This piece arose from Zina Saro-Wiwa's interest in Nollywood and the African emotional landscape. The close-up of crying face is a classic nollywood trope. A trademark of the genre. The sobbing female figure, a grieving widow, a repentant woman of the night, the dutiful but put-upon wife. Almost certainly inspired by soap opera, but popular because of it’s resonance with the Nigerian psyche, the performance of pain – close up – forms the emotional backbone of Nollywood film. For the video installation, Mourning Class, Zina Saro-Wiwa has filmed a selection of Nigerian actresses crying-on-cue. They are Golda John, Esosa Edosomwan, Ebbe Bassey and Nollywood superstars Kate Henshaw-Nuttal and Dakore Egbuson. Each actress was sat in front of the camera, bearing their shoulders and covering their heads and were asked to cry when prompted by the director. They needed to produce real tears and had to stare at the camera as much as possible during the process turning their emotions into a true performance as well as a test of endurance.
Nigerians are naturally very performative people. Everyday life and speech is like theatre and a delight to behold. How then does one act when in front of a camera? Mourning Class speaks to this dilemma. Nollywood’s hasty productions, improvised scripts and lack of psycholigcal realism make it hard for actors to work this out and ply their trade most effectively. Mourning Class represents the synthesis of realism and performance. The work explores the role of performance in expressing grief in Nigeria and Africa, drawing the viewer into the territory between the emotive and the emotional. The minimal, ghostly sound is almost an echo and leaves room for the viewer to engage with the physical performance of grief. The lack of narrative and context but direct engagement of the subject also draws out the viewer’s own personal narratives engineering a form of catharsis.
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