Atlanta Eke: Monster Body
Review by Diana Damian
This body is shape-shifting; it leaks and dances to the tunes of Britney Spears; it hoola-hoops as if stuck in endless repetition. Sometimes, it gains an identity, although brief and uncertain. It’s rather aggressively nomadic too, in its permutations and shifts. Toying with the spectacle of the contemporary female body and its sexualisation, with image-making and its effects, Monster Body seeks to both distance us from the habit of our gaze, and bring us closer to understanding what a body is in contemporary society. Eke’s is not the female body; it’s a body attempting to escape objectification, flirting with the sexual gaze in constant flippancy, fiercely and precisely.
First premiered at Next Wave Festival in Australia, Monster Body’s distinctly fragmented nature- a series of acts and actions taking place on an almost bare stage- might attempt saturation, yet instead they seems to position it across different contexts. Eke works via through appropriation and juxtaposition, through action, like her ballet steps taken whilst uttering groaning, monster sounds. She engages with a dance vocabulary that minimalism has tried to extricate from art, like flirtation, humour or irregularity, but does so under strict control. She faces down, her body covered in urine, her back covered by threads of her thick, long dark blond hair; she smears her face with pink fluorescent make-up. Eke’s work borrows from Child’s rules of geometric movement yet appropriates live art politics. Her images are never still, though reliant on stillness.
Residing somewhere between pastiche and subversion, Monster Body’s apparent clarity, clean precision makes way for a sophisticated politics. Central to Monster Body is the mask, key to that association of both individual and collective politics. Eke reproduces pop dance with mimic clarity whilst wearing a black hood on her head, surrounded by concert lighting. She stares at us blankly during soapy pop whilst her body begins to leak, lying in the urine in provocative poses. A man cleans the stage with pink gloves and a biohazard suit. When we enter the theatre, she hoola-hoops with a dinosaur mask on her face, and later, she sports a giant chipmunk masks whilst wearing a skincoloured suit in which she’s tucked water-filled pink balloons that turns from breasts to tumours. This constant play with indicators constantly shifts the body’s meaning on stage, navigating between the specific and the abstract.
If dance is fully embodied, then it is also that which abstracts the body, always demanding a particular physical commitment often in antithesis to the affect that guides it. Body and the enactment of precision work in tandem, and out of this duet emerges a powerful denial of strain and the ability of the body to reproduce. Seen in light of these physical bearers, Atlanta Eke’s Monster Body isn’t just a sharp appropriation and problematisation of female body image; it considers and engages with representation by deploying strategies of the carnivalesque without poetics, and capitalises on the power of identity. It doesn’t simply presume the politics of the female body, but places equal stance on the problematics of our collective imagination.