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The Performance Artist Playing Everyone

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“A lot of people think that I succumb to this ditsy blonde role,” discloses performance artist Jana ‘Babez’ Terblanche. We’re sitting in a chic coffee shop on Kloof Street in Cape Town in South Africa; her pink highlights are a vivid counterpoint to the starchy white walls and tablecloths.

“But actually, I’ve used it as a vehicle, to push things further. Almost to see how far people will accept it.”

Winner in 2014 of the Simon Gerson Prize for outstanding student work at her alma mater, the University of Cape Town, Terblanche has created a striking portfolio that “interrogates the strains on the modern female body, using the breakdown of female archetypes to shift the way that we think about female agency and desire.”

It is fizzing pop culture unbottled and forensically analyzed, repurposed for a fluid feminist agenda. Her preoccupation with the icons that populate the macabre landscape of celebrity glitz and media voyeurism – Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Dolly Parton – has its roots in formative years spent in sparsely-populated mining towns in Namibia, where her only access to a cultural elsewhere was the radio.

“I’m South African, I’ve spent most of my adult life here, but my childhood seems disconnected from everything else,” she says.

“I also feel almost like my childhood was another life, another person. The first time I heard Britney Spears I was like, ‘What is this?’ I didn’t understand. I was in this tiny town in the middle of nowhere, dreaming about an American reality, because I didn’t know what cities meant. So I actually had quite a warped interpretation of the outside world.”

READ MORE: The King Kong Of Musicals

Her Namibia Series revisits these desert moonscapes where the well of her creativity was first mined; she appears in flowing chiffon against the spectacular umber backdrop of the Fish River Canyon. Her face is hidden – a recurring motif in many of her photographs.

“I cover the face because I want it to stand in for every woman,” she says. “I don’t want it to be personal.”

In Bride, her face is obscured by a mask of roses, swarming like bees; in Hollywood Cerise, she is covered head to toe in a magenta body stocking, her ponytail spilling out like an insistent yellow question mark.

Her work is luridly confrontational but archly self-aware, a good-humoured, interrogational pop feedback loop.

“Initially people thought I was joking,” she laughs. “What is this little girl doing, making art about Britney Spears? She’s walking around in a pink suit, what does that mean? It took a lot of perseverance to say I’m going to stick to my guns, and only if you carry on do people say, oh, she’s still doing this, there must be some merit to it.”

Jana ‘Babez’ Terblanche (Photo by Jody Brand)

There is plenty of a salty sort of grit too, and a fierce determination to expose misogyny and patriarchal oppression. Nightfall, a performance piece in which she strapped bricks to her feet and walked across Company’s Garden, a famous local heritage site, was inspired by the March 2017 brutal street-corner murder of sex worker Nokuphila Khumalo by the famous photographer and artist Zwelethu Mthethwa.

“After that incident, his work was still being sold in galleries,” she says. “I was so infuriated, I couldn’t believe this. Someone literally profiting off the back of a woman he had murdered. I was going mental. There has to be a point where publicity is bad, but no, there isn’t. So I did this work, in memory of her and in solidarity with sex workers.”

READ MORE: Three Women, Three Wives, One True Story

The fallacy of neutral space, the idea that women can ever feel safe outside their own homes, is something she interrogates with passion.

“Space is not neutral at all. On a certain level, men navigate the world without having to be afraid,” she says.

“Walking on the way here, there were three guys in front of me. And I hate the fact that my mind immediately has to go to walking a bit slower – honestly, I had to stop around the corner. I consider this hyperawareness a form of repression that’s not spoken about.”

She talks about the common phenomenon of women feeling compelled to wear ear buds when on the street, just to deter unwanted attention.

“All the space in the world is male space. If there were women-only spaces, men would just get angry about it – men are so fragile. Isn’t that scary, that my mind went there? I thought about men, before I thought about the woman. God, that’s so messed up!”

Terblanche warns also of female complicity, of women who seek to appease male aggression.

