Kavadi show

Recently i had a chat with Brett Perkins from Ephemme Suspension Performance about the use of kavadi in their group.

1. How you or your group came in contact with kavadi?

I'm not sure when I first was introduced to kavadi, I had experienced the usual photo images from websites like BMEzine.com and from body modification related publications. There's a great chance I could have been influenced some by National Geographic Magazine and Ripley's Believe It Or Not also, but I have no specific recollection of anything kavadi related from those sources. They have inspired me when I was younger to pursue and learn more about other cultures though so I am not ruling it out. One of my first experiences seeing kavadi in person was at a performance of the group CoRE. It was really beautiful and inspiring.

2. In wich point you decide to build a frame and get started?
Was it easy to build?
What kind of spears you use? size, sort of metal, screw of point.

I first decided to build a frame as part of a body modification related parade float my former performance group (Well Hung Suspension Team) was entering into a pretty well publicized street parade in Pasadena, CA. We wanted to include as many ritual and performance modifications as feasible in one float entry, to really have an impact on the crowd. We were hoping to intrigue them and make them think enough to research it all a little more. The idea behind the parade itself was to really encourage man powered floats and more creative entries. I figured nothing gets more man-powered than someone walking in full kavadi. In addition to the kavadi we had two figures suspending from a spinning beam with white body makeup and feathers pierced in their arms to simulate angels flying. We had performers in skeleton costumes marching en mass and stilt walking. One of the skeletons was riding a unicycle and juggling daggers. We had girls fire-dancing (poi) also and the kavadi wearer was in costume as a devil figure. Including prosthetic make-up. It all tied together imagery of death and afterlife in a Dia De Los Muertos themed parade entry.

The frame was relatively easy to build, I knew that being in a "performance" setting with a group of people relatively new to kavadi that it would not require many spears or much weight. I also knew that the parade it was going to be worn in was a few miles and since the experience was less for "ritual" purposes and more for performance or social intrigue that the participant wearing the frame would appreciate the less he had to carry.

I ground the spears myself out of stainless steel bar stock and a metal grinder initially. The most recent performance (in which we used the same frame) the spears were ground using a de-burring wheel and the outcome was much sharper and smoother. The point was configured simply by eyesight and two different thickness bars were used, the thinner being approximately 4 gauge and the thicker being approximately 2 gauge.

Initially the thicker spears were to hold feathers and ornate objects while the thinner spears would simply hold the weight of apples on the end. Most recently we added feathers and apples to all the spears. I believe it totalled only about 18 spears for the most recent performance.

3. Before a performance with audience you did the ritual in private?

The use of the kavadi in our performances has been strictly for the delight of the audience. We don't have much ritual practice before the actual event, besides fitting the frame on the performer and doing a pre-performance pep talk and run through. None of our performers have expressed much interest in kavadi ritual outside of research and learning for the part they will play in the shows. I hope that as interest in body modification continues to grow and practices are accepted perhaps more interest in kavadi as a ritual experience will also. In every performance instance we have inserted the spears either right before the performance or else during the performance as part of the show.

4. Why you want to show kavadi in public?

Initially we wanted to show the kavadi as simply another part of a mutual concept advocating the positivity and beauty of body modification. My main goal is to get people to open their minds enough as an audience to wonder why such rituals exist. For the audience members to question how societies that supposedly had no contact all had the same instinct to modify themselves or to define and defy personal trauma for lack of a better term. Our group is called Ephemme Suspension Performance because all of the rituals we present -- whether for a public exhibition or in a private and ritual setting -- are focused on the ephemera, the momentary inspiration or fleeting experiences that border on touching something divine.

5. For wich reasons you do shows?

We mainly do shows as an artistic outlet, writing and scripting events so that they all have continuity and flow while simultaneously trying to convey a message. We also encourage our audiences to research anything they see that is appealing or intriguing to them. We encourage them to think about why some aspects of modification are acceptable by the status quo (certain piercings and tattoos, plastic surgery, etc) and yet rituals that predate much of that are thought of as such savagery.

6. do you do preparations before the ritual? like taking care of health?

We actually approach most public performances from a very clinical mindset. We have two medical technicians on staff that keep an eye on our group and all of our performers. I get really excited by anyone that does want extended ritual experience from the practices we partake in, but when we do public performances we are usually on such time constraints and under such pressure that we focus specifically on the show. To my knowledge none of the performers have ever fasted or changed much of their living habits prior to wearing kavadi in a show. We do an annual camping trip every year that includes suspensions, cheek spears, a sweat lodge, etc. For this outing I usually suggest those participating fast beforehand or try a cleansing in the days or weeks leading up to the event.

7. What is your experience with the kavadiritual?

Again most of the point of view that I approach it is from a performance perspective, although I hope that by next year's camping trip we may build several frames and sets of spears... and hopefully build interest in a much more focused ritual. I've also had personal interest in traveling and experiencing some of the longer kavadi walks I've seen spring up around the world. As of yet I have not had the opportunity.

8. where you can put this ritual? if you did other ones.

From a performance perspective, this one at the Cannibal Flower Art Show was much more productive in capturing the audience. The one we initially did for the Pasadena Doo Dah Parade a couple years ago (then as the group Well Hung, before Ephemme Suspension Performance was ever created) was our first and we did not know what to expect. We tried to minimize the potential for mistakes and accidents, especially since it required walking distances in the sun and in a very public setting (including major network news coverage). The more recent show we had more control over the area and we were more experienced with our gear and our performer, knowing that we could be a little more "gung-ho" with the kavadi.

Photos by Rebecca Peloquin

Kavadinfo likes to thank Brett Perkins for his coorporation in this blog

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