Fixed and Broken – a performance. On a hot summer afternoon in Windhoek in November 2021, a small, invited crowd gathers outside the studio of Namibian artist Elisia Nghidishange. Elisia sits in the middle of her studio, her back turned to the audience, surrounded by her sculptures. She’s wearing a white and red dress, with a black, beaded headpiece that she has made herself. After a while of sitting in stillness, Elisia stands up and it becomes clear she is attached to her sculptures by red fabric. She starts blowing a whistle in short, staccato rhythm and cleansing her sculptures with feathers and a perfume called Oshindimba.
The audience watches Elisia move gently from sculpture to sculpture, offering care and love to her works of art. She is physically and emotionally connected to the works she has made. The repetitive whistle blowing and accompanied dancing she does as she moves is mesmerising. Soon, two men in black and red clothes walk into the studio and start up their angle grinders. There is a shift in the atmosphere as the loud noise of the machinery, echoed by the garage in which Elisia’s studio is located, drowns out Elisia’s whistle. The angle grinders start to cut down the sculptures, breaking them up into ever smaller pieces. Elisia has moved towards the back of her studio, and sits in the corner watching the destruction of her work. It’s unpleasantly loud, and dust from the angle grinders hitting the plaster of her sculptures billows out in all directions, creating a haze in the studio.
After all the sculptures in the studio have been cut into pieces, the two men leave and Elisia stands up in a changed space. She starts blowing her whistle once more, and begins to walk around the studio gathering the pieces of her work before putting them into a larger sculpture that remained intact. Her dress is still attached to some bits of her metal and plaster artworks, but most of the fabric connections have been severed. Elisia slowly moves out of the space, leaving the audience to ponder the much emptier studio she has left behind.
For Elisia, this performance was rooted in Oshiwambo traditions and culture to highlight two important concepts. The first being that of letting go. Elisia explains, “When I say letting go I mean like when you had something so precious to you and… out of nowhere it’s no longer available and you don’t have that connection anymore. You have to learn to let go of that”. While a few of the sculptures in the performance were works in progress that never came to fruition, most of them were Elisia’s favourites.
The other part of this performance was what Elisia calls “emotional management” and describes as mindfulness and awareness of your emotions. She says “in this case, I was… enjoying these sculptures of mine and taking care of them, and then later on out of nowhere these guys came and destroyed them… I moved out of the situation and just watched what was happening while trying to understand my feelings and thoughts of how I can handle it afterwards.”
After getting many questions about why she would destroy her own work, the artist describes that she sees her sculptures themselves as “a medium for my performance”. Her artistic practice is varied across media, with the process carrying meaning beyond the creation of the work. ‘Fixed and Broken’ is a performance demonstrating that her artworks are not produced as isolated pieces, but as part of an ongoing journey and reflective process that the artist revealed to us on this hot afternoon in November.
Elisia’s journey continues with the opening of her fourth solo exhibition on 13 September 2022. On show will be the artworks that she has made since her performance. The title of the exhibition is ‘Ehafo’ (Joy).