“Rarely do I get approached to be part of something where the planets align so well,” explains photographer and director Akinola Davies of his latest film—which captures a powerful a capella performance orchestrated by South African musicians Fela Gucci and Desire Marea, who collaborate as FAKA. The choir’s song unfolds within Mexican architect Frida Escobedo’s Serpentine Pavilion: a soot black structure using hundreds of thin concrete tiles, forming an interpretation of the traditional Mexican celosia—a type of building that uses perforations to enable better air circulation. Working through and against the building’s design, the choir—dressed in pieces from menswear label Telfar’s SS19 collection—took a different tack, using these sight-giving slits in the building’s face as a frame to address issues relating to power, race, and spectatorship.
The pavilion “became a framework for a subversive performance about the empathy of power—disciplining the viewer, [about] presence versus representation, the body, spectatorship, and ultimately subjugating the white gaze,” continues Davies. “I think that framework and the care with which it was curated permeated through the performance we witnessed.” Part of the Park Nights series, which takes place at the Serpentine throughout the summer, the performers moved through the assembled audience before entering the red-lit structure. Guests could only peer through the cracks, as if looking into a cage—or into a space to which they were not permitted.
“It was something akin to an ancestral service,” explains Davies. “The voice and movement immersed us in a trance which felt like the divine emotional therapy we all need. To be honest I’m just super glad to have been part of something that makes me open to beauty and the resilience of the human experience and the making of life powerful and beautiful everyday.”