Tuesday, October 30, 2007

seeking womb/ performing self and still working our rainbows

ok family,

i am really beginning to enjoy finding out what black women are doing in and through performance. i must say i have been a bit pissed off about "going back to school" and writing a statement of purpose that says here i am a black woman who wants to study black women and the institution saying wonderful, and now that i am here, they act like i am speaking a different language, like i didn't say what i know i said.

but anyways. i am literally in hot pursuit of us (black women)cause i ain't really interested in what anybody else got to say right now. i have had a lifetime of all of that, it is time for some balance. so here is the most recent supa fly sista revolutionary artist i can across, i just hate that i am just meeting her. but here she is any way, in the flesh..

i'm just saying though...we so fresh!

found at www.culturalodyssey.org

RHODESSA JONES is Co-Artistic Director of the San Francisco acclaimed performance company Cultural Odyssey. She is an actress, teacher, singer, and writer. Ms. Jones is also the Founder and Director of the award winning "Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women" which is a performance workshop that is designed to achieve personal and social transformation with incarcerated women. Ms. Jones just returned from leading a workshop at La Mama International Symposium for Directors in Spoleto, Italy. In the spring of 2004 Ms. Jones was honored with an Honorary Doctorate Degree from California College of the Arts. During the winter semester Rhodessa was Visiting Artist in Residence at Stanford University /Institute for Diversity in the Arts. In February 2004 Rhodessa performed the role of "Ruby" in August Wilson's King Hedley II at the Lorraine Hansberry Theater.

In November 2003 she was presented with a “GOLDIE Lifetime Achievement Award" presented by the San Francisco Bay Guardian. In May 2003 Ms. Jones was awarded a Non-Profit Arts Excellence Award by the San Francisco Business Arts Council. In June 2002 Ms. Jones received an Otto Rene Castillo Award for Political Theater.

Throughout the Spring and Fall of 2002 she toured her most recent solo performance, Hot Flashes, Power Surges, and Private Summers. Some of the highlights of the tour included Anchorage, Alaska at Out North Contemporary Art House, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center's Shimberg Theater, and Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, CT. While in residence at Yale, Ms. Jones led workshops and conducted Master Classes for the MFA students. She also lectured at the African American Cultural Center at Yale University and was honored with a Master's Tea hosted by Faculty of the Yale School of Drama.

A series of lectures offered by Ms. Jones, has helped her forge a place as a major social scientist of our time. Among these lectures are the following titles, Creative Survival, Creative Performance, Theater for the Twenty-First Century, and Women Saving Their Own Lives. Most recently in October 2002, Rhodessa provided the keynote speech at the Cabrillo College Women's Studies Conference and the Center Force Summit 2002 Conference, "Inside-Out: Fostering Healthy Outcomes for the Incarcerated and Their Families".

Her most recent directing credits include Sekou Sundiata's "Blessing The Boats", Will Power's "The Gathering" and Deborah Edward's "From Whores to Matriarchs". Ms. Jones is currently a featured artist contributing to Building the Code: Understanding Community Based Arts in America, a research and publication project sponsored by the National Performance Network.

In January 2002, Ms. Jones starred in Regina Taylor's Urban Zulu Mambo at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre in San Francisco.

In the Fall of 2001, The Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women's six month residency at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, produced its eighth work, "Can We get There By Candlelight?", an original work based on the ancient Sumerian Myth of Inanna. In November 2001, Ms. Jones performed her award winning solo "Big Butt Girls, Hard-Headed Women" at Fordham University's School of Divinity. At Fordham, she also participated in a panel, "Activism and Spiritualism in the 21st Century". In December of 2001, Rhodessa and two ex-offenders from The Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women, were in residence at Rutgers University's Center for the Critical Analysis. The residency included a lecture by Ms. Jones, a performance workshop, a performance perusing the works of The Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women, and a scholar's discourse on art as social change.

In the Winter of 2001, Ms. Jones was featured in Eve Ensler's award hit play, "The Vagina Monologues", produced by Theater on the Square. Following, in June 2001, her film collaboration "We Just Telling Stories" won "Best Documentary" at the San Francisco Black Film Festival. The film profiles Ms. Jones and her work with The Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women in the San Francisco County jails. This award parallels the recent release of a book on Ms. Jones' work entitled, Imagining Medea: Rhodessa Jones and the Theater for Incarcerated Women. This book was released in December 2001 by author Rena Fraden, Ph.D. with a forward by Professor Angela Davis.

