MATRIMONIAL RITUALS, GENDER STUDIES AND FALSE FACIAL HAIR…
Tucked away in case 43 of the Pitt Rivers Museum one can find a straw beard and eyebrows. The accompanying label says ‘These symbols of manhood were worn by the (Angolan) bride for a short time after the wedding ceremony before moving into her husband’s home’…
… In response, I made false facial hair for 30 female volunteers from London. The outcome is a documentary of these women, imagination in one hand and some false facial hair in the other, attempting to understand the matrimonial ritual of these Angolan women. Some approached the ritual through wearing and discussion, some through executing their daily routines with this hairy addition, and some through creating their own rituals for the false facial hair.
The fact that the beards are not realistic, makes it clear they are not to be mistaken for a disguise, but instead become a kind of ritual tool for looking and being looked at. The beard and the wearer together become interlocutors in a discussion of gender, desire, sexuality, masochism and physical beauty.
In the final weeks of the project our steps lead us to discover footage of the original artifacts being used. In 1937 the sisters, Antoinette and Diana Powell-Cotton, documented the four-day Efundala marriage ceremony in Angola. For a short period towards the end of the ceremony the young Kwanyama girls would wear the false beards and eyebrows, and ‘become’ for that period ‘bridal boys’. This section of the footage is shown in the film above.
Although the discovered documentation from 1937 gives a greater insight into the ritual and it’s society, the emotive significance of it to the Kwanyama girls involved is still left open to the imagination.
IN REVERSE, Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford
ORIGINAL FOOTAGE used with the kind permission of the Powell-Cotton Museum, Kent