Interracial mumbo jumbo : Mpumelelo Paul Grootboom and Brett Bailey's theatre.
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This dissertation explores the use of the Black performing body in the works Cards (2002) and Relativity: Township Stories (2006) by Mpumelelo Paul Grootboom and, iMumbo Jumbo (1997) and Big Dada: The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin (2001) by Brett Bailey. With specific reference to the colonial gaze, this dissertation attempts to locate the disruptions (if any) of the colonial gaze in these playwright-director's theatre. The first chapter provides an overview of South African Theatre history. This chapter examines postcolonial performance theory with regards to the past and the present situation in South African theatre. Locating postcolonial performance theory with postcolonial theory discourses and looking specifically at South African theatre history. It looks specifically at the effects of colonialism, not only in terms of economic and political disempowerment but also in terms of the psychological internalisation of subject position and identity. It provides a theoretical basis, through which critical analyses of both Bailey and Grootboom's work will occur. The second chapter examines the colonial gaze and the Black performing body. Jonathan Schroeder (1998: 58) believes that the gaze signifies “a psychological relationship of power, in which the gazer is superior to the object of the gaze.” In postcolonial theatre, through the transient nature of the performance language, one of the foci of this chapter of the dissertation is on how or whether colonial subjectivity can be re-envisioned: the disruption of the colonial gaze. In order to disrupt the colonial gaze, it becomes vital that the performing body on stage (should) become a key site of resistance. Postcolonial performance (and theory) aims to challenge the colonial imposition of identity through the human body in order for there to be a fragmentation of subjectivity. Postcolonial performance theory desires an important and effective meaning, particularly in the notions of representations and identities. The third chapter examines the work of Brett Bailey using the following two particular texts/ case studies and analysing them: iMumbo Jumbo (1997) and Big Dada (2001), in an attempt to locate disruptions of the colonial gaze with regards to the Black performing body or to expose the exoticism within the use of such notions as savage, primitive, strange, violent that are attached to the Black performing body in his works. In iMumbo Jumbo (1997), with an emphasis on the exotic, the sangomas, the ritual (real and performative), Bailey does incorporate indigenous performance forms into his postcolonial and intercultural theatre – however does the integration of these indigenous performance forms into a new theatre aesthetic subvert the colonial gaze? Or, rather, does it feed into a colonial fascination with African exoticism. Big Dada (2001) is a play about the rise and fall of Idi Amin – a ruthless dictator in Uganda who, according to Peter Stearns and William Langer (2001: 1064), caused a genocide which left over 300 000 Ugandans dead . This play has both violence and the exotic as signifiers attached to the black bodies performing. The fourth chapter examines the works of Mpumelelo Paul Grootboom, focusing particularly on Cards (2002) and Relativity: Township Stories (2006). The analyses attempt to locate disruptions of the colonial gaze with regards to the Black performing body; or to expose the extreme violence and carnality that is attached to the Black performing body in his works. With regards to Cards (2002), the question asked is: does the use of the carnal, the raw, the sex, perpetuate a vicious cycle of colonial prejudices within South African audiences within what should be a postcolonial South African theatre arena? The colonised subject's body (in this case, the Black performer's body) has always been an “object of the coloniser's fascination and repulsion (and, in effect, possession) in sexual, pseudo-scientific and political terms” (Gilbert and Tompkins 1996: 203) (my italics). This chapter examines whether or not what is occurring in Grootboom's work/ theatre specifically is that the roles into which he has placed his Black performers are within racist discourses, “with perhaps even more emphasis on their supposed violence and sexuality” (Gilbert and Tompkins 1996: 208). This chapter seeks to interrogate whether or not Grootboom in casting the Other, the Black performing bodies, as corporeal, carnal, instinctual, raw... with his use of full nudity, simulated sex, simulated rapes, violence, explicit language, misogyny, obscenities, murder, drug use and religious rhetoric – has reintroduced colonial ideologies and stereotypes? Is his theatre 'black Black humour'? Reinforcing colonial ideologies of the savage? Or does Grootboom's theatre (unconsciously) aid the location of the (sometimes) nude, sexual, black performing body in the arena/ site of resistance in order to fracture the colonial gaze to further the aims of postcolonial theatre. Relativity: Township Stories (2006) is a brutal exposure of township life and the story revolves around a serial killer, the “G-String Strangler,” who is hunting down young women at night. The play traverses the bleaker and more desperate sides of human nature. As described by Robert Greig in The Sunday Independent (2005), Relativity is a panorama of extreme emotions and violence. However, does this perpetuation of the image of the Black as violent or attaching these signifiers of extreme violence challenge the colonial imposition of identity through the human body? Seeing the Black performing body being attached to notions of extreme violence begs to ask the question: Does this subvert the colonial gaze or does it feed into a stereotype of the violent, savage Black? This dissertation is to be read as an examination of both Brett Bailey and Mpumelelo Paul Grootboom's theatre and the motives for the use of the Back performing body on postcolonial South African theatre stages/ sites.