Repetition as Performance Art – Ayana Evans
Repetition is at the base of much of my creative process. As a painter, I repeatedly ripped pieces of paper and paper-mâchéd them to create abstract masks that I decorated and hung on walls en masse. The strength of this work lay in the visual representation of the effort it took to create the installation—the obvious repetition it required to fill the wall. As a performance artist, I use repetition by pushing my body through mundane repetitive actions, such as being fed repeatedly without a bathroom break, or walking in a tight neon body suit for hours at an art opening that either I was not invited to or at which I am the only person of color in attendance, and then repeating that task in over ten locations. I use repetition to give gravity to the political issues of race and class, or the personal stories of love and loss I am unearthing in my work. If my story was funny to the audience at first, maybe it won’t be so funny after five hours of pain. I always perform in high heels to add more weight to these tasks and to feminize them. In that sense, repetition for me is a gendered activity, much like washing dishes or folding laundry. Ultimately, I use repetition because I am attempting to add weight to the topic of the work, to reach a meditative flow in the process of making the work, to cathartically work through/release emotional pain, and to boldly mark territory for myself and for others who identify with my work.
I believe my piece, Stay With Me, illustrates this part of my practice more than any other task I perform. For Stay With Me, I complete two to three hours of jumping jacks and aerobic high kicks while wearing heels, full make-up, and a gown. Thus far, I have repeated this piece three times. Each production is slightly different in tone and in environment. For me, these shifts make the project worth repeating again and again. The bodily pain of Stay With Me is a metaphor for many of the socio-political issues I deal with as a Black woman in America. I also see it as a reflection of how it feels to try to “make it” in the art world. And last, but not least, it is a metaphor for my love life, in which I feel I am constantly jumping through hoops for a man. Expectations of beauty and looking good under pressure are all explored in this piece. The slight joke of it all is that with all this repetition and heavy content, I don’t expect an audience member to truly stay with me. The title is a challenge to an action that will be hard to keep, yet never as hard as it is to do jumping jacks for over two hours.
At the same time, jumping jacks are a simple exercise that most people have done, so they know how it feels. This allows the audience to imagine how it feels when the repetition of jumping jacks and high kicks is multiplied by hours of work. Suddenly, this project goes from being lighthearted and humorous, to being heavy and burdensome. The audience watches me conquer the task and become slightly broken by it. The encouragement and excitement at the completion of this task is brought to a peak because of the exaggerated use of repetition in this work. Repetition allows this to become my most serious work.
This piece was last performed in May at Five Myles Gallery in Brooklyn, NY for “#BlackGirlLit: Between Literature, Performance & Memory,” curated by Dell Hamilton and hosted by Hanne Tierney, who was also one of the performers that evening. Nana Yaw Yeboah was the filmmaker who captured the magic of this event. More on my work can be viewed at www.ayanaevans.com.
Ayana Evans is an NYC-based artist. She frequently visits her hometown of Chicago, whose Midwestern and sometimes controversial reputation is a major influence on her art. Evans received her MFA in painting from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University and her BA in Visual Arts from Brown University. She has attended the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture and the Vermont Studio Center. In 2014, Evans co-founded and began organizational/curatorial work with the art collective Social Health Performance Club. In 2015, she received the Jerome Foundation’s Theater and Travel & Study Grant for artistic research abroad and was invited to participate in the 2016 residency Office Hours at El Museo Del Barrio in NYC, which she is currently completing. Evans’s most noted performances include: “Operation Catsuit” and “I Just Came Here to Find a Husband,” which are both ongoing public interventions; “Thoughts on Rape: Artists Respond to After Midnight by SHPC,” Queens Museum, NYC; “Frying Chicken,” a video collaboration with David Ian Griess; “Stopping Traffic,” Gallery Sensei & El Museo del Barrio, NYC; “Monetize Performance Art,” Panoply Performance Laboratory, Brooklyn; “Parasol” a video collaboration with Zina Saro-Wiwa currently on view at Tiwani Contemporary in London; “Stay With Me,” “#BlackGirlLit,” Five Myles Gallery, Brooklyn; and “Performing the SAT: a free tutoring project,” Jamaica Flux, Queens. Additionally, Evans is an artist contributor for www.gallerinadiaries.com and runs www.ijustcameheretofindahusband.com.
A self-taught filmmaker, Nana Yaw Yeboah creates film that comes from the heart. He often chooses to work on projects that push the boundary of creativity while challenging his audience to ask questions and look at humanity with a critical eye. Digging deep into the stories he tells reveals his ability to capture emotion, find truth, and create narratives that not only entertain, but also teach life lessons.
As a Ghanaian filmmaker, he is especially drawn to stories that are important to Africans and people of the African diaspora. Yeboah isn’t interested in producing films for the sake of pleasing the masses. He’s a true artist and rather creates films with substance and value that he believes will stand the test of time.
He’s worked on several documentary projects including series that covered issues on women’s health and environmental change. He’s also directed and produced projects for various NGOs.
He gained notoriety a few years ago with his award-winning short film, Frank’s Tin Car, which captured the attention of film festivals around the world. Most recently, his film The Itch has also gained recognition for highlighting an issue that plagues many societies worldwide: corruption.
Currently working on a documentary that focuses on music from Africa, he continues to formulate ideas for other projects he will be directing or collaborating on. Yeboah also shares his thoughts on being a writer, director and the challenges and successes of filmmaking on his website. Learn more about him at www.nanayawyeboah.com.