In July 2000, Ms. Jones was a featured teacher at LaMama Umbria, an international theater-training workshop in Italy, hosted by LaMama ETC of New York. In May 2000, she directed the nationally acclaimed world premiere of Erin Cressida Wilson's Trail of Her Inner Thigh for Campo Santo at Intersection for the Arts in San Francisco. In the same year, Ms. Jones was honored as Working Woman of the Year by the Working Women's Theater Festival. She premiered her new show Hot Flashes, Power Surges, and Private Summers at this festival. "Hot Flashes" is one of Ms. Jones' most recent works in her long legacy as an innovative performance artist. She creates autobiographical and provocative material that integrates inter-disciplinary performance and that utilizes film, comedy, theater and movement.

Born in Florida to a migrant laborer family, Rhodessa Jones is a proud grandmother of her daughter's girl child Chaz.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Jill Scott

oh jilly from philly

The following was presented at the Neither Model nor Muse Symposium at Duke University a few weeks ago. The panel was Women Engage Hip Hop and featured Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Mark Anthony Neale, and Rachel Ramist. Take a look at the video post after you read this, it is indeed relevant.

I Speak Your Name

Queen Latifah, Jean Grae, Roxanne Shante, Mystic, Madusa, Bahamadia, Sha-Rock, Mecca, MC Lyte, Lauren Hill, Erykah Badu, Salt, Peppa, Juana Burns, Dania Birks, Michelle Franklin (JJ Fad), Deidra “Spindarella” Roper, Cheryl “Salt” Wray, Sandra “Pepa” Denton, Da Brat, Mia X, Lady of Rage, Yo-Yo, The Ghetto Twins, Foxy Brown,
Lil Kim, Missy Elliot, Left Eye, T-Boz, Chilli, Godessa, Cuba, Chi, Sistamatic, Trina, Smirk, Kasumba, D-Unik, Kato, Jill Scott

Unearthing the Up-rock: Space, Body, and the Black Woman’s Voice in Hip Hop

I recently viewed Counting Headz at the Black Lily festival. Counting Headz is a film about politics surrounding women emcees in South Africa. I left the film energized, enriched, and enlivened by their ability to articulate the modes by which black women are evolving this cultural practice while refusing to deny their womaness. I was excited about experiencing these sistas in stero, on the big screen, rhyming, breaking, tagging, visibly with a degree of hyper-visibility in a space that truly belonged to them. With the audience’s gaze fixated on them. I was excited about voices filled the space. How their voices their beats reverberated around the room. The voices as multi-dimensional expressive dimensions that took up space. That had not been flattened out to breasts, and asses, and hollow/one-sided images or performances of male-manufactured black womaness.

Hortense Spillers speaks about space in Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe specifically when she talks about being trapped in “oceanic time and space”. Spillers is talking about how the body, during the Middle Passage, was literally moving through time, as in chronologically, and space, as in from the west coast of Africa to the Americas, but being bound and restricted from physical movement. In a lot of ways I see the suppression of black women’s voices as a similar means of looking at how hip hop is moving, how black women are moving on the margins of hip hop culture in a space of restriction.

In the span of time it took to watch the film, I felt like black women had not only been freed from the bound-movement Spillers talks about, but also that we had travelled maybe just a little further toward society where black women’s voices would be could be allowed to resound freely.

Jill Scott’s Hate on Me helps me to further think about the black female body in relationship to the marginalization of the black female hip hop expressive culture. “Jilly from Philly” deserves time and space in this conversation because of 1. her stature as being a thick sista, and dynamic voice which oscillates between spoken word, funk, rock, “what eva it be” literally taking up space and 2. because of her how her career has been framed at times by the co-signing of black men: DJ Jazzy Jeff, The Roots, and even recently Cornell West and Tavis Smiley in the video for “Hate on Me”. So her expressive movement being bordered by black male co-signers. Most of us who are familiar with Scott’s work know that a majority of it explores her relationships to or with men. What they do to her, what she does to them, pleasure, lust, desire and so forth. But there is a larger meta-narrative happening in the positioning of men in her work that we should think about.

The lyrics to “Hate on Me” reveal the manner in which hegemonic structures remind black women that we are not enough. No matter how we bend nature to the whims of society we will never be enough. No matter how black women over extended ourselves how we have positively influenced every aspect of this world, we still are not enough and these super-woman performances do not seem to change the large degree of “hateration” inflicted on black women.

The marginalization of black women in hip hop is away in which we can think about a larger narrative of the hegemonic control of public and reproductive space, women’s space, artistic space, imaginative space that has a long standing tradition in this country.

