El Adham – Dark Horse in a White House
By Gilad Melzer
History has a tendency to fool us. Just when we believe that certain deeds or events that befall us, or that we generate, have a particular meaning, or that they do not have any “serious” meaning, history makes a sharp turn, something happens, and suddenly, what happened dons a new garb, and is charged, almost on its own accord, with new meaning. Who would have believed that between the Winter of 2008, the time that the Israeli-Arab artist Anisa Ashakar presented her performance piece El Adham – Arabic for Black Horse – and the end of November of the same year, White House, the bastion of the largest world power will be waiting the arrival of the new elected president, the black senator Barack Hussein Obama?
El Adham was first performed at the majestic Kunsthalle in Dusseldorf, Germany. It was the closing chapter of a performance trilogy she exhibited in various European cities. A young Arabic woman, dressed in a black dress, on her arms “riding socks”, like those that protect the slim legs of horses, and on her legs, the rider’s ankle holders. They – “rider” and “horse’ – walk down the steps of the elegant institute, and in a reversal of expected gender rolls, she begins to undress, scrub and calm her “horse”, a young, virile black man, who attempts yet fails to resist her commands and grasping. She temps and orders him, her voice shifting from gentle whispers to harsh aggression, while she brushes his body with the milk she dredges up from a tub from which he gulps from time to time. She is the lady of the house, and although he stages resistance, she is the one who calls the shots and forces her will.
The exhibition El Adham presents “docu-traces”, remnants form her charged performance of the same name: a video that functions as a the visual “document” of the original piece; a photograph that captures the intense physical contact – perhaps a hug or maybe a grip – between Ashkar and the “horse” (Dusseldorf ballet dancer and choreographer, John Hill), in a moment when power, libido and fury intertwine; and the special objects of the performance, ( the milk pail is a constant presence in her performances). Rather than showcasing the “expected” whip and riding cap, Ashkar chose to exhibit an accessory that suppose to adorn the horse, in an act that positions her when she is “expected” to be: even when she is the lady f the house, toying with the symbols of status and high culture, she is closer to nature and the horse. The repetitive attempts to scrub the horse, and whiten it, end up only emphasizing the link between the horse and its rider, according to the twisted criterions of skin-color and race. The milk splashes on both of them, drips from his skin, and soaks into her black dress, but to no avail. When the drama is over, and beyond all the connotations, sexual and others, by white-washing the scene and its participants, Ashkar emphasizes the fact, that for many, still, beyond and under it all, they, she and the horse, are black.