Archives for the month of: May, 2013

After seven months of embodying Asha and the completion of the homage journey I came to a resolution. Just like Beryl Gascoigne has her Asha Korinna McRobert has her Ryeé. This is the name I have called myself for a while now.

Asha means the path to God. Ryeé means ray of light.

Coming to South Africa has felt like a homecoming for me. In this chapter of the journey I want to find Ryeé. It feels like she is coming of age here.

Shedding Asha and coming into my own started with a hair cut. I feel rooted.

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We arrived in Cape Town early in the morning. We stayed at the YMCA as this was where Asha and Jane stayed during their 2009 trip. This would mark the end of the trail. Durban marked the day of the last performance and our one night stay at the YMCA would mark the end of the finding Asha project.

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It was comical. Emilie’s room had a burst pipe so it was damp and felt like we were back in the UK, where the smell of mould can be found effortlessly. Then it got worse because she was curious enough to open the fridge in her room. We nearly died. Something had definitely expired in there. She opened nothing in her room after that. She was attacked by a mosquito a little later, but managed to kill it. I of course thought it was funny she got the seemingly inferior room, until I opened the cupboard door in my room and nearly passed out. It smelled like the fridge.

The next day we bade the YMCA and the Asha & Jane journey goodbye before taking a cab to my friend’s flat in Cape Town.

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We decided to take what is called ‘the garden route’ for our bus journey to Cape Town. We took a bus from Pietermaritzburg to Durban and then a bus via the coast from Durban to Cape Town. We went through Margate, Ramsgate and East London. Such familiar and colonial names. We went past Port Elizabeth and Mossel Bay during the night but most of the 27 hour journey was during sunlight and the landscape was incredible.

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Today was the day of the last Asha performance. It was in fact the only performance in the repertoire that was done in the 1960s, instead of the 1940s, and was after her India trip, which gave her the name Asha. So, it was a specific one. This performance was in homage to her planned performance at the Durban cenotaph on South African Independence Day in 1961.

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The day started off stressful. We needed to sort out our transport to Durban, which ended up being quite complicated considering the Cheeta bus that Jane and Asha used four years ago was no longer running and we had to make do with another bus service that ran infrequently. This would give us only one hour of sunlight once we got to Durban.

We of course knew we would be aiming for the Cenotaph but did not know where it was. Once we got there, nobody knew where it was. I had a photograph as reference but the taxi drivers were unaware of its wherabous. The sun was going down. I was already flustered and had tied my sari on wrong, as well as forgotten my petticoat. It was hot. It was chaotic. This was a sign.

So far everything flowed so beautifully. The early performances felt organic. This one stood alone. It was post-Beryl. It was after the death of her children. It was after her divorce. It was after her transformation. So, it needed to be about transformation and letting go. The site was not important anymore. This was still about grief but also about independence and freedom.

So, as I saw the sun go down I asked the taxi driver (who was so patient, despite me nearly losing my shit a few times) to take us to the beach.

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I danced. Asha was freed.

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Today we went to the Imperial Hotel in the center of town where Asha and Pat go for tea. Jane and I thought it was appropriate to do a performance there. I wanted to represent Asha in formal, smart clothing, as she was part of Johannesburg’s elite in the 1940’s and attended lots of functions. She must have looked immaculate and that was a big part of who she was.

I transformed in the WC from Korinna to Asha/Beryl. I wore Jane’s suit, made by Asha’s mother. Jane got married in this suit. I was also wearing shoes from the 1940’s, formerly owned by Asha’s mother. It is the most ‘authentic’ costume. Pat was with us and witnessed our process. She said I looked regal and that if Beryl (she calls her Beryl) doesn’t appreciate this, she will eat her hat. The people at the hotel were so helpful and accomodating. Nobody asked questions. I just asked if we could take shots of the room. The woman assumed we were interested in hiring a space for a function. I just didn’t correct her.

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We then went to Howick and visited the falls there. We had a little picnic and soaked in nature. Running water makes me so calm. As long as water is left to flow and not restricted it is beautiful. No stagnation. No smell. Staying clean.

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The Jan Richter Center does breakfast normally between 6-8 am and between 7-8am on Sundays. We wake up at the crack of dawn and eat whatever is served. I do anyway. I am open to anything- meat or not. I feel like since I am not choosing and I am accepting the hospitality of others then whatever I put in my body is welcome. I have eaten mammals since being here! This is not something I normally do. Asha, by the way, does not eat anything which has had it’s head chopped off. She eats no land animal. I still feel I wouldn’t order beef at a restaurant but if someone gives it to me kindly without asking for my preferences in advance I would take it. Maybe survival is kicking in.

