'This is the biggest drum ever made!'
Samson Mudzunga's drums are inextricably linked to his sense of personal vitality, and his latest, gigantic drum clearly demonstrates him to be at the height of his powers. Like the majority of his drums, it is intended as a coffin, not for an actual burial but rather for Mudzunga's enactment of his own death and subsequent rebirth. This is an act of self-transformation that Mudzunga says gives him increased power and energy.
In Mudzunga's core performance, he climbs inside a drum through a hinged door and emerges some minutes later in different clothing. He is generally accompanied by his wife Dorcas, who beats on the drum - a medium for communication with the ancestors - to 'wake him from the dead'. This is embellished in different ways as inspired by the context. For example, an exhibition at The Contemporary Museum in Honolulu prompted an elaborate 'Hawaii honeymoon' performance in which Mudzunga's rebirth was followed by Samson and Dorcas parading through the grounds in wedding finery before climbing into a taxi - constructed using four chairs, with a museum attendant enlisted as chauffeur - and waving farewell.
For Afterlife, Mudzunga promises to enter his drum through a curtained door and proceed to lie in state for a lengthy period, allowing gallery-goers to file past and witness his death. A blue lightbulb installed inside the drum will lend him a deathly pallor. After a while, Mudzunga will be woken by Dorcas loudly beating the drum. Exiting through another, hinged door, Mudzunga will emerge in traditional Venda clothing. The new Mudzunga will be blessed by Dorcas using water brought from Lake Fundudzi. Their relationship is affirmed by the presence inside the door of a photograph from the Honolulu museum.
Mudzunga's connection to Lake Fundudzi - which he says is responsible for the dreams that guide his actions - lies at the heart of a rift between him and the hierarchies in Venda society that traditionally govern access to the lake. It is Mudzunga's particular provocation to acknowledge the ill feeling that is harboured against him by naming the latest vehicle of his empowerment Vivho Venda - 'jealousy in Venda'.
© 2007 Michael Stevenson. All rights reserved.