Current Institutional Affiliation
Professor, Fine Art, Rhodes University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2004
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, Harvard University
Escorting the Object: Performance and its Encore in Zambian Art

Despite economic decline, Zambians are enjoying an upsurge of organized performances. More and more rituals and dances are being turned into annual ceremonies as if in competition with each other on a socio-political stage. The national government packages these ceremonies as a tourist hook, yet a foreign audience is virtually non-existent. In this project I seek to understand this growth of performance and hypothesize that while it appears to be linked to governmental fiscal goals, it reflects local understandings of the performance of governance that have historical roots in both migration and trade. I will use two major annual ceremonies-the Mutomboko Ceremony and the Ukusefya pa Ng'wena-as a springboard to examine different genres of performance in Zambia such as ritual, dance, music and role-playing as performed in ceremonies, funerals, masquerades, and initiations. I compare three regions: Luapula Province where the Lunda-Kazembe Mutomboko Ceremony takes place; Northern Province, the home of the Bemba Ukusefya pa Ng'wena; and Lusaka where contemporary artists are involved in performance art. No comprehensive art historical study has been conducted in any of these regions, and both the Lunda-Kazembe and the Bemba have erroneously been stereotyped as having no artistic tradition. In this comparison of both regions and modes of performance I will explore the relationship between performance and both durable and ephemeral art objects. I suggest that, in Zambia, performance escorts the object rather than declaring its death, and that this interconnection between art forms challenges Western disciplinary boundaries and art historical theories of performance. I will raise questions regarding local meanings and effects of performances as they interact with artistic and ritual objects that mediate between the cultural and the aesthetic, and between traditional and contemporary art.