Gule Wamkulu: Dancing Indigenous Governance
UVic Legacy Art Galleries, Victoria, BC - To Apr 8
In a sense, this exhibition of masks, textiles, photographs and films focusing on Gule Wamkulu, the Great Dance of Life of the Chewa people of southern Africa, is about reconnection and healing. The show’s presentation in Victoria, on traditional Coast Salish lands, resonates both personally and culturally. Guest-curated by Devi Mucina, director of the School of Indigenous Governance at the University of Victoria, it speaks to the African diaspora, to community, cultural connection, wellness and governance structures – and to Mucina’s own journey of loss and reclamation.
As a consequence of growing up in his mother’s homeland Zimbabwe and immigrating to Canada as a young man, Mucina had lost touch with his father and had never known his father’s Chewa culture or people, who reside on the border between Malawi and Mozambique. Only after watching Coast Salish masked dances and witnessing the struggles, resistance and resilience of the Indigenous peoples of Canada was Mucina motivated, he says, “to go home and claim Gule Wamkulu.” He was lovingly welcomed into his paternal family and kinship networks – and initiated into the Great Dance of Life.
Gule Wamkulu, Mucina says, “is the place where we express our spirituality and connect with the Ubuntu divine.” Since time immemorial, he continues, the Chewa people “have engaged [in] spiritual mask dancing as an interaction between the living and the dead.” Through dancing the masks, which are often made from aggregates of the most Devi Mucina, Still We Rise, 2022, driftwood, metal, Styrofoam, glass, moss, sand, shells humble found materials, “the ancestors are invested in our wellness because our embodiment is an extension of their existence.”