“I’ve had so much kickback from women, and I’ve gotten very upset about it, thinking, wow, aren’t we supposed to stand together? But then I realized how strong internalized misogyny is. We’ve all been conditioned, and we have to unlearn these things.”

At its best, with its polaroid tang of glamor and grime, Terblanche’s work stands toe to toe with its clear influences – performance artists Marina Abramovic and Ana Mendieta, and the shape-shifting roleplay of photographer Cindy Sherman. It is provocative and playful, but with a dangerous, hidden razor’s edge.

“I’m always playing a version of myself. We are all playing versions of ourselves,” she says, as the busy Cape Town café characters come and go. “That’s what’s so exciting about performance art. You can be someone else tomorrow.” – Written by Alastair Hagger

Entrepreneurs

Birds Of A Feather: The Stepchickens Cult On TikTok Is The Next Evolution Of The Influencer Business

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Like any self-respecting cult, the Stepchickens follow a strict code of conduct as dictated by their absolute leader, Mother Hen, a comedian named Melissa who posts on TikTok as @chunkysdead. Mother Hen has widely preached a message of peace, telling her 1.7 million TikTok followers: “We do not rule by being cruel, we shine by being kind.” Further, she has asked all Stepchickens to make themselves easily identifiable and make her photo their TikTok profile picture.

Mother Hen has created TikTok’s first “cult.” (Her word.) Boiled down, she is a social media influencer, and the Stepchickens are her fans, just as more famous TikTok influencers—Charli D’Amelio, Addison Rae and the like—all have their fanbases. But Mother Hen’s presence and style is quite singular, particularly in the way she communicates with her followers, what she asks them to do and how the Stepchickens respond to her. After all, not every member of the Charli hive use her image as their profile pictures.

“These influencers are looking for a way to build community and figure out how to monetize their community. That’s the No. 1 most important thing for a creator or an influencer,” says Tiffany Zhong, cofounder of ZebraIQ, a community and trends platform. “It’s become a positive for Gen Z, where you’re proud to be part of this cult—part of this community. They are dying to be part of a community. So it’s easy to get sucked in.”

Mother Hen, who didn’t return a request to comment for this story, already had a popular comedy vlog-style TikTok account on May 6 when she asked her followers to send suggestions for what they could name their cult. From the ideas offered up, she chose Stepchickens, and in the 19 days since, her following has more than doubled. (It was around 700,000 back at the beginning of this month.) She has posted videos about taking ediblesher celebrity lookalikes and her relationship status (“all this cult power, still no boyfriend”). And perhaps in violation of her first-do-no-harm credo, Mother Hen has implored her followers to embark on “battles” and “raids,” where Stepchickens comment bomb other influencers’ videos, posting messages en masse. She has become the mother of millions: TikTok videos with #stepchickens have generated 102 million views on the app, and her own videos have received 54.6 million likes.

Mother Hen is now concentrating on feathering her nest. She has launched a large range of merch: smartphone cases ($24), hoodies ($44), t-shirts ($28) and beanies ($28). Corporate sponsorships seem within reach, too. TikTok accounts for the Houston Rockets, Tampa Bay Rays and one for the Chicago Bulls mascot, Benny, all changed their profile picture to the image distributed by Mother Hen. The Rays sent her a box of swag, addressing the package to “Mother Hen,” of course. She dressed up in the gear (two hats, a fanny pack, a tank top) and recorded herself wearing it in a TikTok, a common move by influencers to express gratitude and signal that they’re open to business sponsorship opportunities. Mother Hen has launched a YouTube channel, too, where she’ll earn ad revenue based on the views that her 43,000 subscribers generate by watching her content.

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Then there is the Stepchickens app available on Apple devices. This digital roost is a thriving message feed—it resembles a Slack channel or a Discord server—where Stepchickens congregate, chat and coordinate their raids. They can also use it to create videos, ones “to glorify mother hen,” the app’s instructions read.

