Agata Kok, 22.05.23
"SPAfrica – the world’s first ’empathy drink’. The initial idea, as introduced by the creator Julian Hetzel, is fairly simple: drinking water is extracted from South Africa and transported to Europe, in exchange for emotional resources - tears, which are brought to Africa and transformed into rain. An idea that brings awareness and certainly responds to contemporary debates around the topics of post-colonialism, diversity, extractivism, and neoliberal capitalism. This is the socially-engaged art tailored to our times, hitting all the marks, even though it may seem absurd, if not downright cynical. Only it is not Hetzel speaking, and as the performer Ntando Cele takes off the mask, what started as a discussion panel transforms into a meta-confrontation, questioning our (in)ability to understand and relate to one another.
It seems like the performer is always one step ahead of the audience, exposing and confronting even the most ‘naturalized,’ yet inherently racist assumptions and associations. From the beginning, we are invited to question not only our relation (and reaction) to what we see at the moment but also our position as an audience, because our presence and thus willingness to participate (and to pay for the participation) is never neutral. It comes with certain expectations, especially when race is involved. SPAfrica examines these expectations in the case of Black artists who are often expected to ‘scratch open their wounds’ and share their trauma in order for their stories to be heard - and for their work to find a market. The powerful audiovisual language, ability to cleverly evoke and subvert conventions, and Ntando Cele’s unforgettable performance constitute an eye-opening piece that will stay with me for a long time."