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We don’t have cups in the room so we need to drink from the tap, or buy bottled water I suppose. I have not enjoyed taking my pills, as they dissolve in my mouth. I am finding it comical though. There is a slight urine smell around my bed. Emilie found a bug on her side. The people here are characatures! Everyone is unique. I feel I am stuck in a Harmony Corine film, without the violence. The place is a perfect setting for a Twilight Zone movie, set in the 1980’s.

Today we met Asha’s friend Pat. She is lovely. She drove us to the SOS Orphanage. Asha wanted us to go. I was very impressed by it. They have set it up to be as ‘normal’ as possible. The children are grouped together in houses, set up as a family home would be, with children of their own age and a house mother who lives with them. Approximately 10 per house, not more. They have inspirational and directional posters on their walls, including one about signs of sexual abuse. They are encouraged to talk about everything. There is a great openness here. It is SO refreshing and comforting. All the children go to school and seem to do very well because their lounges are littered with little medals and trophies of achievement. The children were so friendly and funny. I let the younger ones take photos and video with my camera.

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I loved how they just took my hands and we ended up being a chain of people. I played with them. I was so moved. I was not sad.

Pat then took us to her house, where we could use her computer and relax. We had a delicious lunch. I got my blog entries done for the past few days, since we have had technical problems and lack of internet access. There is no wifi at the Jan Richter Center. Pat thought the blog was great and was genuinely interested in the work. She praised us both. She used to be a school teacher and in some way I feel a great sense of approval. It was as if the blog got full marks!

 

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We took the Greyhound bus from Johannesburg to a small town in Natal called Pietermaritzburg. We went from the North of the country to the Midlands (approximately 600 km). The bus ride was about six hours, not considering the two hour delay/stop just outside Johannesburg, at the testing station, where all the buses get weighed and inspected. Practicing patience. Calm.

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There was enough space in the bus for me and Emilie to have two seats for ourselves on each side of the bus. We got footage from both sides of the bus/road. We got lots of free coffee and didy biscuits. We also got to watch two diabolically offensive Hollywood action movies on full volume. I luckily have music on my phone from five years ago. So surreal. I listened to the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears amogst others, not all pop music but I was amused by this dated selection. The phone I am using for my SA Sim is the phone I used to use for my Cyprus Sim, which I lost a few months ago. Symbolic. SA has replaced CY.

So I listened to music and watched the landscape change from Mediterranean to Tropical. Stunning. The bus got steamy by the end causing condensation on the windows, fogging up the view and leaving water droplets as I wiped it. Lovely.

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We got to town and by this point I was really ready to get to the hostel and tend to my basic needs; food, water, toilet and shower. Oh and SLEEP! We called a taxi from the Greyhound office in the center of town. It took a little over half an hour to turn up. This half hour was when I was at my most antsy. There was a TV showing the news and a woman chewing a toothpick in front of me. She was making slopping sounds with her mouth, which really disturbs me. Chewing gum like a farm animal also bothers me. It happens everywhere. I have to be really careful not to get angry. So I focused on other things and did the last-resort thing. I called someone, in Europe, to just talk about my day with. It really helped my mood, not my credit balance. I could deal with that.

The taxi turned up and didn’t know where we were going. I had to call the Jan Richter Center so as to give him directions. We finally made it, after a funny conversation with the driver about Combis and Townships. People are so open here. You can talk about anything. Forget PC awkwardness and egg shells. No emotional constipation.

We got to the Center and an elderly Afrikaans man comes out going “We were expecting you hours ago. Your food has been kept and you can go warm it up.” Looking out for us. Straight to the point. Love it. He then pointed to his female colleague who showed us our room, where we dropped our bags before being escorted back to the food hall and fed. So, this place is surreal. Back in the day it had separate quarters for men, women and ethnicities. It is now all mixed except for where you sit in the food hall. One half is for people who are not elderly and the other half is for the elderly who need assistance.

People from all walks of life find themselves here. Social displacement. Most people are South African and many people are permanent residents. The average age is 55 (I am probably being generous with that). It’s lovely. It’s not a Youth Hostel. I can see why it is Asha’s favourite place. People are so welcoming and friendly. I would choose this place over a Youth Hostel. It is stuck in an interesting time warp but also timeless.

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Today we were tourists. We went to the Apartheid Museum. They have this ingenious ticket system which brands you ‘White’ or ‘Non-White’ and thus forces you to go through different entrances. Me and Emilie got one ‘White’ ticket and one ‘Non-White’ ticket but decided to lump together and experience the ‘Non-White’ experience. Photographic archive of ID Cards and discrimination signs were everywhere. I thought it was a fantastic idea. People will not get a feel for something unless they experience it themselves. This was a reference to Asha and specifically one of her undocumented performances, when she went around with white paint and painted over signs on benches that said ‘Whites Only’. How she didn’t get arrested for that I don’t know.

