Performa Biennial ’19: Sènsa by Paul Maheke and Nkisi

Performa is pleased to present Sènsa, a new live performance by artists Paul Maheke and Nkisi, co-commissioned with Abrons Arts Center and Red Bull Arts for the Performa 19 Biennial. Through sound, light, and movement, Sènsa brings to the fore diasporic geographies, displacement of knowledge, and questions of visibility and invisibility of the black body in public space.

November 7-9, 7pm
Abrons Art Center
466 Grand St, New York, NY 10002

Tickets Here

Through a varied and often collaborative body of work encompassing installation, video, and performance, London-based French artist of Congolese descent Paul Maheke considers the body as an archive and examines how memory and identity are formed. Congo-born, Belgium-raised Nkisi is a founding member of NON Worldwide, a combination of experimental record label, radical art project and cross-continental network focusing on the African diaspora. Melding 1990s hardcore techno with syncopated Congolese drum compositions, Nkisi’s unique, and particularly fierce style of music, draws on her personal trajectory and explores questions of identity and migration through sound.

Maheke and Nkisi’s new live performance, Sènsa, is informed by Dr. Kimbwandènde Kia Bunseki Fu-Kiau’s 1991 seminal book African Cosmology of the Bantu-Kongo: Principles of Life and Living​. Here, the cosmology of the Bantu-Kongo serves as a point of entry for the work and grounds the performance in a diasporic imaginary; one that is “in-between.” A blurring of the field of vision is at the heart of Sènsa, a Bantu word that translates as “coming to visibility,” “to appear from far away,” “to reveal itself.”

The performance plays with motifs of presence and withdrawal, oscillating between visibility and erasure thanks to a lighting system conceived by Berlin-based artist Ariel Efraim Ashbel. To confuse the senses further, Nkisi’s music alternates between atmospheric waves and forceful musical spasms to create a disorienting sonic environment generated and treated live by sound captors installed on the theater’s walls and floor. Ghostly shadows appearing and disappearing, concise repetitive gestures, mumbled words akin to spells being cast, and echoes of the building’s vibrations serve as strategies to build an intoxicating performance.



Sènsa is co-commissioned and co-presented by Performa, Abrons Arts Center and Red Bull Arts New York. Co-curated by Charles Aubin (Performa) and Ali Rosa-Salas (Abrons Arts Center), Sènsa is supported by the Performa Commissioning Fund, Arts Council England, FUSED (French U.S. Exchange in Dance), and the Flemish Minister for Culture. This project has been selected and supported by the patronage committee for the arts of Fondation des Artistes. With additional help from ICA London. A first iteration was developed in collaboration with Block Universe, London.

Sénsa builds upon the spectral video and sound installation Levant (2018), a collaborative work by Paul Maheke, Nkisi and performer Ligia Lewis, which will be presented at Goethe-Institut Curatorial Residencies Ludlow 38 (opening on November 13, 2019).



Paul Maheke (b. 1985) graduated from Cergy School of Fine Arts and is an Open School East (London) alum. Recent solo exhibitions include “A fire circle for a public hearing” at the Chisenhale gallery in London (2018) and Vleeshal Middelburg (2019), and “I Lost Track of the Swarm” at the South London Gallery (2016). Selected group exhibitions include “Le centre ne peut tenir” at Lafayette Anticipations in Paris (2018), “Ten Days Six Nights” at Tate Modern in London (2017), and the Diaspora Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale (2017).

Melika Ngombe Kolongo, AKA Nkisi, is a headliner on the European experimental music circuit. Born in Kinshasa in 1985, Nkisi grew up in Belgium and studied at Narafi Arts Schools in Brussels and Birkbeck University in London. Over the years, Nkisi has championed exploring music and sound within a decolonial context. A recent example is Nkisi’s night of concerts and DJ sets titled “Same Same Night II” that she organized at Kunstencentrum Vooruit in Gent as part of the art center’s program “Same Same but Different,” a festival that examined Belgium’s history and its contemporary inscription within a global postcolonial network. Nkisi’s debut EP, Kill (2017) received critical acclaim from Pitchfork, Tiny Mixtapes, and FACT. Her latest solo album, 7 Directions, was released in January 2019.


Founded in 2004 by art historian and curator RoseLee Goldberg, Performa is the leading non-profit organization dedicated to exploring the critical role of live performance in the history of twentieth-century art and encouraging new directions in performance for the twenty-first century. Taking place over a period of three weeks, from November 1–24, 2019, at locations throughout New York City, eighth edition of the Performa Biennial once again celebrates the extraordinary vitality, inventiveness and significance of New York as a leading global performance capital of the world. In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus, the influence of the school and the radical concept of its curriculum, which holds performance at its core, appears in several Commissions. The Bauhaus is also the focus of the Performa Institute programming, daily events, and talks at the Performa 19 Hub – a pop-up space in Manhattan that becomes the epicenter of the three-week program.


Abrons Arts Center is a home for contemporary interdisciplinary arts in Manhattan’s Lower East Side neighborhood. A core program of the Henry Street Settlement, Abrons believes that access to the arts is essential to a free and healthy society. Through performance presentations, exhibitions, education programs and residencies, Abrons mobilizes communities with the transformative power of art.

Paul Maheke and Nkisi. Sènsa, 2019. Photo by Manuela Barczewski. Courtesy of Block Universe and Hoxton Hall.