Artists In Reponse to State Violence and Gentrification Nov. 8, 2015
Brooks's McKenna (37) says that she has been tased before. She described how the electric shocks feel as it courses through her 130 lb. body. She cries and asks for mercy, and when she gets none after four shocks, laughs when a nurse is called and asks rhetorically, if she is okay.
All the narratives take as their genesis true stories. These stories are tragedies. There are no heroic conclusions or happy endings. More than one work asks about those left behind, like the mothers whose babies are slaughtered. What about the children who are left mother and fatherless?
Is she is crazy? Is he mad crazy? If so, then what about a society where such killings are normalized? Isn't this kind of attitude crazy as well?
Poetry was central to multiple work this evening as well as woven into the tapestry of Artists in Response. Marvin K. White's reflections on growing up in West Oakland and the 67 Suenos artist's reflection on black and brown, how much historically we share, was equally compelling. I loved a line from the 67 Suenos poet, who said, Harriet Tubman was the original Coyote. EastSide Arts is also honoring the 50th Anniversary of the Black Arts Movement and the Chicano Arts Movement presently.
What does one do when she cannot move beyond this point?
She tells us, "My son was shot . . . " and as she says it, she hits her chest with her fist (hard). The thump resonating her lived experience; where it lived in her own body. The thump is also the bullet that took her son, its entrance and his exit.
As the dancers, Yemanya Napue and Shakiri (choreographer) share the story with us, they were also erecting an altar first in our hearts and minds, then in space. I hadn't known the story was based on an actual event, but it resonated with me for all the black people killed daily, all the lives ended violently.
So what do "we" individuals, "we" community, "we" ubuntu-- do with all the loss? Where do we put the grief? How do we function when the clouds get so heavy we cannot see our hands in front of our faces, let alone our feet? Perhaps this is why I fell Thursday evening when I left the reception for "Sentence Unseen," a Central Works West art exhibit which looks at incarcerations impact on the children, in this case, teenagers and young adults. I left the African American Museum and Library, Oakland, walked down the stairs towards Martin Luther King Jr. Way and tripped on the uneven sidewalk. I was flat on my face so quickly, there was no way to prepare for the falls impact.
I jumped up so quickly, those who came to my aid, wanted me to sit and collect myself. I stood still and made sure everything worked. I left a obsidian rock on the sidewalk. I couldn't believe I had fallen again. I thought this was past; my younger daughter jokingly said that I should ask my son-in-law to teach me how to fall safely, since I seem to end up on the ground a lot. The next day, when I went to have my Ori washed, Mrs. Abimbola said that she had Ogun on the altar with Obatala and Esu, because it was Ogun who protected me. She said I could have broken a bone or been mortally injured.
Ogun's presence reminded me of the journey our ancestors took into the vast Diaspora. It was Ogun's presence, along with Yemanja who saved our humanity, despite attempts to steal our souls. Ile Ife is the original concept of Diaspora. Ile is house and Ife means to expand or grow. What is the Diaspora but a larger space, our community spread out over vast territories. In our case, we did not anticipate its largess, but the Orisha did and prepared our ancestors for it whether this was having us carry seeds in our hair so we could plant native plants when we reached our destinations or helping us find suitable substitutions where necessary for rituals and medicines. The Gods of Africans in the Americas, Diaspora Africans morphed, just as we did into New Afrikans. There is much that is familiar, yet with a difference. Our New World spirituality served a particular purpose, the devil we met in the West was a different kind of evil., and the kind of resistance Diaspora Africans waged for centuries up to now, is directly connected to the kind of spiritual power we carried in our belief and value systems. I don't think all sizes fit all or that the ways of our ancestors was incorrect of wrong.
We are here because what African Ancestors of the Middle Passage believed and how they worked the juju or nkisi worked. Those Africans who remained on the continent, do not know what we have suffered, what we continue to suffer. They cannot know or even imagine what it is and to assume or presume to do so is an arrogance I find insulting.
Perhaps the New African has a new Odu? Perhaps the stories of our survival and prosperity need to be added to the canon and studied. There is a reason why some of us ended up here. Instead of the critique of what was loss in translation, perhaps the question should be what have we gained and what did we hold onto which is now lost to those who have philosophically moved on? What can Diaspora Africans share with indigenous Africans? Perhaps it is our warrior spirit? (We continue to battle for our human rights, then and now.)
Despite the obstacles and barriers to our humanity, our ancestors held on and because they held on, and taught their children to hold on, we are still here now. That grieving mother is here now. She had to carry on because she has another son to raise.
I got up off the ground and with ice and Epson salts and African Shea butter and Arnica and turmeric and MSM and when if gets a bit too much, Advil, Devils Claw, Bromelain, I have been managing the pain.
Kiandanda Dance Theater performed "Oyo Bisso," a work that addresses the issue "freedom." Byb Chanel Bibene writes in the program that Oyo Bisso, translated as "'This is us," represents the challenges that come with the vulnerability moment with the body. Like blossoming roses, we rise and fade in a cycle of lamentation, resistance, pain and the battle to move on with harmony in life."
As long as freedom is an issue, it means that someone is trapped, constrained, contained, not at liberty to decide his or her fate. All bars are not physical ones, so what we have to do is eliminate the barriers to movement.
The company first performed the work in a community garden in San Francisco's Bayview Hunter's Point as a part of SF Trolley Dances in October. This performance was expanded in a number of ways, but the basic movements remained--
Dressed ceremonially, Kiandanda waifed and wandered like a breeze, the kind one imagines lifts souls so they can fly. Floating, becoming airborn, flying . . . waxing and waning as dust settled then defied gravity, Kiandanda dancers reflected the Maya Angelou poem recited called, "Equality."
Nikole Klaymoon's Embodiment Project looked at black boys killed by police and reflected on what their mothers and fathers are feeling. All the dancers had ritual clay on their faces and bodies, the kind of clay that one wears for the ancestors. Typical to Klaymoon's work, the narrative really held the work together as much as the bodies -- pens and paper and ink on the lit canvas before us. All the emotions collided as center stage two men danced. A centerpiece, the story revolved around them as they held space for all the black boys named and unnamed, as Embodiment evoked the spirits of the ancestors.
In containers like makeup, this clay was smeared on arms and faces alongside the tears-- Has it come to this? Mourning as routine as morning ablutions? No, of course not. Within the piece was resistance to the violence and the attacks. Perhaps at center were also lives which are stuck, while others at the same time transcend.
This clay was on the altar Friday at Mrs. Abimbola's. It is a part of the altar I took home for Obatala. My head was washed with coconut water; it felt really cool and refreshing. My head was then wrapped in a white cloth. I slept in the cloth.
Artist's Response to State Violence and Gentrification is also a ritual washing; it cools the fire so we can think and plan and act. Resistance is an attitude. We are at war, a war we can win, if we stay alert, listen to our hearts and create alliances (ESAA--smile).
Artists in Response to State Violence is a part of a a series of Community Forums which began Nov. 1. The first of the series called When Drums Became Dangerously Loud.
The series continues Nov. 11, 6-8 p.m. with Cultural Gentrification/Artists as Agents or Resisters.
Friday, Nov. 13, is Oakland's Geography of Resistance Grand Finale, 6-9 p.m. also at Eastside Cultural Center, 2277 International Blvd., Oakland, CA.