PODIUM DEFLUX: WORK THIS EARTH PERFORMANCE ON HUMAN RIGHTS DAY

Hannah van de Stadt
Monday 5th December 2016

“KUNST IS EEN SLAGVELD WAAROP WE KUNNEN STRIJDEN VOOR INDIVIDUELE VRIJHEID”

Op 10 december, tijdens de Internationale Dag van de Rechten van de Mens, presenteert de Zaanse stichting White Cube ‘Global Videos’. Op 10 locaties verspreid over de hele wereld wordt op hetzelfde tijdstip videokunst van 40 internationale kunstenaars vertoond met als thema ‘mensenrechten’.

In Nederland is het Zaanse Podium de Flux de thuisbasis van Global Videos.
De openingsperformance van Global Videos wordt gehouden door Eca Eps. In Nigeria is het ten strengste verboden en daardoor ook praktisch onmogelijk om te demonstreren voor LHBT-rechten (=gelijke homo-rechten). Om toch voor hun rechten op te kunnen komen, heeft de Nigeriaanse kunstenares aarde meegenomen uit Nigeria. Op deze aarde zal ze in haar performance `Marching on Nigerian Soil` alsnog demonstreren voor gelijke rechten.

Mensen die zich in Nigeria bezighouden met protesten worden beschouwd als probleemmakers, die hard worden bestraft door de wetmakers en de politie. Door deze harde straffen waren er bijvoorbeeld geen protesten toen in 2014 een wet werd ingevoerd die homoseksualiteit bestraft met 14 jaar gevangenis. Protesteren wordt erg moeilijk gemaakt voor de gewone mens. Jelili Atiku, een vriend van Eca Eps, was bijvoorbeeld op een onmenselijke manier gearresteerd voor het protesteren tegen terrorisme. Buitenlands druk lijkt wel te werken met het stimuleren van verandering. Eca Eps hoopt de lokale politiek wakker te schudden door haar ideeën kenbaar te maken aan een internationaal publiek.

‘Kunst is een slagveld waarop we kunnen strijden voor individuele vrijheid’, laat Eca weten.
‘De westerse kunst heeft zich vooral gefocust op zijn eigen talenten. Ik denk dat een platform als Global Videos erg belangrijk is om kunstenaars van andere delen in de wereld een podium te geven, zodat we onze kunst kunnen delen met elkaar en een groter publiek. Op deze manier kunnen we samen pleiten voor vrijheid.’

Op dit moment heeft de kunstenares nog geen grote doelen gesteld voor haarzelf. In plaats van de wet te willen veranderen, legt ze liever de nadruk op het proces. ‘Vrijheid gaat niet altijd over de mogelijkheid om te kiezen tussen verschillende opties. Zoals filosoof Hannah Arendt zegt: ‘Vrijheid is de bekwaamheid om iets nieuws te starten en het vermogen om iets onverwachts te doen’.’

In 2017 gaat Eca met dit project op tournee. Ook zal dit project vertoond worden in de Engelse stad Birmingham. Naast dit project werkt ze ook aan andere projecten in samenwerking met Fireproof Library, een organisatie die zich inzet voor vrijheid van meningsuiting.

Kijk op www.podiumdeflux.nl voor meer informatie.
Interview door Hannah van de Stadt

Original Transcript

– You’re coming to The Netherlands to perform for the International day of Human rights. What do Human Rights mean to you?

Human rights has long been on the global agenda politically, economically and as a social policy but a new urgency has come to surround it due to the nature of our fast changing political sphere, climate change and major events in 2016 such as Brexit and the US elections. However, the way I look at it is not from the insular perspective that often dominates the culture industry, which is the insistence that the only threats to minority rights comes from a far-right nationalist front. While that may ring true, I also see the appointment of Saudi Arabia into the UN Human Rights council as a reminder that some of the greatest threats to women’s rights and freedoms have become so adept that even liberals struggle to identify them, and instead hone in on easier targets. It is my observation that activism in the west is gradually shifting away from the enlightenment values of universal human rights into a position based on arbitrary merits, which is a concern. I believe that art provides a battleground on which we can fight for freedoms individually.

– What does it mean to you to make a part of Global Videos?

Since the art cannon of the West has largely focused on its home-grown talents, I think that a platform such as Global Videos is very crucial in enabling artists from other parts of the world to reach out to each other and the wider public to celebrate and advocate for universal concerns of equality, liberty and freedom of conscience and free expression.

– You’re bringing soil from Nigeria to the Netherlands, because they won’t allow you to protest in that country. Have you experienced any difficulties with protesting the past?

Nigeria is a place of contradictions. On one hand, it is a place in which absolutely anything is possible, due to the sheer availability of cheap manual labour and excessive levels of corruption but at the same time, I am often in despair at the misfortune of holding a green passport, as many Nigerians would lament from time to time. Pursuits such as advocating for reproductive rights, gay rights, abolition of child marriage and Sharia law are considered to be the domain of troublemakers and society responds to them as such, which harsh punishments from the police and lawmakers. This explains why there were no protests on the ground following the passing of the law that criminalises homosexuality with 14 years in prison in 2014. Protests took place in Uganda and Kenya over similar laws, but so harsh is the Nigerian climate, that anyone who cared could only shout from their abodes in London and New York. My friend, Jelili Atiku was unlawfully arrested and detained in prison without trial for his performance against terrorism, despite his standing as a prominent figure. The risks to ordinary people who engage in similar protests are immeasurable. In the past intervention from the outside world has made a difference and so, engaging with an international audience about our local politics also has value.

– What is the exact message that you’re trying to give with this project? With your art, you’re trying to make a voice for the people that can’t express themselves. What do you hope to achieve with your protest?

At this point, I have not set myself any grand aims, such as a particular call to change the law, rather an emphasis on process. Freedom is not always only about being able to choose from a given set of options. Freedom can also be courage or action. As philosopher Hannah Arendt put it, freedom is the capacity to start something new and the ability to do something unexpected.

I’m not sure if I’m trying to give a voice to others because that would presume I know what they want, but I certainly want to engage with the politics of today and perhaps people, at home or abroad may find aspects that they can resonate with or even stand in opposition to. I think the value of the work lies in that moment where audiences come to witness it and respond to it, irrespective of the type of response it provokes.

– Is “Marching on Nigerian Soil” the only project you’re working on right now?

This project will be available for touring through 2017 and it is due to show in Birmingham in the UK. I am also working on other projects with Fireproof Library where we look at processes of public engagement through art and literature as responses to censorship and blasphemy laws.