Issue 24: Head of Earth

Elton Panamby

Reading time: 9 minutes



Raw Flesh

”Where to bleed? Why to bleed, and what for? Where to bleed?”

To speak of blood we have to cut off the colonizing heads. They roll out of our mouths and it is from this rush of liberation that we extract the ink to engrave on these printed pages some of the marks on our bodies spilled by the caravels.

Where to bleed? Why to bleed, and what for? Where to bleed?

To locate, to draw the maps of where we must place ourselves. The differences between the red velvet I shed in territories of enchantment and welcome, and the puddle where I see myself on the white screen of Geneva. Sharing yourself with your relatives, with the gazes of ethnography, with the art market . . . are chasms of distance. Black, white, and a red river in between. I dance on the third shore.

In 2008 I started a journey through red roads woven with my own flesh. Filled with courses of tattooing, suturing, piercing, and body suspension, I was interested in awakening the body/senses through pierced flesh, through blood flow diverted from the inside out. It was too much and I needed to filter, to break dams. At first, they were personal rites in the intimacy of healing scars. Eventually they were shared, collectivized, changed, and spilled into a scene, an immobilization, a play. Blood and flesh as bargaining chips in a market that demands raw spectacle.

December 4, 2015.[1] After eating the tail of a scorpion in the wee hours of the morning with a last sip of mezcal, my body began a purging process. Vomiting and more vomiting, until it had nothing left to gush out. My guts seemed to twist and I felt a stabbing pain from stomach to spine and up my spine burning into my brain. It twitched spasmodically. My body saying no, collapsing with anxiety. Thirty-nine days in the European winter. I had always been afraid of Europe. The metropolis never inspired confidence in me. From the beginning I was afraid of this trip. I always thought I would not come back alive. So, I died, first of self-poisoning, then of ( . . . )

Things are held together by strands of glue. About thirty minutes before we missed the flight, I suddenly got out of bed, put on some pants, slippers, grabbed a jacket, washed my face ,and said, “Let’s go.” We took that plane with 5 kg of white feathers, bags of fake pearls, needles—lots of needles—and other surgical materials for the performances.

We went, Filipe Espindola and I, invited by the performer Yann Marussich to Geneva, $witzerland,[2]  to participate in the Experience of Immobility[3] exhibition, an almost-thirty-day retrospective show where we presented our work Perlas a los cerdos [Pearls Before Swine] and participated in two of Yann’s performances, La Chaise and Blessure. The invitation came from a 2014 encounter between us at Casa 24, Rio de Janeiro. I cooked for the artist I had admired and researched since 2006. Months later we spoke through Skype, arranging all the final details of the sale of blood, I mean the sale of bodies, I mean the participation in the festival.

On the second day of the trip, Filipe suffered a kidney infection followed by a hospital infection. The first hospitalization lasted eight days. The day after discharge, we each had 400 ml of blood drawn from our veins to use in Yann’s performance, La Chaise. After the performances, another hospitalization due to a bacterial infection. Another five days. Every day a new social worker came in to check if we were not illegal; scenes of high-level humiliation in French.

Day after day my anger built up and folded in on itself. The looks, the comments, “Don’t go in there because there are Black immigrants selling drugs,” “Don’t go in there because there are Syrians,” “Watch out for the Palestinians.” And with all these stigmatized subjects I talked, exchanged brief glances of identification, and felt understood. All of us, foreign bodies in Geneva’s multicultural society, found one another in some way.

The Ethnography Museum Geneva. I was told I had to visit it, one of the best ethnography museums in the world. I went in straight to the basement where the permanent collection is shown. And I came face-to-face with the culture of barbarism, theft, and colonial rape. Many of the pieces there, out of context, in places that hurt communities of native peoples, Africans, Indians, and Asians, stolen objects exposed in the absolute political and social ignorance that accompanies the existence of museums like this one. The objects[4] die along with the peoples that the conquerors insist on burying. While they insist on seeing them as fetishes, exoticism, strangeness, there I saw the dystopian traces of an ignored diaspora. Banzo.

I started to look at the photos that Emilie Salquèbre took after the performance of La Chaise, Perlas a los cerdos, and Blessure. A black background; front, profile photos; sinuous body, perky ass. Brutal similarities with the slavery cataloging books in the ports, the museums of colonial ethnography, the medical and police archives. In Emilie’s photos, I saw myself as just another body that could be cataloged, objectified, sketched, over and over again . . .

