Open Spectrum Critical Community Dialogues: Navigating Privilege

Navigating-Privilege-Banner-(FB)On Monday, December 7th, at 7:30 p.m., New York Live Arts will host the second of a series of Open Spectrum Community Dialogues, produced in association with MAPP International Productions. Culturebot, as critical partner, reached out to each participant to publish contextual essays both prior to and post dialogue, and we are also offering our platform as a space for public response. The following contextual responses are provided by three of the panelists, Fury Young, Morley, and Raquel Almazan, and follow in a series of contextual essays that began with Kyoung H. Park’s essay, which was published on Culturebot on December 2nd.

I hope the work that I do lifts up those who are not as privileged as others in the world. The word “privilege” bothers me somewhat though because it assumes that those who are privileged may be happier than those who are less privileged. Also, what criteria does privilege assume? I’ve met people who are in prison or living in slums but are much happier than people I’ve met who may be considered privileged. And for me, at the end of the day, living happily and freely is what’s most important. That said, on certain levels there those who are more privileged in the opportunities they are offered, and these people should know that. Art can help with that. At the end of the day social hierarchy is something on paper which unfortunately is very real- something people have assumed in their minds due to the shortcomings of history; ill and dumb things people have done. Art helps to remind us of that. It can humanize people who are seldom humanized. Give light to people who are seldom given light. The project I’m producing, Die Jim Crow, is written and performed by black musicians and writers across the country who are formerly and currently incarcerated. Die Jim Crow I think is testament to this – and I hope it will flip a lot of stale social hierarchy ideas on their head.

As an Artist/Educator I have the privilege of conducting workshops for  youth, educators, domestic violence survivors and war veterans experiencing homelessness. I am often hired to facilitate a “tell your life story” workshop. We use poetry, song and visual arts to do this. I incorporate my trainings from Father Michael Lapsley’s (South African Freedom fighter) who founded the center for the “Healing of Memories” in Cape Town. I include yogic breathing – pranayama techniques and sacred song form leaned from Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon. I find that given the tools & opportunity to co-create a safe space to explore in, conditions of class, gender & race are exposed, witnesses & critiqued by participants from a position of dignity & power. The inherent wisdom of each individual is expressed not only to the room but to the individuals themselves. It broadens the stance and softens the heart. In my opinion “Art making” carries a unique medicine that can usher through a healing and empowerment unlike anything else because it is the individual that administers ones own spirit medicine to oneself.

RAQUEL ALMAZAN (from her short essay titled ‘De-Colonialize the Body’):
If in Theatre of the Oppressed, