n De Arte - Slow rhythm with Nomsa Dhlamini in Steven Cohen's : research

Volume 2015, Issue 92
  • ISSN : 0004-3389
This article is unavailable for purchase outside of Africa



Nomsa Dhlamini is variously a Swazi-born nonagenarian, performance artist Steven Cohen's frequent collaborator and 'muse', his childhood 'nanny' and his family's former domestic worker. (2012) is the most recent of Steven Cohen's performances with Dhlamini, where, in four parts, the two characters walk (slowly) and talk (inaudibly) through a series of choreographed tableaux vivants that relate Cohen's story of human evolution, innovation and exploitation through and with a person with whom he demonstrably has a deeply emotional and surrogate maternal relationship. I focus in this article on the presence and participation of Dhlamini in a number of Cohen's other performances, and suggest how Cohen extends what may be called his self-othered representational strategies, which I demonstrate as being consistent in his performance work, to accentuate the fetishism of the figure of a black domestic worker and 'nanny'. Drawing on Mulvey's discussion of cultural, scopic fetishes, I suggest how Cohen acts out, with Dhlamini, the traumatic history of this fetish in ways that speak specifically to a South African context. I interpret this as playing out in two representational languages within the work. I frame the first 'language' by examining the critical response that repeatedly evokes Sarah Baartman as an apt analogy for Dhlamini, considering ways in which art practitioners and cultural commentators have drawn attention to Cohen's allegorising from repertoires of ethnographic, colonial and apartheid representations of black African women. I also examine briefly work by other practitioners, dancer-choreographer Nelisiwe Xaba and artist Penny Siopis. I then suggest that an emergent alternative to this fetishised analogy is expressed in the somatic rhythms, and in the choreographic and proprioceptive time that are created between the two performers.

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


Article metrics loading...


This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was a Success
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error