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On Tuesday, December 4, William Kentridge’s “The Head & The Load” made its North American debut in New York City at the Park Avenue Armory. An amalgamation of movement, sculpture, music, and shadow play, the work (commissioned by the Armory alongside 14-18 NOW Centenary Commissions, MASS MoCA, and the Ruhrtriennale) is a tribute to the many Africans who served in World War I.
Named for the Ghanaian proverb, “The head and the load are troubles of the neck,” the work serves as a physical collage of history, telling the untold stories of war, totalitarianism, and colonialism, which caused nearly two million African porters and carriers to bear the brunt of casualties under the direction of the French, British, and Germans.
In the performance, original music conceived by Philip Miller and co-composer Thuthuka Sibisi transforms traditional African songs, and text from European composers of the time, with a libretto featuring excerpts like Tristan Tzara translated into isiZulu, Wilfred Owen in French, and Setswana proverbs from Sol Plaatje’s 1920 collection. Paired with Gregory Maqoma’s choreography, the cast of performers, actors, and musicians (including Brooklyn-based orchestra collective The Knights) portray the raw and haunting realities of the lives of those who fought a war that was not their own.
“Mounted at an unprecedented scale in our Drill Hall, Kentridge’s lyrical and poignant creation sheds light on the invisible heroism of others, the hidden scale of human disaster, and the incomprehensible courage of those who fought for freedoms we take for granted today,” said Rebecca Robertson, President and Executive Director of Park Avenue Armory.
“The Head & The Load” is open at the Park Avenue Armory through December 15.