From a Distance is the latest offering from Thato Ramaisa and Buyani Duma, a.k.a. Fela Gucci and Desire Marea, the duo behind confrontational performance art project FAKA. It’s part of what the two describe as an ongoing series “celebrating third world aesthetics that often do not have the space to be validated on a large scale in contemporary creative culture.” As FAKA see it, “Many of us in the third world lack the resources to emulate pop culture’s aesthetics and that often excludes us from the very important dialogue of global cultural progression, because our grainy contributions are never accepted as they are.” From a Distance is a direct rebuttal to the snobbishness and exclusivity of the status quo. We have sometimes one, sometimes both performers, we have red soil and spare woods, and we have the music. It’s the conversation between these elements that we are watching unfold as the backing track becomes first more layered and complex, then contracts, until all we’re left with is Fela and Desire, giggling, relieved, and a howling sound, low and melodic.
The fact that the piece shares a title with a Brenda Fassie’s From a Distance is no coincidence. The video is a tribute the singer’s now-legendary performance of the song. In the struggles and triumphs of Fassie’s life, FAKA see “a way of being black and queer that we never thought could exist with such human grace.” That presence and power is exactly what the duo say they want to tap into in their own work, and the bareness of her performance — when “lyrics, the choreography, the sound, none of it really existed” — parallels the stripped-down, sometimes haunting, simplicity of their video.
For FAKA, art is not window-dressing. It’s a way of being and a way of being expressly political: “We want the performance to be our lives. Just like Brenda and Lebo Mathosa’s performances. Just like Bonang and Kelly Khumalo’s performances.”
Buyani Duma and Thato Ramaisa are the mediums. Fela Gucci and Desire Marea are the art.