So black women hip-hop artists are doing an immense about of cultural work in asserting their expressiveness. They are challenging the heteronormative and phallocentric space which privileges what Paula Giddings refers to as the Cult of True Womanhood which relegates women to the private sphere, which relegates women’s expressiveness/productiveness/performances to that of domesticity.

What we are talking about here is the female presence as voice, as body, as an articulation of self-actualization outside the control and sphere of male dominated and narrated spaces. So black women hip-hop artists are shifting the narrative, the narrated space, the script of experience, turning it on its head. This is about a reclaiming of voice, a reclaiming of space, and a change in the landscape of folk expressive culture.

Counting Headz Promo

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

working my rainbows~~~performance and the spiritual liberation movement

The Spiritual Liberation Movement: a Model for Creative Resistance and Cultural Awareness

"Spirituality is the language of the next milenium. Ignorance was the language of the last two milenia."
-Carlos Santana.

Yalen & Cohen, "Coexistence and the Arts" (article posted at www.mysapce.com/mamashieroglyphics on my blog)

This semester has encouraged me to think critically about the role of spirituality in social justice work. Partially, because spiritual activism is one of my research interests but also because we are thinking a lot about the body, land, agency, and desire all of which are apart of a spiritual practice as I see it. As I continue to think about performance and activism, I am called back to North Carolina and the phenomenal social justice workers I am work with.

One organization Stone Circles (http://www.stonecircles.org/) is accomplishing phenomenal deeds using a model called Spiritual Liberation. If anyone is interested in seeing a short documentary, let me know. At the risk of sounding reductive I want to share a little about this movement as it relates to Yalen and Cohen's article.

Yalen and Cohen write, "Arts-and-culture-based peacebuilding practices simultaneously engage people’s bodies, emotions, and spirits, as well as their intellects, whereas more conventional practices such as dialogue and negotiation rely solely on people’s rational capacities." I think it is important to spend time processing how spirit(uality) is activated and practiced through artistic and cultural practices.

In Spiritual Activism and Liberation Spirituality Claudia Horwitz and Jesse Maceo Vega-Frey detail the major tenets of Spiritual Liberation (http://www.stonecircles.org/thoughts/writing/liberation.html). They explain that Spiritual Liberation is concerned with:
* a deep commitment to spiritual life and practice
* a framework of applied liberation
* an orientation towards movement-building and
* a desire for fundamental change in the world based on equity and justice.

These ideas are both applied to individual liberation and collective liberation as well. What is so brilliant about this model is that each of the tenets described above is explored and implemented artistically and in community. I have been thinking a lot about how art moves, transcends, and builds something new as Anna Deavere Smith encourages in her book Letters to a Young Artist. That is precisely the question. How does art create something new? Moreover, how does spirituality facilitate an artistic process that transports individuals and communities out of trauma to a new and different space? Is this possible? Is it practical? Is it fair to expect those most oppressed by state violence to be able to pull themselves out of trauma? How does reliving that trauma through performance do any of that work?

Yalen and Cohen reveal that, "Arts and culture are important means through which people and communities come to understand, express, and communicate their ideas, emotions, needs, hopes, concerns, and memories". I agree. Art elicits a process by which we can bring memories from the corners, from the forgotten spaces of the past to the hear and now. But that process extends past the present, it must. Artistic and cultural practices also serve as tuning devices. Tuning individuals into themselves and their communities. Just as two drummers will eventually breath in unison, it is possible that a community that creates art together will eventually be tuned into each others needs and desires for social and civic movement.

Yalen and Cohen write, "In the aftermath of violence, to be convincing,
communication and learning must reach people’s bodies and
spirits, as well as their minds". Diana has kept "embodied practice" in play almost every class meeting. I believe she wants us to consider how the body is situated in the traumatic events. What is the body feeling? How is the "entire" body responding to various events. So the body is not just an intellectual being but also a spiritual being as well. The the practices of the body, in response to trauma or otherwise, should be both intellectual as well as spiritual.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Nina Simone: Four Women

Greetings lovely people,

It is oh so important for us to remember. remembering is an "embodied practice" as explained by Diana Taylor almost everyweek in our Performance and activism class. As I continue to think about how this is specific to black women I can not stop thinking about mama nina. she got something to say about both embodied practices and remembering. we must remember. our legacy as black women and not let it get washed away in a sea of everybody's stuff. cause we got a particular stuff that we need to pay close attention to. As you watch this piece, think about how mama nina "works" as Teish describes in her book Jambalya. please pay attention to her speaking in tongues and dance. what can the body say that words can not, that piano can not. how does nina's dress, the grain of her voice, and her omnipresent stare inform her performance. how is nina's performance an act of conjuring or what black women do every day-make a way out of no way? do share your thoughts.


