On February 8, at 11 a.m., a new performance entitled A Maze in Grace was staged by composer, sound artist and librettist Neo Muyanga (1974, Johannesburg, South Africa). On the occasion, a 40-voice choir occupied the three floors of the Bienal Pavilion, around the structure’s iconic building-tall empty space, singing a new composition for the well-known melody Amazing Grace, often sung as a hymn at public mourning rituals in different parts of Africa, while also bearing religious-political connotation for the Afro-American community in the USA.
Muyanga’s work proposes a deconstruction under a new perspective of this song, which was composed in 1772 by John Newton, a white British slave trader who converted to become an abolitionist Anglican pastor at the end of the 18th century after a series of near-death experiences. The São Paulo theatrical collective Legítima Defesa, which stages poetic-political actions of reflection on and representation of blackness, collaborated with the performance, as also the artist Bianca Turner (b. 1984, São Paulo, Brazil), who produced the video-mapping used in the work.
Besides its staging on February 8, that kicked off the programming of the 34th Bienal de São Paulo, the new work by Muyanga will unfold in two other moments: in July, the performance opens the 11th Liverpool Biennial, a partner institution in the realization of this work; and the audiovisual installation will form part of the 34th Bienal’s group show, starting in October. As a work composed on the basis of Muyanga’s country, South Africa, and now being staged in Brazil and England, this performance re-links the vertices of the so-called Atlantic Triangle.
According to Paulo Miyada, the exhibition’s adjunct curator, “It is hard to imagine a more fitting way to open the programming of a Bienal entitled ‘Faz escuro mas eu canto,’ since Neo Muyanga reminds us how much a song of hope is marked by violence and cruelty and, then, re-enchants its sound with musical and discursive elements from the history of the Brazilian and African black men and women – precisely those who lead and led the fight for racial emancipation that lends meaning to this song.”
Performance co-produced with 11th Liverpool Biennial.
Learn more about the artist here.
List of work – A Maze in Grace here.
Caroline A. Jones, Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).
Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).