In Wanlov the Kubolor’s “Swim” something poetic becomes political – Irene Donati

Wanlov The Kubolor, Ghanaian rapper, songwriter, producer, videographer, and performance artist recently released a new video and a song called “Swim.”

After days of research, thinking, and re-writing from different angles, I realised how Wanlov’s work resonates with many performance artists who use their bodies to make political statements. I am not comparing to validate. Wanlov doesn’t need validation. It is however quite interesting to realize that artists from very different backgrounds and circumstances have ended up using a similar form of expression for related messages or fights.

Even though it’s an unusual type of performance I watch “Swim” and I think “SOMETIMES DOING SOMETHING POETIC CAN BECOME POLITICAL AND SOMETIMES DOING SOMETHING POLITICAL CAN BECOME POETIC,” which is a text from the inspiring work of Belgian artist Francis Alÿs and a poignant description of “Swim”.

“Swim” is something poetic that can become political. It’s also indeed political and still incredibly poetic: the statement of swimming naked in an ocean of plastic in a country that is very good at having politicians take selfies with celebrities, but can’t seem to solve fundamental issues like the filth on our streets and shores; to the tone of the voice pronouncing the lyrics; to the music.

I could stop here and you would already have enough to think about.

But there’s definitely more, because Francis Alÿs performances are not directly comparable to Wanlov’s, if not by intention. Pushing an ice block through the streets of Mexico City until it melts might look extremely different from swimming naked in plastic or walking barefoot everywhere around the world, but is it that different?

Is Wanlov’s use of his naked body different from Ana Mendieta’s use of her nude body?

Is it that different from what Wanlov keeps doing in the fight for women’s rights and gay rights?

The reason why we are disturbed or moved by naked bodies in a non-sexual or non-pornographic state is that they represent the vulnerability of human nature. And we don’t want to be vulnerable because vulnerability is considered a “feminine or gay issue:” Naked men are supposed to send dick pics or show their sexual power (the wrong way ).

Is he so different from the celebrated Cuban-born artist who used her naked body in contact with water, earth, and other natural elements to express her pain and her rage and to denounce sexual abuse/violence by swimming naked in her “Ocean Bird” performance? And is Mendieta applying male facial hair on her face different from Wanlov using makeup and jewelry and clothes to deconstruct gender?

We have learned in recent times that the intrinsic definition of gender is an issue.

I have no doubt that Wanlov’s body is carrying a feminist message and could help to protect female bodies from over-sexualization, which is an unintentional consequence of some expressions of the feminist movement.

“Swim” it’s telling us in a raw and familiar way that we are bystanders and voyeurs in the destruction of the Ghanaian shores, nature, forests, and with them, the people, the cultures and the dignity of many human beings.

And so it’s easy for people to get uncomfortable and convince themselves that he’s not a great artist, but just a controversial lunatic. Should music artistes simply be “yes men” in order not to be labeled “controversial”?

What about walking barefoot as an artistic expression? Being barefoot, is part of almost all traditional cultures (definitely apart from the Inupiats), and it is a symbol of innocence and pure energetic exchange with the earth. There’s a reason why saints, gurus, and spiritual leaders are usually portrayed barefoot.

And let’s not forget the children as well. I think Wanlov’s inner child vibrates very high.

In a recent conversation with Wanlov, he said something random that almost blew me away and sparked the idea of Wanlov being a Synesthetic artist.

Could it be that his walking barefoot and continuously experiencing the world with an uncovered part of his body is transferred in his art in a synesthetic way?

I find it an act of extreme courage this ability to allow yourself to feel so much, especially in a world where desensitization and detachment are  new ways of surviving. Preservation at a maximum level is what is guiding individuals who hide behind ridiculous concepts of self-care and self-expression to justify their selfish and stupid actions.

Is this form of body art telling us that our level of detaching ourselves from the Universe is indeed creating monsters and destroying human interconnections?

Is he so different from artists like Regina Jose Galindo and her work “Quien puede Borrar las huellas,” in which she walks barefoot whit her feet soaking in blood to criticize Guatemalan violence coming from the misconception of morality and gender?

Wanlov’s walking  barefoot with makeup and female clothes and jewelry could be awarded and glorified as the Galindo one at art Biennales, as the man who uses his body to criticize the abuse on women and members of the LGBTQ community in Ghana.

And together with his performance art, Wanlov’s comedy is as deep as Monty Python’s.

Imagine Dave Chapelle barefoot, in a skirt, with makeup and jewelry sending low blows to politicians, religious leaders, foolish humans, and useless institutions; using Pidgin English to dignify a language that could unify the African population; being hilarious but extremely serious.

My point: you have not seen anyone like this. And that’s why the way this Ghanaian artistis underestimated is highly disturbing.

I wish we lived in a world where people had the chance to be more receptive to something different and not classified in categories created to make us feel comfortable.

So, thank you Emmanuel Owusu Bonsu aka Wanlov the Kubolor. We need more people like you in the world, and we need more people in the world to know about you.

Watch Swim here:

(Thank you Guildor Gallo for the conversation that inspired my words.  )

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