more workings by Prof. Dickerson

re/placing Black womanly images

THE PROJECT FOR TRANSFORMING THRU PERFORMING proposes to enter the black woman’s performing voice into the scholarly discussion surrounding gendered identity as metaphor for all women and oppressed peoples, using “witness” texts. These witness texts are based on the words of real women and serve as places of memory; memory as it relates to the Greek martyr, which connotes witness. “Kitchen Prayers” dramatizes the national and international narratives of real women collected by THE PROJECT. By using the kitchen as the central metaphor for this work, we achieve several ends. First we (re)create a space in which women are made central. Second, we shift scholarly attention to the experiences, music, literature, public and private conversations and everyday behaviors of “ordinary”, easily forgotten Black women. These become the key sources (the witness texts) for exploring the meanings that women assign to mundane as well as extraordinary events in their lives. Finally, in discussions held after the dramatic presentation, we place scholarly commentary next to the witness texts and the narratives of our audience. We use these narratives to challenge and support each other. The work of THE PROJECT emerges then as a living manifestation of a deliberately multidisciplinary, ever evolving Black feminist scholarship.

Since the events of 9/11, the world has changed and so it is appropriate that the focus of THE PROJECT adjust to our new reality. When the world dialogue ratchets up to talk of war and retribution it is overwhelmingly a male dialogue. Men are considered the experts, the keepers of knowledge. In keeping with our mission to make central the ordinary woman’s voice, we want to add that voice to this predominantly male dialogue. By revolving this year’s “Kitchen Prayers” presentations around the words of women living under the realities of war, famine and oppression, THE PROJECT FOR TRANSFORMING will try to capture, reflect and understand the impact of 9/11 and other acts of global terrorism on women and their children around the world.

black women in performance~~~working their rainbows

Peace family,

I found out about this dynamic elder sista doing performance work. You should check her out if you get a chance.

She was featured in this online magazine called Fathom http://www.fathom.com/feature/122665/index.html#

Transforming Through Performing: Oral History, African-American Women's Voices and the Power of Theater
From: University of Michigan | By: Glenda Dickerson

EDITOR'S INTRODUCTION | [ Glenda Dickerson ]What role does theater play in the larger discourses of politics, gender, race and history? In this interview, writer/director Glenda Dickerson (right), director of the Center for World Performance Studies at the University of Michigan, discusses the power of performance to transform the way we see, understand, think and respond. In Kitchen Prayers, her evolving series of dramatic performances, Dickerson privileges the actual words of women, accumulated from contemporaneous newspapers, magazines, broadcast media and other sources from across the world. This performance dialogue--acted by an entirely African-American female cast--weaves together strands of myth, song, painful reality and uplifting realizations. The result is a unique theatrical experience that draws its power from oral history and gives voice to those who would otherwise remain silent.

Fathom: How do you envision the social responsibility of theater?

Glenda Dickerson: I stopped directing, for the most part, traditional plays a long time ago. I got interested back in the early 1980s in making drama from oral history. I did a project called Eel Catching in Setauket, and it was built on the African-American community in Setauket, Long Island. They had been there since before the American Revolution, an early-nineteenth-century free black settlement. The people at Stony Brook, where I was teaching, did not know anything about this group of people, so I became interested in documenting the community and I made a piece from that. Ever since then, working with oral history had a resonance for me. I saw how it transformed people when they could sit and witness the dignity of their own lives, how transformatory that was for them and for other people in the audience. For me, this began to be the most important work that I could do: to try to capture a different reality than traditional drama.

I think the arts are important and I think the arts have a place; they have a task to perform in bringing about social justice or commenting upon society. Particularly since September 11, a lot of artists have responded very quickly. Usually art takes time to cogitate, to ruminate and reflect, and then it begins to speak on the issue. But I think September 11 brought about a number of immediate responses from the arts community. So I think the arts do play a part always in transforming society, and I think since September 11, the whole way we think about making art has changed.

Fathom: Kitchen Prayers appears to be a tapestry of different types of dramatic elements: spirituals, Greek drama and myth, oral history. How do you weave together strands from history and classical drama to respond to current events?

