Heather Agyepong cares if you’re sitting comfortably. A notice to the audience: sit or stand wherever you like, feel free to move around. Hers is not the only body of importance in this room – that’s the message.
The visual artist and performer, who works primarily in photography, is interested in the pain, trauma, discomfort and history held in all of our bodies, but especially those of black women. Her method to connect with this is Authentic Movement therapy, a kind of instinctive improvisation. Eyes closed in the centre of the stage, Agyepong doesn’t always give a lot away with her movement, but she’s on an internal journey. It’s an energetic state, in constant sway, mining for personal meaning, feeling and equilibrium.
The context comes from the soundtrack, fragments of testimony from black British women on their bodies’ experiences and unravellings, from unexplained pain to panic attacks, often while being told officially that nothing’s wrong with them. Illnesses dismissed as being in your head, when what’s in your head (and your heart and memory and relationships and society around you) can have deep physical impact. In one powerful moment, a woman talks of arriving in a social situation, having to carry the weight of her body and how people perceive her, to micromanage every movement.
The show’s coda is the most poignant part. We’re invited to view an installation of neatly arranged objects at the back of the stage, among them lavender oil, two soft toy dogs, a yoga mat, migraine tablets and St John’s wort, all tools of soothing and healing and re-finding yourself; the endless effort to calm a body and assuage pain. The ideas in Agyepong’s performance are potent, even if its mind and body don’t always feel connected.