Nelisiwe Xaba was an early catalyst in our conversations on plasticity in art making. Watching her solo work and discussing what drew us to it helped us to articulate a shared space of interest for the festival. What we saw and were captivated by was a calculated shifting of sculptural portraiture and the visual puzzling of materials: costume, objects, light and the body.
Nelisiwe uses transformation as a powerful space to destabilize images and expose cultural stereotypes and exotification. In her works: They Look At Me and This Is All They Think and Sakhozi Says “NON” to the Venus, she melds together the historical character of the Hottentot Venus with an autobiographical self to become an imagined other. In doing so she alters how her body is represented, how narrative gets constructed, and how histories are remembered.
Her work Fremde Tänze is a series of vignettes in response to early modern dance’s fascination with exoticism. This work, like her other works, skillfully seduces the viewer and captures their eye. Asking them all the while to stay deeply attuned to what they are seeing and how they are seeing.
— Beth Gill and Cori Olinghouse
In spring 2014 Nelisiwe Xaba was invited to the Julius-Hans-Spiegel-Zentrum in Theater Freiburg, amidst the Black Forest in Southern Germany. Julius-Hans-Spiegel-Zentrum is a choreographic and academic research facility investigating a forgotten or suppressed aspect of German and West-European Modern Dance: its exoticisms. During her residency, Nelisiwe Xaba created a dance evening based on the programs of female dancers such as Mary Wigman and Sent M’Ahesa. These pioneers of modern dance in the 1910s and 1920s often presented a series of short, exoticist pieces accompanied by music. In one evening they crossed distant places and times, or rather their imagination of them: a “Temple Dance” was followed by an “Indian Dance”, an “Arabesque” or a “Siamese Dance”. In her evening of “Foreign Dances”, Nelisiwe Xaba turns around the perspective and exoticizes the Black Forest.