Dickerson: "Transforming thru Performing, Re/placing Black Womanly Images"--this is the larger project out of which Kitchen Prayers emanates--is premised on a couple of ideas. One is that we want to add the performer's voice to the scholarly discourse surrounding identity because the question of identity and the intersection of race, class and gender has traditionally been a scholarly discussion. The voice of the artist and the performer, if included at all, is typically brought in as punctuation for stodgy academic proceedings: academics read scholarly papers, and then the artist performs. You do not see the artist sitting down at the table and speaking as an equal. That was one of the thoughts that I had: something magical could happen if you included the performer--not the performing voice, but the performer's voice--speaking as a scholar.

The other idea I had is that the ordinary woman, whose life is a dissertation, has a lesson to teach us in this scholarly discourse on identity because that woman knows who she is. She does not need academic books to tell her who she is or to validate her life.

Fathom: Implicit in the title Kitchen Prayers is a reference to spirituality. How does spirituality inform your work?

Dickerson: I worked with a wonderful Chinese scholar in performance studies named Haiping Yan. She asked a mutual friend, "Does Glenda believe in God?" Haiping had been raised by radical communists as part of the revolution in China, and while she admires and is moved by Kitchen Prayers, it was confusing to her because I call the actors "saints" and "prayerful performers." That is very important because I do not want this work to be facile or perfunctory, and I do not want the actors to be approaching a traditional dramatic character where they might construct a background, discover the conflict, and identify the obstacles. We do all of these things to develop the characters, of course, but that is not enough. With this work, I am asking these women to stand in with honor and respect for the real woman. Sometimes that real woman can witness the act and she can say, "Amen," if it is acceptable.

That is the spiritual part of it, and it is not a Christian spirituality even though we sing, for example, "We are Soldiers in the Army." We sing those old songs, but we sing them out of tradition, not dogma. We sing them to acknowledge the shoulders we stand on. It is about the honor and respect we pay our ancestors.

Fathom: How do you assemble the voices that you are honoring?

Dickerson: This year, since we were doing Kitchen Prayers as a response to September 11, it took a little different turn.

Ordinarily, I go here and there and I record narratives. My colleague Jacqueline Mattis and I started working on a project called "Speaking Exile." We went to Tanzania to interview women from other countries such as Rwanda who have come to Tanzania seeking safe harbor. We wanted to talk to them about how they define home and how they passed on their culture to their children when they are not living at home. That was going to be the Kitchen Prayers for this year.

I had collected these narratives and then was going to transcribe them, look at them to see what themes emerge, and make the drama. But then September 11 happened and so we put this on hold. On September 11, I could not locate my daughter in New York until two o'clock. That was just so horrible. After talking about this, a colleague asked me to consider whether there was a way to extend that moment when I could not find my daughter to other women and their children and talk about a sense of global loss?

This idea intrigued me, and so that is how this Kitchen Prayers was born. To find new narratives, we read the papers and listened to NPR and went on the Internet. I started looking for stories of women and their children living under war, famine, all kinds of terror, and we accumulated many tales: that became one section. Another section was called "Patriotism, The Splendid Experiment." The actors and I talked together about what it means to be patriotic in this time: that became part of the play. Aeschylus became part of the play, as did the story of Niobe. Many years ago, I did a production of The Trojan Women and I set it in Africa. I felt, even back then, that the language of oppression is the same the world over. This is a Greek tale, but it is also an African tale, and it becomes the story of slavery. They are always real, those old Greek myths; they contain all of the elements of modern day suffering and anguish. You can always find one that speaks to the moment.

Fathom: You collect different women's voices from different cultures, and perform them by an entirely African-American female cast. What does the black woman's performing voice bring to your project?

Dickerson: We enter the black woman's voice as a metaphor for all women and for all oppressed people. We do this for a couple of reasons. We do this because we believe that the universal is found in the particular, but it is usually the white particular that stands for universality. So we are saying, quite controversially, that the black woman's particular experience is particular enough to be as universal as, say, Death of a Salesman. We say that because, in the American place, there is no American history without black history. It does not exist. You have to have black to define white. America has to have an oppressed person, a caste or class to define itself against, better than or liberator of. We are saying, No. We define ourselves and we define America for you through ourselves. It is a controversial stance that I take deliberately.

Fathom: How would you characterize your inclusion of female voices in the typically male-dominated dialogue of war and politics that emerged out of September 11?

Dickerson: When we are talking about war and retribution in this world, on this planet, it is always a male dialogue. When you look at CNN, ABC, NBC, you primarily find men talking, arguing, pontificating. It is their story.

