Haïkunification? was a collaborative project between Claire Tancons and David Hammons for Sessions e-KAPA 2005, a preliminary program to CAPE 07, the first edition of the Cape Town Biennial.
Building upon Hammons’s How Ya Like Me Now (1988) the monumental publicity-like placard of Jesse Jackson in whiteface, created in protest against the Reverend’s failed Presidential candidacy – a reversed mirror-version of the photograph of Nelson Mandela in Klopse gear in 1996 – and Tancons’s investigation into the Coon Carnival, the project aimed to tackle racial impersonation in blackface performance against the historical legacy of American Minstrelsy and the contemporary tradition of the Kaapse Klopse Carnival (formerly called the Coon Carnival.)
The project stemmed from Tancons and Hammons’s ongoing conversation at the time, during which Hammons offered neologisms – High-Coonification, High-Coonery – and puns – Haïkunification – which performed language in keeping with the African American signifyin’ trope exposed by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and in relationship to “the popular performance of cultural differences” by which Richard Schechner defines Creole carnivals such as the Cape Town Carnival.
If the performance did not occur as planned on December 11, 2005 – it was to take place in the Cape Malay neighbourhood of Bo-Kaap, at the corner of Rose and Wale Streets – it was anticipated and realized in a seemingly impromptu blackface performance on December 6, 2005, the last day of the Sessions eKAPA conference: Mzantsi: (Re) Locating Contemporary African Art, a preliminary program of CAPE 07, the first edition of the Cape Town Biennial organized by Cape Africa Platform.
Dubbed Coon Revolution and waged by artists and curators Gabi Ngcobo and Khwezi Gule who donned traditional Kaapse Klopse makeup, it was a tongue-in-cheek send-up of the one-eyed, diamond-teethed, Afro-ed figure designed by the firm Daddy Buy Me a Pony, a glaring display of critical post-Apartheid coonery that brought an uncanny embodied experience to Hammons’s foretelling linguistic riddle.