HDP Media was at La Chapelle Theater on November 1, 2018, for the Montreal premiere of LOSS—a multimedia piece performed by Ian Kamau. In an intimate setting, Kamau greeted us by explaining that he was going to read pieces and poems written by his father and himself. Those pieces explored the theme of mental illness. Right after his short presentation, he calmly spread sugar on the scene, circling the piano, the microphone, himself and the pianist. Without explaining anything, he started to read the pieces.
It was easy to become disconnected from or distracted by the performance. Why? Because Kamau had a very subtle presence. I did not feel any emotion emanating from him, even though most of the themes explored were extreme, painful, and full of emotion. The young writer kept on reading with the same monotone voice the whole night, just like when your father used to read your stories to lull you to sleep at bedtime.
Sometimes I was awakened from my dream state by the beautiful music and then my attention was captivated by the simple visuals showcased on four big screens around the room. Faces, neighbourhoods, the countryside, and beaches were projected to bring us into the emotional world of Ian Kamau.
Time was not linear during his performance. Sometimes I got confused as to what period he was referring to and who the narrator—was it the father or the son? Even though it wasn’t easy to decipher, the confusion or the appearing chaos still made the piece fascinating. I was intrigued, especially because it did not make sense to me. Maybe it was designed to be that way, to get rid of logic, transcend the expected and bring us into a world of emotion, such as grief, depression, joy, happiness, closeness, intimacy and fear. My favourite piece was Stay: a poem about depression. Extremely simple vocabulary, straight to the point, but filled with emotional depth—what a beauty!
We had a little Q&A at the end to discuss with the author. Thank God since it allowed me to understand a bit more where he was coming from. He shared with us how the idea came about and why it was important for him to create this project. It helped him through his depression and better understand his family dynamic. He had to go really deep and search for answers regarding a tragic event involving his grandmother—a situation that still impacts the family dynamic today. Ian seems to have a bright mind and be very meticulous and dedicated to reach his goal. Very particular in his process, he kept referring to the fact that he is a Virgo. I thought that was cute and funny. He admitted that the piece is still in work. He’s preparing for a tour where he will showcase it to a larger audience. He informed us that the presentation is bound to change. Ian is exploring different possibilities and ideas. His goal is to make LOSS a meaningful creation and a reflection of our world. He wants people to relate to it and see themselves in the piece. The young artist has what it takes to bring this piece further given the theme—mental health in black families—an interesting mind, a great imagination, creativity and an ability to be emotionally open and raw. I cannot wait to see where this project goes!
Do you think that it’s important to talk about mental health in black communities?