Prayer Warriors: The Survival Performances (2016) 5-channel video installation

Prayer Warriors: The Survival Performances sees a group of evangelical Christian pastors from Ogoniland in Nigerias’s Niger Delta in fervent prayer.  Communicated principally in the Ogoni language but also occasionally in English and also in “tongues”, the subjects’ voices, tonality, rhythm and conviction are mesmerizing, communicating in ways that transcend language. The work expresses Saro-Wiwa’s interest in exploring the relationship between performance and documentary and the dynamics that relate performance to catharsis. More than that it forms part of her inquiry into ways in which environmentalism intersects with everyday life – in this case the religious and spiritual lives of Niger-Delta dwellers. The 5-channel format and kinetic visuals serve to highlight the vital theatricality inherent in ministering. Sira Barika, the principle prayer warrior dressed in red, and the quaking, energized bodies of the other prayer warriors all channel the spirit of the land, traumatized yet resilient. Calling upon spirit, connecting earthly and celestial realms, the prayer warriors’ performances are a means of psychic survival. The space in which their voices resonate become a reflection and representation of the internal environment of a Niger Delta body as it negotiates its way through a corrupted socio-economic reality. For Saro-Wiwa the internal landscape forms a vital part of what constitutes our understanding of “the environment” when considering the Niger Delta or indeed any landscape experiencing trauma.

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