Marvelous Movie Mondays: Begging In Mushin Market

EPFC | March 26th, 2019

guest curator: Ariel Kavoussi

The theme for this month: “WHAT’S THE BODY GOT TO DO WITH IT?” This March, I will be selecting short film & video work that explore questions of the body.

For my fourth and final film/video work in this series, I’ve chosen a piece by up-and-coming visual and performance artist, Petra Szilagyi. It is entitled “Begging in Mushin Market.”

According to their Bio – “Szilagyi is an artist and student of the Super Natural. The product of a nomadic Afro-Caribbean/Hungarian, Petra has travelled from Japan, to Nigeria and many places in between, in a calling to seek the inexplicable, the unquantifiable and rich anti-structure spaces.” Szilagyi received their BA from Williams College and is current living in Richmond working on their Master’s degree in Sculpture from Virginia Commonwealth University.

I was lucky to be able to get the artist to answer a few questions regarding this performance:

AK: Can you give any context for the video work performed in West Africa? Why were you there? What motivated these performances?
PS: I went to Lagos, Nigeria in 2010 to stay with my uncle, a Nigerian architect who has been a strong proponent to the revivification of the Nigerian aesthetic in architecture and design. I was specifically looking for art forms that I would recognize as a black American: graffiti, hip hop, versions of afro-futurism that you might see throughout the diaspora. I didn’t find these things, but rather found a culturescape in deep conversation with its own distinct lineage and a relationship to the West completely unlike the one I as a black American would have. Furthermore, given the color of my skin, I was not only a cultural outsider but considered an Oyibo, or white person, so I was a racial outsider. This was rough; I had hoped to find a deeper sense of cultural identity and connection and found my sense of identity only further unravelling. Moreover, I began to fear that this visible cultural cleft between myself and the people I encountered could fracture deeper so that even basic human connection might seem impossible. I decided to beg as an act of desperation. A desperate attempt to get people to see me as something other than a Westerner and all of the implications that characterization might bring with it (wealth, imperialism, arrogance). I begged to invert the existing narrative of ‘Young American goes to Africa and imparts aid as a form of cultural and moral imperialism’. I begged to regain my dignity and to ask for a pardon for how my country exploits and mischaracterizes Nigeria (this performance took place after Nigeria was put on the terror watch list in 2010). I begged to recognize that what I truly sought- connection, meaning, heritage- I had flown across the Atlantic to ask for in Nigeria. I came to Nigeria because I needed, and so I asked and listened to the answers and felt enriched by both the generosity of offerings and declinations.

AK: Who was your videographer / did you have any creative partners in these performances? What was your relationship to these small towns?
PS: I worked with a brilliant, wonderful, incredible performance artist name Jelili Atiku. He is from Ejigbo, where a couple of my other performances took place and we collaborated on a number of pieces while I was there. After we collaborated on a piece he had created entitled Corpus Collosum, I shared my idea to beg in a market place–an especially striking gesture because begging and panhandling is extremely uncommon in Lagos. We spoke about the manifold cultural implications on either side of the Atlantic, but most importantly, I think we were excited by this gesture’s ability to pose far more questions than it could answer.

AK: Do you have any inspirations for your performance work?
PS: I think I was inspired by all of the awkward situations I have found myself in since I could remember. Those are usually some of the richest. I was also a big fan of Leigh Bowery and David Hammons at the time.

AK: What are working on now and will you be performing again soon?
PS: I recently did a performance inspired by Rachel Dolezol that kind of felt like a continuation of the conversation I was having here. I might perform that again, it is an interactive performance with a component similar to the one I performed at Anthology Film Archive’s “Stories We Tell” Film/Video Event. I perform as a trans-racial person wearing white face makeup and a diasporan mish-mash outfit. Everyone is given my cell phone number, and after a guided meditation they are asked to text me their questions about trans-racial identity. It strikes a weird chord, not quite parody or homage, again posing more questions than it answers. I am also building and painting a series of prayer kneelers shaped like all sorts of cool things like bunnies, UFOs and naked women. I am hoping to do an ongoing piece where I ask people to submit prayer request and I pray for whatever they ask for. I am excited about this one.

Please enjoy the unique early work from contemporary video/performance artist Petra Szilagyi. And for more check out their website: