“When I go home [to Zimbabwe], and now I go more and more…they know how to punk it out,” said Nora Chipaumire. #PUNK, her latest work, commissioned and presented as part of “Crossing the Line Festival,” conceived and directed by Chipaumire, ran to sold out audiences (Sept. 14 and 15) at the French Institute Alliance Française’s Tinker Auditorium. Like many of her works, #PUNK, performed with “committed corroborator” Shamar Watt, was an all-encompassing experience for all bodies present. She insists that everybody in the space is a participant, and that each participant will get what they give to the experience. So true.
With no time to spare, in Adidas running suits and sneakers, Chipaumire and Watt greet the audience, and before their punk concert begins, without direction, a mosh pit organically forms around the small “performance” space. There were places to stand above, below and on the sides of the stage, where two lone standing mics were poised. Before long, Chipaumire and Watt went onstage and she began a slammin’ playlist, blending music and text on a computer. Really close to his mic, Watt declared, “Ladies and gentlemen… this is an introduction…” and what followed was Chipaumire’s full-blown punk concert informed by “…the 1970s independent music Americana,” hosted by her wildly confrontational Patti Smith character.
FIAF offered audience members earplugs before they entered the auditorium because folks thought it was too loud on opening night. But with or without earplugs, the music was bold and loud, and so too were Chipaumire and Watt, two friends telling charged stores at the highest voltage possible. And although the level in the mosh pit quieted the room because the story intoned religiosity, racism and other truths, they did not adjust the temperature of their delivery. Shoulders shrugged as an arm was placed overhead and the other straight to the side when Chipaumire said, “God Save the Queen,” or they’d violently bob their heads and scream “…smashing my brain in,” and then dance a “Negro or Shona style dance.” Or, hugged up on her mic, walking back-and-forth, sweat pouring down her face and her bra-covered torso, Chipaumire told a story about when she was walking down a street in New York, “…minding [her] business…” when someone demanded that she “…go back to Africa.” Flashing a snide smile, she taunted, “Watch me go back.” And other times when Chipaumire and Watt covered all possible spaces with movement, a knowing look and smile indicated go, and soon their bodies took on a special pulse, sometimes prompted by the crowd. “Punk it out!” they screamed. “Shona-style,” is an option, they reminded us—be free. And, if the mosh pit crowd wanted to, they followed when Chipaumire and Watt directed them to learn the “King Kong” or “I-Threes dance” (of Bob Marley and the Wailers). Thankfully there will be more because #PUNK is the first part of a
triptych of works.