More from Thembi Soddell
In my video performance titled 'Churile', my mouth takes on monstrous proportions as it repeatedly opens to reveal more hair forming at the back of my tongue.
The Churile (a Caribbean folktale character) is a Jumbie with black matted hair, often shielding her face, who wanders around mournfully wailing for her lost child. Prior to becoming a Jumbie, the Churile was once a human who died tragically during childbirth or while pregnant. The Churile only haunts pregnant women and their foetuses, as well as mothers and their infants, in the hopes of being reunited with her own child. The composition of wails in 'Purge' is drawn from the Churile’s mournful lament. From this I consider how trauma haunts the bodies who have been affected, but also those in close proximity. The Churile’s trauma is so great that it follows her into the afterlife, fuelling her pain and rage by transferring her fate onto others. Though I am not mourning my own lost child in this short film or in my live performance 'Purge', I am mourning the loss of a part of myself. I have known racism my entire life and having been living with the effects of sexual trauma for half my life. Through racialisation, chunks of my subjectivity have been eaten away, bit by bit, coercing me to swallow my heritage—leaving it sitting in the base of my gut, buzzing to be let out. This film and 'Purge' are evocative of my experiences of racialisation—having expectations and stereotypes placed on me based on the colour of my skin. Through sexual assault, it has been reinforced that my flesh is not only a signifier of my difference but also that it does not belong to me. As part of the effects of sexual trauma, I often sink further inward, separating myself from my body, trying to escape it completely. However, like the Churile being pulled back to earth, I am continually pulled back to my body and the desire to regain autonomy over my flesh drives me to speak. These two experiences speak to one another, intertwining to find autonomy in my body and my voice. In my artworks, experiential entanglement materialises through the empowerment to resist racialisation and rape culture.
In 'Churile' the tangles of saliva-varnished hair bulging out from the back of my throat give my body supernatural qualities, likening the visceral quality my mouth produces to the Churile’s terrifying scream. The visceral and eerie visuals of Churile are blended with building sounds, composed by sound artist Thembi Soddell, to accentuate the supernatural. Cracks, pops, and sizzles sonically layer to fashion an encompassing realm of anticipatory traction. The anxiety in this video performance is further propelled by Soddell’s sounds slowly heightening to match the pace of hair growing in my mouth. Here, my mouth is a conduit for occurrences beyond description. External factors—uncanny sounds—and bizarre internal influences—the production of hair in the mouth—combine to summon an otherworldly lament—one where wails of pain and sorrow are evoked through the abjection of my mouth.