Joy Mariama Smith: "At what moment do we begin to construct “the other”?"

Joy's 20 minute presentation for Maelstrom Slow Dance - DAI's 3 day lecture-performance marathon, June 2017

Not Dutch: An examination of the abstract relational dynamics of the other, remixed


This mixed-media performance installation begins before the official start time, with Joy Mariama Smith arranging seating in such a way that audience members of color are pulled aside as they walk into the theater and invited to sit in the ‘best’ seats, front and center. Saying little more than, “I just want you to have the best seats” a group of people is visibly divided (without any further explanation) even before the performance begins.

Two performers (Manual Cascales and Mezhgan Saleh) take the stage while a video projection is beamed onto the screen behind them. The video shows Baha Görkem Yalim’s remixed version of the 1967 film Dutchman (directed by Anthony Harvey) which was based on the 1964 play Dutchman by American playwright Amiri Baraka (né: LeRoi Jones). A pulsing beat and an engaging and ambiguous encounter being played out between the two performers captivates the audience and heightens a sense of intrigue for the duration of the performance installation. Explaining more about the context of the work, Smith has written: “Dutchman has been framed as a contained confrontation between a white woman and a black man touching upon the constructs and performance of race, class, gender and sexuality. Bakara himself states Dutchman ‘is about how difficult it is to become a man in the United States.’ Not Dutch uses video, sound manipulation, and movement and incorporates references to the myth of the "Flying Dutchman" to illuminate the allegorical structure of Baraka's play.” Smith views Baraka's depiction of race relations in 1960s America through the lens of their own embodied experience as an African-American currently living in the Netherlands.

The first thing that struck Ray Brassier was the contrast in the title and the question of alterity - constructing the difference between the ‘not’ and alterity. He found it formally very elegant, and said that the “synchronization of sound and imagery was brilliant.” He complimented Smith’s development of the interaction of sound and image and the striking way that was reflected in the movement of the performers (through symmetry and balance). Reflecting on it conceptually, Brassier remarked that “the film dramatizes the pathos of alterity…[allowing for a] damaging encounter between people who are forced to be categorized as other [...] this categorization is affected by identities (national, sexual, etc).” For him, the “tension and antagonism in film (also the drama of alterity) is enlarged by the movement of negation in two performers who can not be simply categorized as other and don’t have recognizable national characteristics.” Complimenting this impressive piece, Brassier concluded by saying that the performance “shows how alterity can be subverted through a negation that is not subsumed by identity. The piece suggests a logic which subverts the construction of other.” 

Gabi Ngcobo found it to be an intense piece and was the only one of the four respondents to comment on the seating arrangements: “I wonder why I was asked to sit at seat number five. I felt unsettled.” She remarked that this question stayed with her throughout performance. Ngcobo found Smith’s strategic ways to deal with the film very effective.  “It was like a pulse, a heartbeat” and thereby also a “production of anxiety.” She remarked that there is “always another other that is being constructed and this construction seems to be an ending in a way.” She is interested in how Smith works with staging and wonders what kind of re-enactment Smith will present for the future.

Rachel O’Reilly questioned whether the starting point could be an authentic self-identical sexuality. She found the sound very effective and remarked that she had not seen this play. There was a “set-up of tension between tension in footage and the erotics in front of the screen.” She complimented the way the scene was “transferred and performed differently [where] a woman was cherry-picking knowledge from the handbag” and how the idea that elicit knowledge is gendered was played through.

Marina Vishmidt commented on how the “difference in genre, dynamics and tone could be signaled by your shift in the title. In the title on-screen it becomes much more fluid and processual - shift to abstract relational dynamics (from particle to wave).” Furthermore, the “extreme polarized drama of Dutchman becomes something very subtle.” Vishmidt wondered about Smith’s manipulation of stills, the construction of the soundtrack and “how it related to a kind of shift in the action in the foreground.” On the whole, she found it “very controlled, very resolved and effective.”

About Joy Mariama Smith