La Chaise. Three days of immobility for one hour. Sitting in the sugar chair. Second day, my blood bag with a large clot in the thin tube. My blood does not want to be spilled there. The insistence and technical rigor of the Cie Yann Marussich team unclogs the tube and the drip begins. The legs of the chair made of sugar cubes—which I millimetrically assembled or six hours in one day, along with three other chairs—absorbed the blood dripping down the arm. After one hour it collapses. In the fall, the sugar hits my back and my thigh, where I carry the scars. Next, photos in the locker room by Emilie. Front, side. I shower and get ready to do Perlas a los cerdos in the sequence. I had blood in my eyes. I got angry and looked at them emanating my ancestral emotions. The second day, lying there for one hour while Filipe succumbed to the dripping, I clearly saw my reflection in the pool of blood. In all that blood spilled there and the raw flesh.

For us, the theme of sugar has nothing to do with food, it’s not about people eating too much, according to Yann’s argument. Sugar is slavery, the sugar mills, our grandfathers cutting cane on the plantations, it’s the whip of misery.

There is a latent revolt when we realize that our blood has become a puddle crystallized in white sugar. We are not against colonialism, we work for its complete destruction. The gazes . . . learning to divert them, to block them, to annul them, to look straight ahead when necessary and when there is strength in our tired eyes . . . They are shields and spears that we sharpen to pass through the white clouds in the skies of high culture, of that ART. That gaze is necrotic.

In Blessure, a piece done at the turn of the year (2015/2016) for four hours, I was served as in the court of King Louis XV. At the command of the cries of a man dressed as Christopher Columbus, Italian cisgender women and one of Peruvian origin served the food to the guests attending the performance. The European white and the Brazilian Black in a ring of white feathers for the delight of the audience who feasted on roasted rabbit on steel skewers, smoked trout, wine, and so many other delicacies of the nobility. To the slaughterhouse! Meanwhile, a very blonde, very light-eyed, white-skinned girl paraded slowly, every hour with a new outfit picked by a stylist. And the blood . . . again the blood, this time gushing from my right rib as Yann moved to remove the spear installed there. It gushed out. It was an animal bleeding in white feathers and the audience with their mouths full, smiling.

Your eyes are devouring me so

That I have nowhere else to draw strength to feed you.

—Stela do Patrocínio[5]

It was death. I have died many times there. My charmed ones, my mentors, slaughtered there. How sad. We have to walk a long way on the paths of the asé to reconstitute the life of this body and to recognize the preciousness and potency of our ejé, Afro-Pindoramic blood, which must bring healing and not obliteration.

The flesh must remain alive in life and not wounded in the living flesh.

Within an hour the vomit comes, the dams are knocked down by the water and a reflective darkness takes hold of them. In this deep darkness it is possible to regenerate the roots, the sap, and to realize that our listening needs this sound far from the white lights that freeze everything. Intuitions, perceptions, and sensitivities that manifest themselves, but are often sabotaged by the colonial veil to which we do not pay due attention. Secrets, deliveries, and survival: mandingas to survive in hell.[6]

The scars that mark my body
The open wounds of the body laid on the table
Prostro at the dining table
Je ne parle pas français du petite negre
Je ne parle pas français du petite negre
We are not alike, we are not similar
We are not related
You pariwat
My blood is not for sale
It is not covered by the tax payment it is not
Bend my body do not
No more under your feet
My blood is not for sale
Under your feet
Our bodies were put up for sale
This path of walking through the brutal cracks
That mark the black earth of the lash
The port is the cradle of your civilization and the graveyard of our culture
Don’t shake those money bills at me
It is not with your coins that you will wash my grandparents’ backs
Don’t show me the faces of your colonial barbarities
Don’t steal our headdresses to exhibit them in the museum and charge us an entrance fee
Which gives you a free pass to carry our wombs in test tubes
Don’t disguise the racism that dwells in your habits and your breath
I watch you from afar
Rum . . .
Ruminating was never Nietzsche
But he who has never grazed does not know what it is to chew the same grass twice.


  1. Note from a dream: Unnerving. A crab beetle’s paw was coming out of my ear in the midst of the plane crash and earthly ruins. I smack against my head, smack my head. I take a long pair of tweezers and in front of a broken mirror I pull out of my head the whole insect, alive: A cockroach that was eating a beetle and had come in to try to eat my head, rotten gourd. I am still amazed.

  2. Spelling adopted for “Switzerland” for reasons of ethical-aesthetic coherence.


  4. Chris Marker, Alain Resnais e Ghislain Cloquet, As Estátuas Também Morrem, 1953.

  5. Stela do Patrocínio. Reino dos bichos e dos animais é o meu nome. Org. Viviane Mosé. (Brazil: Beco do Azougue, 2009).

  6. Reference to the album/book Sobrevivendo no Inferno, of Racionais Mc’s.


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