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Emancipation

Published 10 Dec 2015 at 10:54 by Basje Boer

December = Christmas. Christmas = the birth of a certain child, whose demise 33 years later would mean the salvation of mankind. The oppressed Messias were emancipated on the cross. The month of December is not necessarily a religious one for We Are Public. Nonetheless, I recognised a pattern, a theme, in our December programme – one that takes you from poverty to emancipation, from suppression to freedom, with art as the ultimate conclusion; an ending fit for the good of all mankind. Happy Holidays!

dana lixenberg

It’s almost as if the chairs have been scratched out of the photograph, the lines of the white plastic are remarkably sharp against their backdrop: the gritty grey of an uninspiring apartment complex. The balloons give the image its gentle touch: they float over the chairs and tables like ghosts. Ghosts that pull up a chair; ghosts that fill the table with cake and beverages, unwrap gifts and dance until the sun goes down.

Imperial Courts is the name of a housing project in Watts, the notorious neighbourhood in South Central L.A. that was ridden with poverty, gang wars and race riots throughout the ‘80s. The Dutch-born photographer Dana Lixenberg has been capturing the Imperial Courts ghetto in portraits, atmospheric shots and audio & visual recordings since 1993. This comprehensive project comes to its artistic climax this year, culminating in an exhibition in Huis Marseille and the publication of a book. In her work, Lixenberg depicts both the poverty and the beauty that thrives in a neighbourhood like Watts and its residents.

rize

Grown men, young women, children, even a big clown with a rainbow afro shake, swing, jump and bump with the vigour of epileptic seizures. The camera follows their movements, gliding gracefully around the dancers. More often than not, the camera stands steadily in its place, allowing the dance to speak for itself. The dance is an outlet for anger, aggression and frustration, but above all expresses the energy that thrives in the dancers.

It started out with clowning in the ‘90s: a dance style developed in Los Angeles for fun. A more expressive variant, called krumping, was developed in 2000, which was intended as a non-violent alternative to street violence, an outlet for the overwhelming emotions experienced by kids of the ghetto. Photographer and filmmaker David LaChapelle captured the history of both dance styles in his 2005 documentary Rize: an account of disadvantaged youths that emancipate themselves through their art.

hansel und gretel

A beautiful, snow-white bird on a branch. It sings a song so sweet that the two children, lost in the forest, stood still to admire its song. Once the bird had finished its chirping and tweeting, it flew off and landed on the roof of a small cottage. The children followed the bird, and as they came closer, they saw the cottage was made of bread. The roof was made out of pancakes and the windows was made out of sugar. Hungry from days without food, the children began to break off pieces and nibble at the house. But then, a shrill voice called out from inside the house: ‘Nibble, nibble, little mouse, Who is nibbling at my house?”

The harvests failed drastically in 1315. This marked the start of a two-year famine that costs millions of lives throughout most of Europe. The story of Hansel and Gretel, which stayed alive for centuries through storytelling alone until it was recorded in 1812 by the brothers Grimm, was allegedly based on the tragedies that resulted from the famine: children orphaned, cannibalism. The Grimm fairy tale, however, has a genuinely happy ending: the clever Hansel and Gretel escape, the wicked witch dies. The story formed the foundation of the opera Hänsel und Gretel, that has been given a modern take by the National Opera.

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The exhibition Imperial Courts 1993-2015 by Dana Lixenberg can be visited between 15 and 20 December in Huis Marseille
Rize is screening on 18 December in the film theater De Uitkijk
Hänsel und Gretel can be attended in the Nationale Opera & Ballet on 9 and 13 December.

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