Marilú had had the same idea! It was the kind of synchronicity that rings loud and clear. So we did it. And that is how our collaboration started.
Around what themes and points of interest did you find common ground within each other’s work?
Marilú: I think body politics is a common ground in our practices. And acknowledging this makes the conversation very interesting and complex because our bodies are socially located in very distinct places in regards to oppression and privileges. But indeed we both have a permanent reflection and self-healing process in regards to how our bodies are perceived and treated in this so-Westernized world.
Teresa: We share a deep interest in working with the body. I think for us both the body and our bodies specifically are a political space – and a place where, not only personal, but collective healing can happen. Of course, coming from very different backgrounds and positions, we work with our bodies differently, but there is also something very central in what we share. We both have roots in feminist thought and I think these roots nourish our work from below the surface – no matter if the work is explicitly “feminist” or not.
What was your experience working together in the very different contexts of Maputo and Basel?
Marlú: In Maputo it was serendipity, pure magic and audacity. I remember that we almost didn’t perform EMERGENCIES because I was also performing my solo “Mama is killing the power” in the same building while having only 15min in between and both performances had to happen twice in the same day. I mean, that’s the Quarto Andar – 4th floor- proposal. Technically it was not reasonable for me to do it and the Festival actually gave us a “NO” but, you know, it was a real emergency for us hahahah… Quito ended up being very flexible and open to deal with the chaos we somehow created – Thank youuuuu Quito! While in Basel it was all about vulnerability, healing and trust! There are many layers of this experience but there we had to face Race as one of the political aspects the piece may trigger in the audience. So, Teresa and I had a beautiful conversation about how we both relate to that in regard to this layer in the performance and there became clear that our intention with EMERGENCIES is to touch on something that goes way beyond the historic racial problematics that our bodies particularly while positioned in front of one another encompass. But actually, although the experiences were so different we almost didn’t perform in Basel as well!!! Maybe it’s time to change the performance’s title hahaha… and again, it was only possible thanks to a space of vulnerability and trust that was generated in the process. I hold a lot gratitude towards Sandro, Hannah and the whole Kaserne team for that!
Teresa: The experience of working in Maputo and in Basel was different in every way imaginable. In Maputo our collaboration was a beautiful coincidence out of which a powerful connection grew. We didn’t know each other, or anything about the fact that we would work together, before we started – and after we finished we had moved and had been moved together. Suddenly there was trust, friendship, collaboration and love between us. In Basel we met for the second time. We made the decision to work together again met again. This time in a completely different context: Switzerland. This change of context, together with the newly affirmed decision to continue working together, changed the work already in itself. The work with our bodies – that have both been inscribed, that carry wounds, that experience categorization and violence in how they are perceived – resonates differently in western Europe at a time where structural racism is just starting to be addressed. Our work, which had a lot to do with softness, vulnerability and agency within that in Maputo, became almost like a declaration.
What was the impetus for Emergencies and how has the piece evolved during each stage of the collaboration?
Marilú: Well, the work is still in process, still evolving and it’s kind of hard to grab now what it is becoming but when I first thought about the piece, I was immersed in a kind of hopeless and powerless feeling in relation to the world’s state. And I ended up finding peace in the possibility of (re) connecting with the small and beautiful gestures. I am now realizing that Teresa’s impetus is a great metaphor for the state of the world as well but she is the best to share about it.
Teresa: The work evolves as the two of us evolve, grow and change. In a way the EMERGENCIES itself did not change that much in its form. But we, who we are the emergencies within the EMERGENCIES changed and keep changing. For me the beginning of the work was about contrasting the gruesome state of the word by deliberately choosing to make oneself vulnerable – which, of course, is a very powerful position. That is still very much in the work for me today, but I think vulnerability as subversive strategy is somehow more established in my thinking and work today and is more a political tool, rather than just a personal strategy, for me.
What do you think you gained from working with each other?
Marilú: Ah, that’s hard to capture! There are infinite subtle things that emerge from such a powerful meeting, infinite… hmmm but maybe I can emphasize on how important it was for me to see her performing ALL EYES ON in Maputo. Nothing could prepare me for the moment that for the first time I witnessed a piece were a body perceived as woman was presented just as it came to life or what the West refers to as naked! Like, for me to present my body, myself, in my natural form in my practice is one of the ways in which my ancestrality claims to be expressed, is a way of (re) connecting and activating Bantu cosmogonies. But in fact I have never before Teresa’s seen another woman’s body on stage manipulating what I like to call the body’s power because it’s not common in Mozambique. So, seeing Teresa in ALL EYES ON brought me a kind of mirror experience that I may carry throughout my practice.
Teresa: Well, no words could make due to what Marilú and the work with her have meant to me. I have learnt and gained invaluable lessons on trust and care and vulnerability with her. She is an incredible artist – explosive in the most gentle, yet most powerful way. We´ve experienced a lot together in a very short time and I consider that time precious. Our shared practice and conversation have brought me a lot of joy and insight and beside all that: we´ve had much much fun together!