nora chipaumire is an artist who uses her body as a starting point to explore theoretical, historical, and personal material. Her practice is rooted in decolonialism and aims to “express a poetic insolence that rebels against ignorance, honors ownership of the body and imagination, and conveys freedom and strength.”
For years chipaumire has been developing an approach she calls nhaka, literally “heritage” in Shona, her mother tongue. Nhaka can be understood as an animist physical manifesto: chipaumire hopes it will be used by artists to forge a practice of physical and mental rigor that owes nothing to European court dances, such as ballet. With nhaka, chipaumire is building a language of movement that looks toward questions of justice and aesthetic justness. chipaumire approaches dance as an “animist technology”—a means of uncovering questions and answers lodged within the physical body.
While in residence at Callie’s, chipaumire is working on Nehanda, an opera based on a colonial court case. Her research encompasses Germany’s colonial history with a particular focus on the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, when European nations convened in the city to strategize colonization and set out guidelines for making claims to Africa. It was at this time that Germany emerged as an imperial force and the height of colonial conquest took place.
Nehanda is a spirit who inhabits only women and is venerated by the Shona people, native to Zimbabwe and central Mozambique. In the late 19th century, Nehanda’s medium was Charwe Nyakasikana, a revolutionary leader who orchestrated the 1890’s uprisings against British colonists. Upon capture, she was brutally executed. Says chipaumire: “The work accepts that the decolonial project begins only after the failure of neo-colonial independent states to govern themselves and throw off the yoke of capitalism. A return or renewal of African animist practices could be essential in the journey towards total emancipation of the Black African body.”