Eight people are standing in two rows. Each one is holding a sheet of paper. A man seen from the back is directing the group. Behind him is a camera.

Brendan Fernandes

(b. Nairobi, Kenya, 1979)

 

Performing Foe

2009

Video, colour, sound, 2 min 22 sec

Purchased with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts Acquisition Assistance Program, Pierre Karch and Mariel O’Neill-Karch, 2010

Art Gallery of Hamilton, 2010.2.2

Courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery

© Brendan Fernandes


In Performing Foe, Brendan Fernandes instructs a small group of students of diverse origins on how to speak with accents different from their own. In chorus, they are working to master pronunciation that reflects Fernandes’s mixed Indian-Portuguese-Kenyan-Canadian cultural background. This work is a sequel to the video Foe (2008), in which the artist receives similar elocution lessons. With Performing Foe, Fernandes complexifies his exploration of the role of language in the construction and transmission of identity. The choppy editing and repeated recitations accentuate the absurdity of the exercise by eliminating any claims to authenticity.


Brendan Fernandes was born in Kenya to a family originally from Goa, a former Portuguese colony in India. He immigrated to Canada as a child and grew up in the Toronto suburb of Newmarket. In his art, he expresses this migratory history by playing with the notions of identity and displacement, of people, objects and ideas. A number of his works address the colonial connotations of museums. Performing Foe illustrates the importance of language in the artist’s practice, which deals with both spoken and non-verbal forms of communication, like dance and Morse code.

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The video Foe shows Brendan Fernandes taking elocution lessons with an accent coach. She is teaching him to speak with the inflections of his multifaceted cultural background. The artist is parroting the coach’s pronunciation so as to become a more “authentic” version of himself, while at the same time demonstrating the futility of the exercise. He is reciting a passage from the novel Foe (1986), a postcolonial retelling of Robinson Crusoe by the South African writer J. M. Coetzee (b. 1940). The passage concerns the “savage” Friday, whose tongue has been cut out, leaving him unable to speak.

Brendan Fernandes

(b. Nairobi, Kenya, 1979)

 

Foe

2008

Video, colour, sound, 4 min 39 sec

Leonard & Bina Ellen Gallery, 013.09.02

Courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery

© Brendan Fernandes