In this context, the woman's voice is not deemed valuable and is not present, and therefore, a large part of the story gets left untold. In Kitchen Prayers, I try not to worry myself with how many bombs did they drop? How many caves did they look in? Will they ever find Bin Laden? I want to tell this other side of the story, the side of the story that cannot be told because the woman's voice is left out. And that story is not only the story of suffering and oppression. That is a large part of the story, because while we are focusing on these caves trying to locate Bin Laden, women are being raped and killed in Rwanda, Sudan, Sierra Leone. Women are starving themselves to death in Turkey. All these other stories that are happening just do not come to the surface.

Some have reported that in Pakistan the rape of women has become so common that it has another name: it's called "lying down"--implying that you just lie down and take it. Another quotation is, "Rape is so common; it is more common than the bite of a mosquito." Those are the stories that I have to tell no matter what. I want to tell those stories, but I also want to include the voice of women who are working and fighting against these kinds of oppression, because you never hear about them either. This is happening all over the world.

Fathom: Where did you find your own voice as an actress and a writer?

Dickerson: I wrote actually about my coming to voice in an essay called "Wearing Red: How a Rowdy Band of Charismatics Learned to Say NO." It is about a production of an idea I directed based on the poetry of Alexis DeVeaux. This was in the 1980s in New York. We made this play and we produced it ourselves. I had been making my living as a professional director, but often you wait for the phone to ring, for somebody to call and offer you a job, then you go do it. You get your paycheck and you go home.

But these women at the One World Café in New York, in the Village, they were so independent. They said, we can go look for a theater and just do it ourselves. This notion of directing and producing something ourselves, that was life transforming for me. And in the process of working on this show and producing it ourselves, that was my coming to voice.

This experience taught me that you can do it yourself, but it also taught me that you can say it yourself because I was never satisfied. I started out making plays even as a young woman teaching at Howard University. I was always making things. I was adapting The Trojan Women to an African setting. When I was making plays, I was happiest. When I went to New York, I realized I could make it myself, say it myself, and do it myself. It really changed my life. It was not too long after that when I directed a play on Broadway, only the second African-American woman to do so.

After this, I also realized that I do not need to do this. I went back to teaching. Ever since then, I have been moving toward where I am now: making plays from real people's lives, interacting with scholars--reading what they write and thinking about what they think. I finally feel like I can answer the question, Does Glenda believe in God? I can answer it with many pages of talk. It is definitely not a Yes, but it is definitely not a No. Everything in between: that is what my life has come to.

Relevant link

Center for World Performance Studies

Saturday, October 13, 2007

anna deavere smith

Thursday, October 04, 2007

U, Black Maybe (a choreopoem)

U, Black Maybe: Another Look at Global Positioning, and the Hopes of a Radical Overthrow

Suggested Readings and Viewings

Raul Zurita: Interview teleconference via skype (this maybe archived on www.hemispericinstitute.com)

Diamela Eltit: E. Luminata

Common Sense: Finding Forever (especially the trak U, Black Maybe)

George Schuyler: Black No More

Cheryl I. Harris: Critical Race Theory, The Key Writings That Formed the Movement, (especially the article by Harris titled "Whiteness and Property"

Josephine Baker: Princess Tam Tam (the film)

Jill Scott: The Real Thing (especially How It Make You Feel)

Amiri Baraka: In Town

Agosto Boal: Games for Actors and Non-Actor (play the construction of power game)

Nelly Ricard: Margins and Institutions

1 out of 40. this must be a project. "but we are all academics, we are all intellectuals". I must be clear like water, like purified air. I am stuck in a nightmare. You have a tongue that speaks for the universe? ask her and she will speak her own skin. "well in my analysis, in my opinion, in my estimation". Remove your language from my body, it is not your domain, it is not your space, your territory to ejaculate on/in, leave fulfilled, and spent.

This must be film where the end is improvised is acted out real time is scriptless. "only history will finish this action". but this, I can not burn away without casting myself in effigy. This bruise here to the cheek, or the strips of loose forearm flesh does not reveal an absence in this world. This world expects a silence my silence my death is their welcomed peace. then they will use my blood as tobasco and celebrate their good deed of ridding this world of all the blackness that insistent stench resilient stench they fight against.

This must be a project. Somebody is dissertating me at this moment. "oh well you know why her butt is so big, her thighs so wide, her hair so knotty"? the wheels in the cage go round and round. This must be an experiment to see when and how I will break down, break away, break out, break lose, break free.

Someone is monitoring my stillness and marveling. Someone is monitoring my smile and marveling. Someone is tracing my steps through the machine. "this is unbelievable. has she lost all will to fight?" "we have won, let's retreat, let's vacate".

Little darkie Josephine sitting in the corner

Little darkie Josephine sitting on the stoop

Little darkie Josephine sitting in the corner

Little darkie Josephine don't know what to do.

