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Book: Body Talk and Cultural Identity in the African World

Chapter: 5. Bodies in Motion: Gestures and Performance of Identity in in Tess Onwueme’s Shakara

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.24093


If as the title suggests “the body is a site bearing multiple signs of cultural inscriptions,” it would seem that artists deploy the body in a variety of ways either to articulate various positions of power or to negotiate states of identity, belongings, and relationships. One such example is Nigerian playwright Tess Onwueme who infuses her plays with dramatic movements and gestures which signal the cultural location of her characters and of her plays. Using a combination of feminist theory/criticism, cultural, and performance criticisms, this paper examines three plays by Tess Onwueme: Shakara, What Mama Said, and Tell It To Women, paying attention to how the playwright uses her characters’ bodies to register their socio-economic and political marginalization as well as to protest such disempowerment. In almost all of her plays, Onwueme uses movement, especially dance, as a trope to interrogate her women characters’ identities, thus engaging in what Helen Gilbert describes as “an active self-constituting process” (Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin 304). This contribution examines how the body becomes representative of the site for cultural (colonial and postcolonial) struggles of identity and “authenticity?” How and of what does the body signify either non-verbally through gestures, including dance, facial expressions, hand motions, and body movements?

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