Nora Chipaumire’s Portrait of Myself as My Father is a search for someone she never knew

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Nora Chipaumire - ELISE FITTE-DUVAL
  • Elise Fitte-Duval
  • Nora Chipaumire

Zimbabwe-born performance artist Nora Chipaumire never really knew her father, who left her family when she was five. But once she made a name for herself as a dancer-choreographer in New York, she started hearing from other Chipaumires.

"My father went on to have another family," says Chipaumire, who just turned 50. "[They've] popped up over the last three or four years of my life. Almost 40 years had passed without [my] knowing these people existed."

The revelation of her half siblings, she acknowledges, is one of the wellsprings of Portrait of Myself as My Father, the fierce piece she brings to the Dance Center of Columbia College on Thursday. The work explores not only the identity of the stranger who was her father (he died in 1980), but larger questions about the black male body and African masculinity more generally.

In Portrait, Chipaumire's body language is gruff, her movements powerful and deliberate. Clad in football pads, equipped with a glove, and sporting gris-gris, she navigates the corners of a boxing ring while tied with elastic bands to two male collaborators. The "black male" she tries to summon is an identity that has yet to be fully understood, she says; in many ways, her performance is an opportunity to resolve the past by putting it on public display. Has it been difficult?

"The honest answer is yes," she notes. "Because reconciling my relationship with my father means reconciling my relationship with a black man. And that's a minefield."

Portrait of Myself as My Father Thu 10/20-Sat 10/22, 7:30 PM, Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 S. Michigan, 312-369-6600, colum.edu/dance-center, $30.

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