Nora Chipaumire’s “Portrait of Myself as my Father”

[ This post is a finalists from the Artblog + The St. Claire’s 2016 New Art Writing Challenge Contest. This piece was also selected as the 500 words and under category winner. Thanks to all those who participated, and thanks to our jurors–Cara Ober, Meredith Sellers, and Paddy Johnson–who picked the winners. ]

Greeting us, blocking us, is The Champion.
“Well, we are ready.”
The Champion is Nora Chipaumire. She is sweat-talking into an old-timey mic that swings around all night from an overhead pulley system in the loading dock of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We scooch into risers that 3-side a boxing ring: homemade, floor raised a few inches, white, light booms at each corner. The ropes are flat and glossy like white duct tape. In that corner, a big man (Pape Ibrahima Ndiaye), another Champion, is watching us without looking at us. Chipaumire hosts outside the ring, herding us with amplified words and a casual pelvis, bumping along, talking over pop music (Kwaito? Kuduru?).

Round One.
Champion Chipamaure on the mic. She weaves over and under the ropes, around the hot floor. Her breasts are smushed south by football shoulder pads, sausaged into a mesh bra. Keys jangle from her rope belt holding up her Dickies. A whistle. Talismans. A black iron phallus, a heavy weight, a paper weight, a ritual, an artifact. It is tethered to her. She and the other Champion are tethered together. Chipamaure is the fight announcer and the fighter.

They keep coming, hard to decipher sentences, English and otherwise. With the wet reverb-y way it all sounds, I hear her. Or her as him. I think: I am not entitled to legibility.
in and out of ongoing commentary. There is bellows to her “Well-ugh.”
The sentences skip and stomp around,

[Another] Round One.
The Champion, the other version, a beast with a mouth guard, squatting into his big thighs. Genitals tucked into black leather with spikes. Hips wrapped with brown leather and sweat.
Chipamaure announces: Rule # 1. Rule # 2.
He moves around the ring. He looks out at us. He performs.
“Black African. How to become the Black Man. The Black. Ahhhfrican. Man. The Black African Man.”
I remember # 3 is “Slow WAY DOWN. Own Time”
Rule #6. He is trying to break open the ground.
Rule #7. Rule # 8. Rule #9.
“Give him the BASS. The Bass.” BOOM his weight through the floor.

This whole time, there is the Shadow (Wyatt Sharpp), a one man chorus, a long young man. He is a hare, bounding, an athlete in coat tails, serving, bringing an umbrella. He is putting in and taking out work lights, casting and un-casting shadow, uncatchable. And now, he is bounding more and more, higher and higher, showing off, escaping, showing off.

Chipamaure’s father’s name was Webster Barnabas Chipaumire.

Chipaumire announces, “Tired of fighting. Tired of running. Tired of fucking.” The hare bounding over the ropes. The Champion hurling into them, into the ground. Until he, finally, –well, no, you should see it, you should try to feel it for yourself. What I can tell you though is this:

Chipaumire carries the weight of him. The shadow asks a question. Chipaumire answers.

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