The Igbo people of Nigeria take their mmanwus, or masquerades, very seriously. For starters, they last for weeks or months. And, though they entertain villagers and celebrate successful harvests, they've also served as an early form of police, protecting communities and enforcing folkways. Finally, with masks fashioned to resemble dead townspeople, the tradition has an overtly spiritual dimension and is believed to permit the ghosts of elders to return to advise the living.
So there's a bit more than costumes and festive, facile camouflage to Mendi and Keith Obadike's multimedia mmanwu, Four Electric Ghosts. Through dance, video and an original score traversing funk, rock and rhythm & blues, four ghosts encounter the same mortal during their eternal walkabouts in the Land of the Dead. Lives—and afterlives—are changed as a result.
The creators are no strangers to the region: Keith's art degree is from NCCU, and Mendi got her doctorate at Duke. But since they left, they've achieved international recognition for their work. Four Electric Ghosts made the top 10 in Artforum's Best of 2009 list. Judge Vijay Iyer compared the piece to the works of Grace Jones, June Tyson, Laurie Anderson, TV on the Radio, Takashi Murakami and the Urban Bush Women. Interesting crew, no?
If you're after bleeding-edge performance, this "Loading Dock Series" date, in which the audience sits on Memorial Hall's stage, is limited to 160 people. —Byron Woods