Beyond being the physical embodiment of pure gluttony and greed, the iconic Star Wars villain Jabba the Hutt is arguably a stereotypical representation of a Middle Eastern sultan, shown accompanied by a harem of dancing slave women and constantly smoking on a hookah-esque pipe. Even his palace has certain undertones reminiscent of Islamic temples, with a Lego set of the palace coming under fire by the Turkish community for supposedly resembling the Hagia Sophia Mosque in Istanbul. Peeling off the stark orientalism of the character serves as the prime point of inspiration for British artist Marvin Gaye Chetwynd’s exhibition Jabba, I’m Back! Come Back Tour, Book Now!, currently on view at the Bergen Kunsthall.
Made in collaboration with PRAXES for the Bergen Assembly triennial, the exhibition is conceived of as an installation as well as a one-night only performance event. The physically installed portion of the show presents a life-sized sculpture of Jabba wearing headphones and leaning against an abstract wall work, as if it were a visitor to its own exhibition. On another side of the room, a series of filmic installations act as ‘instructional videos’ focusing on how to conserve props and costumes and how to reenact Chetwynd’s own performances.
The installation’s exploration of how cultural preservation happens and how culture morphs over time and place is effectively a nod to Jabba the Hutt’s own history of impermanence and transmutation. Scenes with the character were originally scrapped from A New Hope due to budgetary issues, but then re-included in a new cut decades later once digital technology had made it affordable and easy to animate the character, marking a transition from an entirely puppeteered Jabba in the 6th film to a CGI character in the 4th in an entirely different cultural climate.
Chetwynd, who has included the Hutt in prior works, is drawn to the character’s embodiment of stereotypical orientalism: “I studied anthropology at university, where I attended as series of lectures on orientalism in Star Wars. I enjoyed the explanation of Jabba the Hutt being a negative ‘cocktail’ of eastern culture, seen from Western eyes, the artist tells The Creators Project.
“I wanted to correct this, so I set about depicting him as an alien actor who had been typecast in the same way Sean Connery became 007! The idea was that Jabba was really an alien who chose to work as an actor, choosing Farsi as his Earth language, and that he had visited Earth during 3000 B.C. and hung out with the Persian empire.”
It’s in the delightfully off-kilter performative soirée of Jabba, I’m Back! Come Back Tour, Book Now! that the artist’s unique interpretation of Jabba comes to life. On an evening in late October at Bergen nightclub Landmark, Jabba the Hutt appeared as an MC to a ceremony in his own honor, shedding off his typically malicious nature in favor of a bon vivant personality, discoursing about Eastern and Western politics in the Persian language Farsi while a fusion of Polish wedding games, lip-synched renditions of Robert Palmer’s hit "Addicted To Love," and acrobatic performances happened under the nightclub’s roof.
What's more, this bizarre synthesis of cultural references and traditions are tied together as an exploration and celebration of women’s rights. The appropriation of Polish wedding games, for example, is meant as a protest against the country’s politics: “The conservative government in Poland has introduced laws that infringe upon human rights. If a woman has an abortion in Poland she can expect to serve a five-year prison sentence,” Chetwynd explains. “I feel that playful performance art can be linked to serious issues to help people connect with them. Jabba as a loveably jazzy alien is an example of a figure who provides a familiar platform where you can express yourself.”
Marvin Gaye Chetwynd’s Jabba, I’m Back! Come Back Tour, Book Now! will be on view at the Bergen Kunsthall until December 18th.