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Performance Artist Umlilo on the Release of "Reciprocity"

The South African speaks out about falling in love and why he faked his own death.
July 13, 2015, 3:00pm
Umlilo and Kopano Maroga in “Reciprocity” by Luca Vincenzo, Odendaal Esterhuyse, Deon van Zyl and Fiona MycPherson.

Johannesburg-born, Cape Town-bred performance artist Umlilo is on fire. Not literally, despite taking his namesake from the word for the Zulu equivalent, but with the recent release of his latest single “Reciprocity,” the daytime journalist, musician by night continues to challenge stereotypes around gender and equality with fervor.

The music video, written, directed, produced, and edited by Odendaal Esterhuyse, tells a tale about the interdependent nature of experience and what it means to be in love. It’s the self-proclaimed kwaai (South African street slang for "cool") diva extraordinaire’s sixth visual experiment, a multi-disciplinary pastiche of the avant-garde. Framed by various barren backdrops, choreographer Robert Haxton sees Kopano Maroga and Umlilo weaving around each other in a mock mating dance, their red lycra-clad bodies dispelling any hint of biological sex.

The focal point here is duality, not as it relates to the dichotomy created by socially constructed gender stereotypes, but in the dynamic brought about by falling in love. As with all universal principles, there is a cause and an effect, a give and take. “When it’s good it is like taking a breath of fresh air but when it’s bad it feels like you’re suffocating,” says Esterhuyse. The mutability of emotion means that feelings of love are rarely static and never simple. South Africa is no stranger to this dance—it's part mired in schisms of race, religion, politics, and territory, and Umlilo’s music reflects that. “What makes us different is usually what makes us great,” Umlilo says in a TEDx video. “But for the longest time in our lives, that difference separates us so negatively from the rest of the world.” His androgynous individuality and fearless audio-visual “future kwaai” aesthetic are defiant. The Creators Project spoke to Umlilo to gain more insight into "Reciprocity":

Umlilo in “Reciprocity” by Luca Vincenzo, Odendaal Esterhuyse, Deon van Zyl and Fiona MycPherson.

Umlilo in “Reciprocity” by Luca Vincenzo, Odendaal Esterhuyse, Deon van Zyl and Fiona MycPherson.