Òrìshà performer Kafayat Adegoke

PERFORMANCE | Kafayat Adegoke’s Òrìshà at Bradford Fringe Festival

Artist KAFAYAT ADEGOKE’s new work Òrìshà derives its name from the Yoruban concept of unity and tackles misogyny and gender politics. Where better to stage it then than in a brewery with its smack of ritual male bonding. Review: NATHALIE TOLMIE-THOMSON

Generally speaking, I prefer to go attend performances blind. Little to no understanding of what to expect or context enables me to describe events authentically without any outside influence.

However, when I enthusiastically signed up to see Òrìshà (Deity) at Eyes Brewing in Bradford city centre as part of Bradford Fringe Festival, I wish I’d at least read up on Osun the river goddess.

Despite growing up and living in a city as rich and culturally diverse as Bradford, I had the typical Church of England detachment from anyone outside the congregation, the playground, or the street I immediately lived on. And of course, I buggered off to Leeds Uni at the earliest opportunity – something expected of all Bradfordian youngsters with big ambitions.

Attending events like this is an opportunity to experience things through the eyes of others, and expand one’s own worldview without ever having to venture far. In this new work – inspired by Bradford Council’s move to name more streets and public spaces after women – artist Kafayat Adegoke explores the culture of the Yoruba people from southwest Nigeria using the divination of Osun.

Òrìshà challenges the Westernised version of feminism with its two previous waves of bra-burning and tendency to privilege white heterosexual woman of the Anglo-Christian faith. Instead, we are to embrace femininity at its rawest, what it means to be a woman of the earth at its most fundamental.

The performance space is dimly lit with electric candles, but there’s a warmth centred around the front. Surrounding a wicker stool and wooden pestle and mortar is an array of objects: some natural, some man-made, some labelled, some not – all shrouded in mystery as objects of the exotic ‘other’. I recognise china dolls, egg cartons, bottles and jugs, leaves, seeds and grains.

It is at once the tableless stall of an African bazaar and the cave interior of a shrine loaded with precious objects. In the background, women’s voices sing a classic call and response in their native tongue: harmonising in close unison, they are accompanied by rich percussive rhythms.

The performance draws a sizeable audience for such a small space. We all crowd round Adegoke who is dressed to express in ceremonial garb and exposed flesh. She sits on a stool, picks up the pestle and mortar and begins to grind as the music plays in the background.

As the music dims, she begins her monologue, a woman angry and frustrated that the equality conversation is still happening; that misogyny around the world stubbornly insists on being an immovable object.

It is a dialogue common amongst the feminists today, but out of the mouth of a Nigerian woman of colour, blaring out of the speaker as Adegoke grinds. She adds seeds and herbs, pauses, samples the mix, smiles and continues to grind.

The climax of the piece alludes to priestesses who perform such routine rituals on behalf of Osun the life-bringer. The priestess before us rises to her feet, blesses the space and the objects and us with water-drenched leaves attached to their branch. Stomping her feet, she dances to the music that has now returned, reiterating the fury of women oppressed by ancient traditions of patriarchy, greed, and vanity.

As an expression of the divinity of women according to the Yoruba people, Orisha resonated with everyone there. Adegoke not only demonstrates her strength, but also her vulnerability by performing such a highly personal ritual and exposing herself to people who don’t know her from Adam [or Eve, for that matter – Helpful Ed].

As much as I enjoyed the crocheted creations of woollen vulvas that dotted the walls of the performance space outside, it was this unique glimpse into a different world I felt was of most value. This was one woman’s voice, a chorus that demands to be heard on behalf of her gender everywhere: but it was fabulous to see her solo.

Kafayat Adegoke presents Òrìshà (Deity) at Bradford Film Fringe. Follow her on Twitter here.