Cinetracts essay: Akwaeke Emezi, BATHE ME IN BLOOD

Akwaeke Emezi

Oct 26, 2020

A black trans woman standing in Lake Pontchartain in a white tunic covered in blood uses a towel to wipe blood from their face

Cinetracts '20 is hitting the road. This Thursday, October 29, Brooklyn's UnionDocs will present a socially distanced screening of the Wex Artist Residency Award project in its backyard lean-to, in addition to sharing the film virtually.

Whether you watch the film with an audience or stream it from home, there's no denying the intensity of writer and video artist Akwaeke Emezi's contribution to this project. Shot in March on New Orleans's Lincoln Beach, once the site of a segregated amusement park for African Americans, the short captures Emezi standing on the rocky shore of a still Lake Pontchartrain, covering themself in blood in a performance that alludes to a ritual. 

Emezi has written a micro essay to accompany their work. We're thrilled to share it with you below.


March 12, 2020.
Lincoln Beach, New Orleans.

The first madness was that we were born, that they stuffed a god into a bag of skin
(Freshwater, 2018) 

In remembering godhood, I had to be covered in blood. 

I knew this before I knew what I was. The ritual made its way into a list I wrote when I was seventeen, of things to do before I died, and that was the first time I received the instruction. 

Ten years later, I read the last verse of the poem “Rite” by Henry Dumas, excerpted in Toni Morrison’s The Black Book. I wept and wept at the last two lines because I knew the feeling. 

No power can stay the mojo/ when the obi is purple
and the vodu is green/ and Shango is whispering,
Bathe me in blood./ I am not clean.

That was the second time. Years after that, an oríkì for Ogun that I read as a child in Nigeria returns to me through one of his own. He who has water but bathes with blood. That was the third time. I did not wait for a fourth.  

As death stroked a little harder across the world, I walked into the standstill, across railroad tracks and through a forest with a red command on my head. I am not clean. The lake was a silver mirror whispering on a secret beach. Bathe me in blood

I knelt down and obeyed. 


Image courtesy of the artist

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