The road to actualization: Ian Kamau’s LOSS

Ian Kamau by Milca Kuflu Ian Kamau by Milca Kuflu

Written by Shazma Abdulla

What happens to us when we experience loss? Loss, or the impact of it, never truly leaves us. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, a possession, or position, its legacy remains and manifests itself in our everyday lives.

Ian Kamau’s multimedia piece, LOSS, brings us into the world of a family profoundly impacted by the death of loved ones. Driven by the questions around the death of his paternal grandmother, LOSS is a story of a family written and performed by that family. The piece brings together poetry and short stories written by Kamau and his father, Roger McTair, accompanied by video footage by Tiffany Hsiung and a live musical score interpreted by composer and pianist Ngo Kong Kie.

LOSS is a move in a new artistic direction for Kamau, a hip-hop and spoken word artist whose list of collaborators includes k-os, Shad, and Narcy. This new piece combines his background in storytelling, spoken word, poetry, and music into one performance. It’s meant to provide a complete sensory experience in which audiences are brought into the world of the characters. LOSS is a very personal piece: Kamau explores the impact of his grandmother’s death two generations later, the sudden loss of his sister, and his own battle with depression.

In many ways, LOSS is about confronting painful family histories and traumas as well as breaking artistic barriers. Breaking barriers is, in many ways, what occupies Kamau as an artist. Kamau is driven by the idea of actualization which he describes, essentially, as living a full and complete life. As a black man, Kamau navigates a world rife with systemic and cultural barriers; these experiences have a profound impact on people of colour. Kamau contends that these barriers (actual or perceived) keep us from fully actualizing.

Artistic expression, then, can challenge our normative assumptions of the world, and can open an audiences’ reflective capabilities and open conversations. Kamau does not necessarily subscribe to the idea of aestheticism (art for art’s sake). To Kamau, art is “foundational to society: we teach each other how we want to be and navigate in the world through stories. Art should have a purpose beyond beauty and expression: it should be expression with the means of humanistic connection.”

LOSS bridges a gap between artist and audience: Kamau is a character within his own story, while narrating his family’s story. In this way, Kamau brings audiences into his own world, guides them through the trauma his family has experienced in a way that emphasizes the realness of the story. In breaking the divide, Kamau makes it clear that this story is a true, lived reality not some academic exercise or narrative fiction.

LOSS will be presented on November 1st and 2nd at La Chapelle (3700 St Dominique) in partnership with Actoral and POP Montreal. Tickets can be purchased online.