The Art School, 7th March 2017
This performance is one of paradoxes so stark I am left speechless and puzzling. Both intimate and public, grotesque and beautiful, painful and inspiring. Nando Messias manages to effectively erase the boundaries of gender, performativity and agency.
The body, so violated by society, becomes an artwork, a thing of beauty bared for all in the audience to admire. We are shown how the body can do more than merely be looked at: it is presented as powerful, strong, composed and in control. It can sign, bring anecdotes to life, and above all dance in a way that wrenches your heart. One might expect society’s shame to be forced onto a body by the unending violence it forces upon it. Yet the sissy takes control of its body and its meaning by displaying its undeniable strength and beauty to us all.
Moreover, the body becomes the site of incredible endurance. It withstands cripplingly high heels with grace; an overhead voice informing the world that sissies are an abomination and must be shot to protect society’s morals; being pelted with water, glitter-filled eggs and rotten tomatoes. It manages to expel the symbol of society’s hatred by coughing up flour that had penetrated deep into its lungs.
Crucially, the audience participation forces the viewer to confront their own role in society’s treatment of the ‘other’. We are beckoned to ‘shoot the sissy’, an idea inspired by the Colorado shootings. Will you do it? Or will you sit back and watch, becoming complicit in the act? These questions are particularly uncomfortable, due to the intimate setting of the performance and the incredibly private nature of it. An intense connection has been established between the viewer and the performer, as one is given a glimpse of the immeasurable pain and grief experienced due to the intolerances of society. Thus being asked to become a part of it forces us to acknowledge our own role in the larger issues at stake.
Yet the performance is powerful as it dwells not only on the horrifying. There is laughter, joy and a celebration of the body. In the end, we look upon the outcome of this struggle: a body standing alone, completely exposed, covered in dirt thrown at it, red dripping from its chest, standing upright and looking you straight in the eyes.