Is what they want to wash away blackness like dandruff from their scalps? This must be an experiment to see how far I can bend over bend back loosen like elastic before I….

What I am talking about is real simple. What I am saying is a theory of blood and bone and legacy. This is not an existential dilemma. Ask the women swirling in my head. Ask the women I call mama sista. This is not for play-play. What I am talking about here is a heaviness at the base of neck and real hollowness in my throat where my words get trapped. There is nowhere to hide away from this shit. There is no way not to be a warrior. Is there?

I'm talking about the constant slap across the face. And this world's urge (in our bodies) towards whiteness. Just go on and be white. Just go on and be white? The price, my death. The price, my bones. The price, my tomorrow. Fuck you.

Am I the metaphor? I must be, and this here must be some sort of quack-science poemetical experiment.

How many pills

How many pills

How many pills

How many pills

How many pills

I gotta swallow to go numb

No but really do these __________ really expect my silence forever? They must be doing market research so see how long they got to fuck wit me before I flip this thing. They must think they got time. They say,

Look how fragile

And the hair almost don't need no lye

And the tone the questioning inflection always is almost there

And look they so disoriented they don't know where home is

And see they don't even want to talk about that place or that story they made up

This must be a dream. But my limbs are numb. And street washing is on heavy rotation in my rapid eye movement. There is no sleep really. Just a stillness like running on a tread mill. Just a …

They can't think we ain't got nothing to say. They can't think we all wanna be like them.

What is the cost of blackness? What is the cost of blackness? What is the cost of blackness? What is the cost of blackness? What is the cost of blackness? What is the cost of blackness? What is the cost of blackness? What is the cost of blackness? What is the cost of blackness? What is the cost of blackness? What is the cost of blackness? What is the cost of blackness?

"Can't come around
They gon' wanna bring you down
No one knows just what's inside
Doing dope and doing time
Why they messing with your mind
Black maybe..."

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Through Blood, Across the Scream:

Constructing a Body (Meta)Narrative Under Dictatorship

Suggested Readings and Viewings

E. Luminata by Diamela Eltit

Margins and Institutions by Nelly Richard

Repasos Curated by the Hemispheric Institute at NYU: http://www.hemisphericinstitute.org/cuaderno/repasos/index.html

If you are interested in either the book or the articles I read let me know. I am willing to share and or email what I can.


Ebony (loving her own skin) Golden

A poem for diamela eltit's wounds

Look closely as the blood lets

As the rips sing a truth

A trauma a voyage

Look closely as the body becomes mist

Escapes it skin entertains dry veins

Look (first the arms like white angels)

At me (like a fleshy mary)

Then (like a dam unleashed)

A river of blood running home


What do you see the torture of this life

The noose stitched by my own hands more

What do you see my crow eyes squawking

Scratching a hymn into corporeal tapestry

Through Blood, Across the Scream:

Constructing a Body (Meta)Narrative Under Dictatorship

How can embodied meta-narratives critique artistic space in the aftermath dictatorship? What are the signs, symbols, inscriptions, markings, glyphs that transmit this genre-less space of violence and terror, trauma? How can the body pull itself from the margins to the center to redefine and recreate language under and outside of an oppressive regime? What are the practices? What are the actions? Where are the breaks, rips, fissures, ruptures, eruptions, gaps? What can the body reveal that an alien language can not? What can the body atone that the voice can not? How can the body reveal what language reaches for, but is cut from, a language that is high-jacked by the state for the purposes of (re)institutionalizing the body? What are the poetics of disillusion, disorientation? How is the body phonemic, phonetic, and whole language without words?

The idea of the "real" resounds throughout "Margins and Institutions". It seems that a dialectical tension exists between the body and language which conflates and complicates notions of the "real" as explored by Nell Richards. Davila and Foss offer that in the wake of the coup, language is left in a state of "intelligibility" which inspires artists to circumvent and rewire language in order "to seek alternative ways to recover the meaning of that history which had been replaced by the Grand History of the Victors". But where does this recovery begin?

I pose, alongside Richards, that language as an embodied practice, is an action that first must be articulated in the body. In the experiences of the body. In the "reality" of the body. Early in "Ellipsis and Metaphor" Richards shares, "The political and administrative control of expression through restriction imposed on language and its socio-cultural structures, was simply an expedient by which the regime could keep the production of meaning under surveillance". Which is to say that language, and I maintain a language that articulates a political platform or ideology of the oppressed or marginalized, serves as a marker by which the government oversees a particular group's movements and ideas. Clearly, in an oppressive society, language catalogs the discontent of the masses, and possibly serves as a vehicle by which the masses galvanize power to overthrow the state.

