mzungu

single-channel video 10:39 min, loop, sound ‘Mzungu’ is a Swahili word that means ability, skill, talent; something amazing, remarkable, baffling, surprising, rare; clever device; dexterity; instinct (of an animal); feat, marvel, trick. But primarily, it is used to mean a…

mzungu

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single-channel video 10:39 min, loop, sound
‘Mzungu’ is a Swahili word that means ability, skill, talent; something amazing, remarkable, baffling, surprising, rare; clever device; dexterity; instinct (of an animal); feat, marvel, trick. But primarily, it is used to mean a European or a white person.
 
The video shows Hutter exchanging his clothes for the garb of a moran, a Massai ‘warrior’ of the contemporary kind whose work is to engage with tourists rather than the traditional hunting of wildlife. The moran’s outfit therefore actually represents his work clothes, where as the jeans and colourful batik shirt worn by Hutter signify time of leisure.
In nonlinear sequences one sees the act of exchange, with two moran arranging their red fabric and beaded necklaces, bracelets and headgear on Hutter’s person. One of them dons Hutter’s clothes, an action that involves comparatively little effort.
The original sounds of jangling necklaces, the morans’ comments and laughter, the wind and environmental noises have been complemented by Mwangi’s layered voice chanting the word ‘mzungu’, accompanied by the jingle of a kalimba.
 
The video is displayed in the installation version on a large plasma screen, which is mounted centrally on a wall painted bright red. The screen’s frame is adorned with carved ebony signs and combs, typically sold in Kenyan markets, which display the word ‘karibu’: a Swahili expression meaning welcome, come in!; close, nearby; close relative; enter, come near; almost, nearly.

Mzungu is a comment on tourism and the difficulty of meaningful exchange occurring between the two sides: ‘Guest’ as well as ‘host’ impose expectations upon each other that are formed from the point of view of respective interests, which differ grossly, from existential and financial needs to an entertainment-seeking, consumer attitude. Encounters based upon such contradictory pursuits clash glaringly, but the underlying conflict is often concealed and becomes dangerously perpetuated in preconceived, discriminating opinions.
 
The work symbolically strips representational players of both sides and allows them to step into the charged shoes of the other for a moment, in an absurd but intimate act.

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