Star-Studded Performa Gala Offers Moving Tribute to South Africa
Athi-Patra Ruga debuted a new performance.
On November 1, guests crowded into the Altman Building on 18th Street. The evening was inspired by the visual and performing arts of South Africa, where Performa director and chief curator RoseLee Goldberg was born. (The upcoming Performa 17 will focus on South Africa, Kenya, Senegal, and Morocco.)
Curator, museum director, and writer Okwui Enwezor, the man behind Documenta 11 in 2002 and the 56th Venice Biennial in 2015, was the night’s honoree.
“I fell into the art world by accident,” Enwezor said as he accepted his award, “and it was a very happy accident. I went into the art world because I wanted to construct an intellectual and cultural biography. It was possible to use that to create an emotional geography.”
Richard Chang, Wendy Fisher, Rashid Johnson, Toby Devan Lewis, Shirin Neshat, Cindy Sherman, and Greenberg Rohatyn served as the evening’s co-chairs. Other guests included gallerist Jeffrey Deitch, artists Juliana Huxtable, Derrick Adams, and Carrie Mae Weems, and MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach.
The evening’s highlight was Over the Rainbow, a rousing performance from South African artist Athi-Patra Ruga that began with a cocktail hour procession in from the street and continued throughout the evening. Following dinner, Ruga, who participated in Performa 11, donned a shimmering gold robe and sparkling headdress under the guise of Versatile Queen Ivy, a new character created by the artist, and he led a group of singers dressed in white in song.
The music, which featured Cape Town-based musician Angel-Ho and New York-based South African jazz vocalist Vuyo Sotashe, grew in volume as the performance went on, with Versatile Queen Ivy’s dancing becoming more emphatic until he left the stage, leading a procession around the room.
The work’s title is a reference to Desmond Tutu’s description of post-apartheid South Africa as a rainbow nation. The work reflected that sense of hope, the performers raising their fists and lifting their eyes to the heavens while singing Enoch Sontonga’s South African national anthem.
The political spirit ran through the evening, with place mats provided by Eric Gottesman and Hank Willis Thomas’s For Freedoms, the super PAC for artists, that gave guests the opportunity to reflect on and write down what freedom meant to them.
Downstairs, For Freedoms staged a balloon-filled photo booth, with a backdrop of American flags and a selection of patriotic props, including creepy Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton masks. Tipsy from spicy melon-cardamom cocktails from Casa Dragones Tequila, the crowd posed for photographs late into the night.
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