The air is thick with the smell of incense. The Woman (Rochelle Rose) stands behind a wooden workbench. Directly above her head, a triangle made from fluorescent strip bulbs hangs imposingly. Against the light, her brown skin is dewy, her beauty ethereal. She is wearing a white, flowy floor-length dress, the delicacy of which is in stark contrast to her footwear: chunky, leather, workman-style boots. They serve as a warning – this journey is going to be tough.
In February 2016, writer and performance artist Selina Thompson took her black, womanly body and boarded a cargo ship from Antwerp in Belgium to Tema in Ghana. It took a total of three weeks from coast to coast and was the beginning of a two-month journey across land, air and sea to retrace the route of the transatlantic slave triangle from Europe, to Africa, to the Caribbean, and back to Europe again. This piece is the account of that trip.
Thompson’s story of the diaspora is an exhumation of ancestral spirits – an offering to them, a request of them. It’s a furious execration against the bullshit that black women go through on a daily basis, as the world pushes against them. There’s a bit with a sledgehammer and a hunk of Himalayan pink salt that serves as a visual metaphor for how imperialism, racism, capitalism and God-knows-what-else is ultimately an unstoppable, obliterating force. I am a black woman, and seeing this communicated so explicitly, so forcefully, is profoundly affecting.
It’s difficult to enforce a critical perspective on a piece in which a writer has so generously and thoroughly unravelled themselves in search of the foundations of identity. My heritage is similar to Thompson’s and in watching Rose perform her words I see myself living them, too.
But this is undoubtedly an illuminating and moving piece of theatre.