Kama La Mackerel
My work aspires to articulate languages of decoloniality through inter-textual and inter-textural artistic practices.
My life’s work emerges from a concern for justice and an imperative to heal from colonial pasts. I reimagine and reformulate languages of the self in order to offer “a countermemory, for the future” (Gordon). I explore ancestral loss— as the loss of bodies, histories, cultures, languages, genders, knowledge systems and spiritual practices— in order to rewrite the marginalized and silenced voice in contemporary contexts of global imperialism. I draw from the past to interrupt the present, and offer possibilities of being for future, as a “reacquisition of power to create one’s own i-mage” (Philip).
The “i” in my work is multiple: it is an i that is descendant of Slaves and Indentured labour, it is an i that grew up on the plantation island of Mauritius, it is an i that is economically working-class but culturally middle-class, it is an i filled with queer desires, it is an i that crosses normative gender lines, it is an i that grew up in a half-Catholic and half-Hindu family, it is an i that is East-African, South-Asian and in the process of becoming Canadian… The i in my work refuses to be restricted by singularity, it cannot be: my voice is multiple, moving beyond and across definitions, a voice imbued in “complex personhood” (Gordon).
The i in my work, then, is not constrained by the boundaries of disciplinarity. I work across live performance, poetry, installations, textile and visual arts to speak multiple aesthetic and political voices that enunciate a decolonial poetics. The voice in the body of my work expresses itself across different media and in the interstices between these media. These intermedia spaces provide the terrain for elaborating “strategies of selfhood— singular and communal— that initiate new signs of identity, and innovative sites of collaboration, and contestation” (Bhabha).
Through an inter-disciplinary practice, I create a range of ‘in-between’ spaces and ‘in-between’ voices which offer a kaleidoscopic view of my subjectivities as they relate to space, time, history, and kinship: “this interstitial passage between fixed identifications opens up the possibility of a cultural hybridity that entertains difference without an assumed or imposed hierarchy” (Bhabha). I thus re-figure my own corporality as multiple, transgressing genres, locations, bodies, tongues, spaces and temporalities.
It is in inter-media practice, and across multi-year, archival and community-engaged research that I develop the core of my practice. My practice emerges from personal stories, family histories, auto-ethnography, grassroots collective knowledge, archival research, community-based research and critical theory. My work is process-oriented, guided first and foremost by the research process and the research material: I delve into the stories and narratives, the ones that are readily accessible just as much as the ones which are footnotes in the margins of history. As I start articulating the research material in a theoretical and aesthetic framework, I let the research material shape itself into the cultural forms and artefacts it wants to become, be it visual, textual, textile or performative. I thus never set out with a finished product or a completed piece of work in mind— it is from the process, from the ‘in-between’ space that my work emerges.
Bhabha, Homi, The Location of Culture, Routledge (1994, 2006)
Gordon, Avery, Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination, University of Minnesota Press (1997, 2008)
Philip, M. NourbeSe, She Tries Her Tongue: her silence softly breaks, Ragweed (1989, 1996)
This project first started as a series separate of spoken word pieces that I had written between 2013-16. Each of these pieces dealt with the legacies of colonisation with regards to migration, race, gender and queerness.
In 2016, after I came back from touring Europe with my one-person spoken-word show, From Thick Skin to Femme Armour, I realized that there was a deeper storyline about Mauritius and my childhood on the plantation island that was being articulated in this body of work. This was when I started to develop the narrative arch of ZOM-FAM as a whole, and not a series of separate pieces.
Between 2016-19, I developed the manuscript for the stage first, as ZOM-FAM is also a 75-mins interdisciplinary solo that combines dance, theatre, ritual performance and spoken word. As a multidisciplinary artist working intertextually, I was extremely curious to know: how would my poetry move on a stage? How would I deliver my storytelling if I abandoned the mic-stand and gave my body permission to also speak through movement and ritual? What other textures could I bring to my voice and expression if I deepened the embodiment of my poetry?
That’s when I started developing ZOM-FAM as a show. Throughout this process, I did not think of ZOM-FAM as a piece that would also be published. I thought about it as a poetic score meant to be read out loud, with qualities proper to the spoken word.
Turning the manuscript into a poetry collection came later in the process. In doing so, I was interested in still being true to my voice as a performer. I wanted to create a text that would perform textually and intertextually. I thought of the page as a stage where the text could live and take on multiple meanings. So in this sense, the process of writing for the page was very much influenced by performance. I think of the body of the text on a page as being akin to that of the body of the performer on stage.
The traditions of magic realism from postcolonial writers of the global south were very much influential in my creative practice— the novels of Salman Rushdie and Gabriel García Márquez, for example, remain some of my favorite pieces of fiction even now. Audre Lorde’s development of bio-mythography as an act of rewriting of the self through history, mythology and biography was also very influential in my practice.
As somebody who came from a history of colonisation where the past is fragmented and the present is imbued with silences and taboos, writing the spiritual outside of colonial frameworks of time, space and narrative seemed the only way for me to write the self, to write the histories of my family while honouring the multiple truths that lie at the core of them.
I am fundamentally interested in hybridity and inter-spaces. I believe that working against disciplines and categories is at once a decolonial and queer practice that allows us to work against western frameworks and offer us new ways of narrating and relating in the world— to ourselves, to others, to the lands and waters, and to spiritual forces.
KAMA LA MACKEREL
Kama La Mackerel is a Montreal-based Mauritian-Canadian multi-disciplinary artist, educator, writer, community-arts facilitator and literary translator who works within and across performance, photography, installations, textiles, digital art and literature. Kama’s work is grounded in the exploration of justice, love, healing, decoloniality, hybridity, cosmopolitanism and self- and collective-empowerment. They believe that aesthetic practices have the power to build resilience and act as resistance to the status quo, thereby enacting an anticolonial practice through cultural production.
Kama has exhibited and performed their work internationally and their writing in English, French and Kreol has appeared in publications both online and in print. They have lived in far-flung places such as Pune, India and Peterborough, Ontario. ZOM-FAM, their debut poetry collection is published by Metonymy Press.
This work was created as part of the Feminist Media Studio’s 2020 Inaugural Event & Virtual Open House.