Born 1990 in Warrang / Sydney, Australia Lives and works in Warrang / Sydney
Bhenji Ra is a transdisciplinary artist currently based on Gadigal land, Eora Nation. Her practice combines dance, video, illustration and community activation. Her work dissects cultural theory and identity, centralising her own personal histories as a tool to reframe performance. She is the mother of Western Sydney based collective and ballroom house SLÉ.
For the 22nd Biennale of Sydney, Filipina Australian artist Bhenji Ra engages Tausug Elder and Pangalay mastr Sitti Obeso from southern Philippines in performative conversation.
The Offering (Pang Alay) presents a small glimpse into the relationship between Tau’sug elder Sitti Obeso and dance artist Bhenji Ra. Sitti is a cultural bearer of the Pangalay, a pre-islamic classical dance form Indigenous to the Tau’sug people of the Sulu Archipelago. The two first connected in the province of Lasang, Davao in 2018 when a mutual family member brought them together. Now oceans apart they reconnect via Zoom, communicating at ease by performing Pangalay together when they find themselves stuck between (mis)translations. They discuss Bhenji’s tattoo of a kriss (a symbol of sovereignty for the Moro people of the Southern Philippines) as well as Sitti’s personal history of the bantot (a word used to describe trans* folk in her hometown). As they dance, we watch their bodies unknot, merge, and respond to one another, witnessing the intimacy and cultural bonds of mentor (Sitti) and student (Bhenji) begin to unfold. Through mimicry and intuitive memory Bhenji follows Sitti’s instructions, conversing through a vocabulary of movement that is deeply familial and ancestral.
Presented at the 22nd Biennale of Sydney (2020), with generous assistance from the Powerhouse Museum. Courtesy of the artist.