Wildabout met up with London based dancer Zinzi Minott ahead of her new solo dance piece What Kind of Slave Would I be? (WKOSWIB – pronounced nWIK-uooh-IB?), taking place at Rich Mix on the 22nd of April 2017.
Wildabout: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Zinzi: My name is Zinzi Minott, I’m a dancer, I make dance work, art work, rarely objects, sometimes sound, sometimes film, general medlar.
Wildabout: Who do you make your work for?
Zinzi: I think ultimately I make art for myself first and foremost because anything that I’m making is coming from a problem I have and that I need to solve and I’m trying to solve. If it’s not a solution then I’m trying to agitate the conversation. That comes from a desire to see or do something that I don’t see there, or to contribute my voice to a conversation that is already happening. I made a piece a few years ago called ‘Gift to my little brother’. It is a piece for my little brother but it’s about my relationship to him and my fears for him as well as Black men. I think that piece was about me trying to give some testimony to those feelings and to occupy a space about the relationship between Black women and Black boys and Black men. That’s maybe the conversation I was trying to agitate with the emotions I had.
“It’s not a historical problem, we all very clearly live in the consequences of slavery, it’s just a statement of fact. Yet we always find ourselves negotiating that question.”
Wildabout: Can you tell us a bit more about the piece you’re currently working on What Kind of Slave Would I be?
Zinzi: I started working on this piece in 2014 so it’s quite old in some ways. I was in the National Portrait Gallery, looking at the Tudor portraits. I’ve always liked Tudors, I just had this sudden and intense feeling of realising what my position is in that time. I thought to myself, I would have been a slave at that time. I started to think what type of slave would I be? and I actually left the exhibition… and I just started writing. I started writing all the different types of slaves that I could be, what I would have done. In my head I wanted to be a revolutionary and burn down the sugar cane but actually realise so many people wouldn’t’ve been that. Most people would have been just surviving and just picking cotton, just cutting cane. Also realising the hierarchies, I’m dark-skin I wouldn’t’ve been in the house, I would have been outside. Maybe I wouldn’t even got off the boat, maybe I jumped off, you know? And it’s a bad taste, it’s a nauseating thing to think that. It made me recognise how much of a current issue this is. It’s not a historical problem, we all very clearly live in the consequences of slavery, it’s just a statement of fact. Yet we always find ourselves negotiating that question. After that I started building a piece, I had this piece of writing at the back of my diary and I started approaching different people, this is what I want to do, this is what I need to do, will you help me?
Going back to your question “who do you make your work for?” the piece comes out of wanting to agitate that conversation for other people, for sure. But this piece comes out from a real feeling, something I need to resolve that’s why I didn’t change the name although I recognise that it is intense. In a way its to keep me anchored in the piece and remember that day and that moment, and all the other moments in life you realise what this thing called race is, how it’s working on your life and how it’s worked on lives before you. I think that’s where the piece came from. I developed some partnerships with LADA and Rich Mix, Dance Research Space, working with Lee Anderson, Jackie Landsley, and then my two producers Claire Sivier and Tian Glasgow, and built a team around the work. I want to keep that conversation current. The piece is about trying to stay connected to a history that is real and trying to stop what I keep calling a ‘grass skirt, flexed foot’ kind of representation of blackness and ‘Africanness’. I say ‘Africanness’ intentionally because in this example I feel that Africa is seen as a country, we all know that means nothing. This is my issue right now, 2017, in London with my rucksack and my black tracksuit. This isn’t their problem then. I also want to participate in that millennial conversation about blackness that is happening everywhere.
Wildabout: Dealing with a very white-washed history, how do you place yourself in that?
Zinzi: It’s not so much how do you place yourself in it because you are in it. It’s more about saying how do I live with that, how do I process that. I think one of the important things about that question ‘What kind of slave would I be?’, is that I wouldn’t have been a slave alone. I would have had a slave master. That’s important because it’s also ‘What kind of slave master would you have been?’ People need to own that history and get on top of it. People have been able to connect themselves to white aristocrats that would have been slave owners. I have a French surname. I’m not French. The idea that this is something we have to fight to have a conversation about and even to place ourselves. Every time I write my name I’m literally being reminded that my people were enslaved. And I think I want the gravity and the weight of that to sit in public. Let’s have this out because if you can feel nauseated and sick and moved by it then maybe we’ll be at the beginning of a solution. Until people can sit with that, there’s no way.Then it’s just talking about diversity, that’s a game. I’m not interested in that.
Get your tickets for WKOSWIB here: https://www.richmix.org.uk/events/dance/what-kind-slave-would-i-be
Don’t miss WKOSWIB Dance workshops and a Roundtable Discussion on Sunday 23rd April, more information here: https://www.richmix.org.uk/events/dance/what-kind-slave-would-i-be-workshops
Follow Zinzi Minott’s work:
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