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I am so impressed with the way the whole political history is approached. This museum, as well as Constitution Hill, is an example of how exposing and showing the true situation (much like art) leads to healing. The architecture was beautiful and clever. Everything had been carefully considered. It felt like going to an art exhibition focusing on historical facts rather than a history museum. I was moved to tears a lot, not just out of shear shock and sadness but also because I felt a great deal of love and forgiveness.

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When we were leaving the museum we met a couple of male peacocks.

I love my life.

Today we went to Constitution Hill, The Women’s Gaol (Jail), where Asha (then Beryl) spent a day as punishment for her protest. She was sentenced to a month but her husband paid the fine and bailed her out. She had two young children at the time, Jane and Peter (who was very ill). They took priority. Activist Johannes Maluke was preparing a march to free her. She now says that it’s just as well that she didn’t do the whole term because people would have been killed and she would have had that on her conscience. There were many factors.

Like with all the protests they seem to be statements, beginnings, catalysts. Her protest was literally one of the first, as it was in 1948, when apartheid was legally established. She seemed to always be too early to get recognition and ammunition for her cause, but also seems to step back just when she is accepted in the group. She was invited into a multi-cultural freedom of speech group just after her protest and after being with them a short time she decided she did not want to associate because she did not share their core beliefs. This draws back to my parallel with her performance art.

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Even though her content and context were political, her motivation was mixed with other elements. Her protest was a spontaneous happening spurred on by her servant being arrested for drunkenness, leading to her having to go to the authorities and fetch him, leading to her seeing him be man-handled, leading to her saying something along the lines of ‘stop being brutes’ which then got her in court which led her to saying something to offend the judge (probably the ‘brute’ thing) which got her an official sentence for contempt of court. She was given the choce to pay the fine or go to jail for a month (something I don’t see to be financially avantageous to the state). She choose jail, much to the husband’s horror. He stood by her, more of a helpless bystander than supporting husband, trying to contain the chaos. He used to affectionately call her The City of Dreadful Chaos! He was a high flying executive and this was very difficult for him adapt to.

So, all I wanted to do that day was dress up in the 1940s-style tweed suit, get my Beryl/Asha on and immerse myself in the space. To my surprise, the cells were not empty. There was art everyhere! Every formerly horrendous space was filled with multi-media installations, people’s stories and accounts. This was great to see but interfeered with my original plan. I was glad I needed to adapt. We did. I thought the use of the space with the respect and acceptance of the past was inspirational. It was the honesty, acceptance and respect with which I was treated when I had my first experience with a South African that moved my emotional world around. Seeing that approach actually work on a national level, let alone an individual one (where of course it starts) is my greatest inspiration. I know now not just what I got out of the interaction but where it came from.

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I feel like I’m following emotional leads, a ‘feelings archaeologist’, which leads me to the last bit of the day… I wanted to find the house they lived in during this period. We got there and took photos and footage (me still in character) outside the gate. Just when we were leaving, a car pulls into the drive. The driver looks friendly. I go up to her and explain (how do you explain this ?!) what we are doing and one thing leads to another; she lets us in. We took photos everywhere. We saw the interior, the front and back gardens, the extentions. I recognised some of the architechture. She said ‘Do you know who lives here? I’m just a visitor.’ I said ‘No’ (O course I know nothing, I’m just going with this force in my chest that I can’t explain). She said ‘Jan Smuts’ granddaughter’ and pointed at his published papers, sitting in the bookcase to my left. We had just driven up Jan Smuts Avenue. I tried not to be too shocked but I was exited by it. Felt extraordinary. I gave her a postcard to thank her for her kindness, just like I did with the porter at the cemetery. These are postcards that Asha gave me to give, for this purpose, with her regards and name on the back, on the left side. I am signing and thanking them on the right side. I am finding this aspect of the project very moving.

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Today we went to Braamfontein Cemetery to visit Asha’s children. We went to the porter’s office, found the record books and locatd the Hibberts. We were escorted to one of the plaques and then left to our own devices.

It was great being in performance mode again. In the moment. With a drive. With a goal. Without a plan. Without restrictions. I embodied this woman and just went in there, her and me entwined. I was moved. I was intiutively working with the space and the space worked with me. I felt great serenity and harmony.

The cemetery has been neglected. One of the plaques (for Heloise, her first child) was so dirty we missed it the first time we looked. It was one of those dramatic moments where I had to ‘brush the soil off to expose the treasure’. We found a discarded baby dummy just opposite the plaque. Heloise was only 13 months old when she died. Everything and everyone seemed present.

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I became a vessel for my environment but also had enough of a personal part to play in order to be in sync with it all. I feel in the driver’s seat of a car that is in auto-pilot mode. Entirely in control while totally enjoying the ride.

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