But language in the hands of the oppressor grafts a violent text on the bodies of Chilean people forced into silence by the state. Interestingly, Richards explicates the violence of language in the sphere of the art scene as a means of highlighting the academic appropriation born out of a quasi-multi-cultural aesthetic which displaces the political and social relevance of historically and culturally specific art. However, just as language is originally conjured in the body, we must consider the revolutionary implications of an artistic critique that is conjured by the artist who creates it. As artists create their works, we should consider the critical ideologies that are integral to their production. The language which describes, which analyzes this process should begin in the textured nuances that extend past the body during the artistic process.

Perhaps, we can speak about this process of body and creation in terms of birth. The creative process could be seen as the nine-month period from conception to birth, and the new-born serves as the referent, the metaphor if you will. Richards describes metaphor as a tool of deception. She writes, "Metaphor is one such privileged device, which prolongs the communicative process thanks to zones of opacity it sets up in the recognition of references; it increases the buoyancy of meaning so that it remains erratic and thus eludes the restricted reading imposed on it by censorship". While this quote unsettles my aforementioned birth metaphor, it reveals how metaphor muddies the spaces of cognition for those engaging with an artistic project, as spectators. So what the body knows and chooses to act out could totally destabilize popular notions of the "real" or "reality". Incorporating metaphor into artistic practice, I imagine, is like casting in intricate network of connective tissue out to multiple layers of society simultaneously.

But these ideas of the project, the critique, and the metaphor speak again to the referent, the thing we as spectators see and judge, analyze, attempt to make sense of. But this is a different language, different from the language that is glyphed onto the body like a burn, a scar. What language is produced when the body is both the creator and the referent for artistic projects?

The body is away of historicizing artistic projects. The body is elemental, it is the organic stuff, the background story; as well as the workshop, the gallery, the exhibit. The body reaches across temporal-spatial frontiers to speak an experience unique to its corporal existence. The markings, the scars, the burns, tell the individual traumatic narratives that words ache to find. Perhaps, each person needs her own language, because universal language may not actualize one's own project, it is utterly useless.

So I am left with thinking about how the body constructs a meta-narrative, a radical discourse, which reaches past itself into society's fibrous spaces to reverberate revolutionary ideologies, both individual and communal. What are performances of a "body rhetoric" doing as practiced by Eltit or Leppe? I am interested in thinking about how this self-inflicted trauma reintroduces violence back into the society. I am also interested in thinking about how these visual narratives become etched into the psyches of spectators. We should consider the short and long term effects, the social implications. It is important to consider how sacrifice, scarification, burning as a means of constructing a narrative impact the community. I am also interested in thinking about the role of pain in rewiring language. What can a scream or a slice do that a stanza or a manifesto can not?

Calendar of Events

  • June 1- Official Launch of Betty's Daughter Arts Collaborative
  • May 10, 7 pm, Gumbo YaYa @ Roses and Bread Women's Poetry Reading, Performance/Body Insallation, Brecht Forum NYC
  • May 10, all day, Experimental Theatre Final Performances NYU
  • May 7-8, all day, Gumbo YaYa, MA Symposium NYU
  • April 23, 6 pm Gumbo YaYa, -ism Gala NYU
  • March 26, 7 pm, Gumbo Yaya/ or this is why we speak in tongues, Tisch School of the Arts, Forum Series
  • Feb. 7, Brecht Forum, 730, moderating NO! film screening
  • Jan. 4, Common Ground Theatre, 8 pm, performance art night---Holding Space (a love poem for Meghan Williams)
  • Dec. 12, Ripple in Brooklyn, 8 pm, sharing poetic vibes for a jazz/blues show
  • Oct 27, Duke University, 9:45 am, Women Engage Hip-Hop Panel
  • Sept 14, PS @ Tisch, How Much Can the Body Hold
  • Sept 19, Righetous AIM, NC A & T
  • August 31-Sept 2, 75TH Highlander Anniversary
  • Anti-prison Industrial complex performance, Durham, NC
  • April 30 Shout Out, Carrboro, NC
  • April 24 Fingernails Across Chalkboard Reading, Washington, DC
  • April 14 Poetry Month Reading, Durham, NC
  • 3/31 Ringing Ear Reading, Chapel Hill, NC
  • Wednesday 3/21 - 7 pm Miller Morgan Auditorium, Performative Healing and the Work of Ntozake Shange, Lecture