The Stedelijk Museum presents Joy Mariama Smith’s performance Fou Fou as part of the exhibition Freedom of Movement. Joy Mariama Smith creates spaces in which visitors are invited to investigate questions of identity and access. Their newly commissioned performance Fou Fou uses the American children’s song Little Bunny Foo Foo to examine the thin line between personal freedom and oppression.
The song describes a rabbit who harasses field mice by hitting them on the head until the creature is eventually punished by a fairy. The oblivious manner in which the rabbit inflicts violence on the field mice - and its refusal to acknowledge or rectify any wrongdoing - effectively safeguards its sense of entitlement in acting this way. By abstracting the song’s narrative, Smith uses it as an allegory to investigate how all of us are implicated in violent constructions of freedom. In the interactive performance, Smith invites the audience to contemplate their own relationship with freedom, agency, and identity as they relate to performing bodies. Viewers are charmed by witnessing the constant interactions of the rabbit, field mice and fairy; they become compelled to move, turn, stay put or stand back. These motions act as placeholders for how they accept, reject or transcend certain ideas of freedom, raising awareness around their own tendencies, habits and biases. Within this work, Smith also considers how agency and access are negotiated in the museum, a public space where certain groups are less represented than others. The issues raised by a seemingly insignificant children’s song reveals how deeply ingrained oppression and privilege are in the fabric of Western cultures.
The work is accompanied by Smith’s multimedia installation Free Fou Fou. Modeled on an altar, it offers visitors a quiet space to reflect. Drawing on cultural theorist Sianne Ngai’s notion that things we recognize as cute simultaneously inspire feelings of tenderness and aggression, the altar features items characterized by soft materials, muted tones and pastel colors. By using the aesthetics of cuteness in their* work, Smith comments on how Westernization has historically rendered black, brown, and queer bodies “cute” in order to commodify and consume them—and how it continues to do so.
CONCEPT, CREATION Joy Mariama Smith Zwoisy Mears-Clarke IN COLLABORATION WITH with Alyssa Reiziger, Raoni Saleh PERFORMANCE Alyssa Reiziger, Raoni Saleh, Joy Mariama Smith ANIMATION Sarah Maloney COSTUME DESIGN Hannah Kindler DRAMATURGY Zwoisy Mears-Clarke
Ticket: 18.50/10 € | Location: Stedelijk (Museumplein 10, 1071 DJ Amsterdam, NL) | Time: 11:30, 13:00 & 16:30 May 2nd
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Illustration: Sarah Maloney