The app launched last Monday and has already attracted more than 100,000 users, a benchmark that most apps do not ever see and the best reach within months of starting. Since its debut, it has ranked as high as the ninth most popular social media app in the world on the download charts and in the Top 75 most downloaded across all types of apps. The Stepchickens have traded 135,000 messages, and the app’s most devoted users are spending as long as 10 hours a day on it, says Sam Mueller, the cofounder and CEO of Blink Labs who built the Stepchickens app.

“There’s this emergence of a more active—a more dedicated—fan base and following. A lot of the influencers on TikTok are kind of dancing around, doing some very broadcast-y type content. Their followers might not mobilize nearly as much as” the Stepchickens, says Mueller. Mother Hen’s flock, by contrast, “feel like they’re part of something, feel like they’re connected. They can have fun and be together for something bigger than what they’re doing right now, which is kind of being at home bored and lonely. There’s untapped value here.”

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Life

Here Are All The Crazy Things People Are Betting On In The Absence Of Live Sports

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TOPLINE With most live sports suspended during the coronavirus pandemic, online gamblers have turned to different contests like Russian table tennis and Korean baseball, while also betting on everything from video games and reality television shows to political news and even the weather.

KEY FACTS

  • “[English] darts and esports have had big increases in betting volumes, along with football [soccer] leagues that have kept playing like the Belarusian Premier League,” says Pascal Lemesre, a spokesman for U.K. betting exchange platform Smarkets. “Horse racing remains our most-traded sport and has made up two-thirds of volume since the lockdown began.”
  • Many betting companies, like DraftKings, had to really dig and get creative with new offerings during the pandemic, says Johnny Avello, head of sportsbook for DraftKings. “We went out and found whatever we could… we wanted to keep our customers engaged.”
  • A charity golf match with Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, Phil Mickleson and Tom Brady, for example, has drawn massive interest and could surpass the betting volumes DraftKings saw in last year’s major golf tournaments.
  • Betting on esports has also seen a huge uptick and has really “made its mark,” he says: Virtual NASCAR races proved to be immensely popular, along with daily fantasy for video games like League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. 
  • There has also been a lot of interest in betting on politics, including who will win the 2020 U.S. presidential election, who Democratic nominee Joe Biden will choose as his vice president and how long UK prime minister Boris Johnson will stay in office. 
  • According to data from Smarkets, almost $2 million has already been traded on the election, with Donald Trump retaining a 5% lead over Joe Biden; Kamala Harris is frontrunner to be Biden’s VP, slightly ahead of Amy Klobuchar.
  • Since the Democratic debate between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in mid-March, DraftKings has offered free-to-play betting pools around many political events, along with reality television shows like Survivor and Top Chef, and even the weather in certain states.

SURPRISING FACT

Bettors have certainly shown interest in gambling on the outcomes of their favorite TV shows: According to data from BetOnline, there was even a flurry of betting on the final episode of The Last Dance, with odds on things like whether Michael Jordan would cry while being interviewed or how many people would be shown with a cigar in their mouth.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Sportsbooks are seeing huge pent-up demand as some major sports like NASCAR and German Bundesliga soccer start to resume. Soccer, which normally makes up 45% of the Smarkets’ betting volume, fell to 23%, maintained largely by interest in the Belarusian Premier League and Nicaraguan soccer, both of which continued to play games amid the pandemic. With the German Bundesliga resuming last weekend, betting volumes increased 428% compared to the previous round of fixtures before coronavirus, according to Smarkets.

CRUCIAL QUOTE

“When you don’t have all the normal content, customers will migrate,” Avello says. “That’s the positive that’s going to come out of this—we’re always looking for additional content.” 

KEY BACKGROUND

DraftKings reported record betting during the NFL Draft last month—13x the volume from last year—and has also seen strong interest in the recent return of Ultimate Fighting Championship events, the company said. “We got good action on the stuff we did, but now that we’re starting to get back to core events, demand should rise even higher,” Avello predicts. If the NBA and NHL start playoff seasons this summer and the MLB returns, for instance, “it could be one of the bigger summers that we’ve ever had.”

Sergei Klebnikov, Forbes Staff, Markets

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Quote Of The Day

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“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen,”

–  Vladimir Lenin, Russian Political Theorist

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