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Performance

The Entity of Water

Today is probably the last hot day of the year. Intense sunshine on an autumn week, and consequently, streets, parks and beaches are full of people. An unexpected gift. Everybody speaks louder, and there is a vibe of enthusiasm occupying the city's spaces. After lunch, I put my son to bed, and he falls asleep with a little resistance. So I leave home hurriedly, fearing to be delayed. With a small child time escapes my constant attempt to control it. I accept that. But I admit, sometimes domestic life consumes me. I walk fast, I run into some friends, but follow the direction indicated on the programme. Facing a totally crowded beach is Kajoli, attentively observing the turmoil of children and families. She is well made up, wearing a stunning dress. A traditional red and gold Bangladesh wedding dress. Everything around is so ordinary that it is impossible not to notice her. I approach and say something. She tells me it is the first time she sees the beach so crowded. She looks slightly confused and surprised, because she no longer knows whether the designated place for the performance is still going to be still suitable. I feel she doesn't realize that the performance has already started.

When I met Kajoli in 2016, she had very long hair. Every single hair contained countless stories. Stories she revealed gradually on each encounter. Last year she relinquished her hair during a performance. By doing so, the memories accumulated in that long hair, decades after decades, were chucked away. Kajoli is surely a person who likes to tell stories, although she has learned to remain silent. In fact she knows well the weight and pain of renunciation. I can imagine that Kajoli's hair was unbearably heavy. As heavy as the patriarchal narratives that insist on knocking her down. Perhaps the need to keep her head up lead to the decision to cut it. Her hair keeps on growing, but to this day she still cuts it. Occasionally, she plays with wigs and accessories. She seems to have fun with the possibility of having multiple faces. Now I can see better the beauty of her eyes.

Kajoli carefully walks on the rocks and chooses to stay close to the sea. Herself, the dress and the anchor. With her back to the horizon, she watches us. She doesn’t smile. The wind insists on untidying her, but she calmly aligns herself with the environment until a force field emerges around her. Standing, she holds an iron anchor, rusty from years of disuse. There is tension, the object certainly weighs over ten pounds. Heaviness, once again the heaviness. This time over her arms. Kajoli is not a big or corpulent woman, but with her 1,52m she holds her anchor with confidence and firmness. Her body remains still. Yes, she is telling us a fragment of her story: a woman, born in Bangladesh, an Asian country intersected by rivers and the sea. Of course, her preference to be close to water makes perfect sense. Kajoli was born into a extremely conservative community, where the power of choice and decision is mostly male. Women obey. If not they are retaliated against with all kinds of abuse and violence, whether moral, psychological, or even physical. From acid attacks to femicide. Due to political, cultural and religious barriers,

little is discussed about this bleak scenario. Like many other women, Kajoli was humiliated and suffered domestic violence, but courageously she did not obey the rule of silence. At this moment, the anchor weighs on her arms, yet she resists, standing firm. When she needs to rest, she just leans it on a rock, breathes deeply, then lifts it again in front of her chest. Her breath expresses the burden of the accumulation of all things imposed upon her. Or, what was rigorously denied her: her dignity.

Dignity. Integrity. Self-consciousness. Brio. The value of all priceless things, which cannot be bought or replaced. Qualities inherent in humans. Therefore completely inseparable from autonomy. The loss of dignity is the loss of oneself. Of one's own brightness. Of freedom. And so, it is heavy. It is extremely heavy. A load. Baggage. A burden. It has volume. It occupies the entire space. It is like gravity pulling you to the ground. It represents solidity. Consistency. Everything that is massive, that requires a tremendous effort, that causes embarrassment and shame. And exhaustion. It is arduous. Difficult. Laborious. It forces you to walk slowly. Sometimes it paralyses and sometimes it kills you. It causes tension and pain. It conquers. It is loaded. Full. Oppressive. An overload. It offends. Hurts. Destroys any trace of self love. It’s obscene. Rude. Indelicate. Violent. Of extreme violence. Difficult to digest. It provokes uneasiness for being indigestible. Poisonous. It is dense, so dense. And vast. The loss of integrity is emotionally devastating. It induces a guilt that isolates. It undoes dreams. It amputates. It weighs, it weighs too much. It is a kind of mutilation. The weight of all the things that anchor us down, that stop us from navigating and so on... Watching her adorned in her wedding dress and without her long hair, I feel the weight of her choices and her disobedience. The rupture. She didn't shut up, her image is an accus

I sit facing Kajoli. Some children come closer, some families interrupt their walks to gaze at her. We surround her. And we all observe her. She's almost static in her splendour, and the inevitable chaos of a hot afternoon on an extremely busy beach creates a curious and strange context. A contrast that unexpectedly makes even more visible the profound symbolism of her solitary and contemplative action. As time passes, it is possible to notice her effort involved in holding the anchor. She moves, changes the position of her arms, rests the object on the floor for a few seconds, and lifts it up again. As a Brazilian, I inevitably recognise in Kajoli, a kind of entity reminiscent of the Orishas of the Candomblé. Candomblé being a religion of African origin practiced in Brazil since slavery times. Back then, it was named the 'Batuque of Black People’ by the Portugueses colonisers, due to censorship imposed by the Catholic Church. A minority religion which up to these days continues to be misunderstood and persecuted by some Evangelic Churches. The word ‘Candomblé’ means dance or dance with ‘atabaques' (a type of drum), and the cult is addressed to forces of nature, personified in the form of sacred African ancestral figures, called ‘Orishas’, which means ‘light that is revealed’. Each Orisha is a point of energy in nature, each one having a particular symbolic system of colours, clothes, objects, food, music, dance, offerings, physical spaces and even time. There are numerous Orishas, but in Brazil

two of the most popular are Iemanjá, the Entity of Salt Waters, the Sea, the Ocean, and Oxum, the Entity of Sweet Waters, the Rivers, the Waterfalls and Lakes. Both feminine entities incorporate the virtue of water. Their power is purely Matriarchal. It is through their force that a boat can sail in calm water or safely pass through a storm, or an entire city be destroyed by a Tsunami. It is through their fury that torrential rains occur, that rivers rise in consequence and flood their surroundings. Or, when in equilibrium, it is by their generosity that water quenches our thirst, and soothes parched throats. They are part of out bodies as tears, sweat, saliva and urine. Witnessing Kajoli, I see a mixture of these savage energies: Iemanjá and Oxum combined. Both capable of lifting the anchor of their own destiny in the most turbulent situations.

Kajoli keeps watching us for over an hour. I step away and leave before the end of her action. Thus, there is no ending for me. I prefer to fantasise that the entity Kajoli will continue forever in that same place, standing with her head high, holding her anchor and resisting all the tempests.

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