The untold tale of the millions of black African porters and carriers who aided British, French and German battlefield forces is brought to light through an examination of Africa's involvement in the First World War in The Head & The Load, a large-scale theatrical production by renowned South African artist William Kentridge.
The grand wartime production, which Kentridge describes as being ‘about historical incomprehension, and inaudibility and invisibility’, drew its title from the Ghanaian proverb ‘the head and the load are the troubles of the neck’. It combines music, dance, film projections, mechanised sculptures and shadow play to illuminate ‘all the contradictions and paradoxes of colonialism that were heated and compressed by the circumstances of the war,’ the artist says. ‘The colonial logic towards the black participants [in the war] could be summed up [as] “Lest their actions merit recognition, their deeds must not be recorded”. The Head & the Load aims to recognise and record.’
Produced in collaboration with the Centre d’Art Battat in Montreal, The Head & The Load plays out on a purpose-built stage stretching 50 metres along the back of the Nelson Mandela Theatre, the largest of the four theatres in the Joburg Theatre complex, with an intimate seating configuration for about 500 audience members. It sees Kentridge reunite with long-time collaborator Philip Miller, one of South Africa's leading composers, as well as co-composer and music director Thuthuka Sibisi and choreographer and principal dancer Gregory Maqoma from the Vuyani Dance Company. The performance features an international cast of singers, dancers and performers, many of whom are from South Africa.
This iteration of the work in the artist’s hometown comes after sold-out appearances at the Tate Modern in London in 2018, and others in New York, Amsterdam and Germany.
The Head & The Load is on stage at the Joburg Theatre from 21 April to 6 May 2023, the first time the production will be seen anywhere in Africa. Book tickets for the production here https://inda.ba/43RoMaR.
Photographs: Stella Olivier.