The hundreds of thousands of forgotten Africans who fought and died as soldiers, porters, and laborers in World War I in the armies of their colonial rulers, will be remembered in a spectacular performance created by the South African artist William Kentridge, which will be premiered in London’s Tate Modern in July before traveling to New York and then Germany.

The Head and the Load, which draws inspiration from the Dada artists’ response to the bloodshed, will first be performed by a cast of more than 50 dancers, actors, singers, and musicians in Tate Modern’s vast Turbine Hall (July 11-15, 2018), before touring to New York’s cavernous Park Avenue Armory (December 5-15, 2018). Longstanding collaborator Philip Miller is writing the musical score for the large-scale performance.

Kentridge tells artnet News that the piece refers to how World War I was a culmination of the Conference of Berlin in 1884-85, dubbed the Scramble for Africa, when European powers carved up the continent. After the conflict “there is a huge re-arrangement of Africa,” Kentridge says. He adds that the work is also due to be performed in Germany as part of the next Ruhrtrienniale.

 While the campaign in east Africa is sometimes remembered, albeit as side-shows to the conflict on the Western and other fronts, the impact and human cost of the war across Africa and in African lives “is a history that I myself was unclear about,” he says, stressing that “a million Africans died in Africa.”

The Head and the Load, which is a phrase taken from a Ghanaian saying, refers to the thousands of Africans from almost every country rushed to Europe by Britain, France, and Germany to fight in the front line and in even greater numbers dig trenches behind the lines and transport supplies as laborers and porters, but its main focus are the men who volunteered or were pressed into service in Africa. The colonial politicians’ and generals’ empty promises about civil rights if they served, and the men’s mistreatment, are at the heart of the operatic piece, co-commissioned by 14-18 Now and the Park Avenue Armory. Read more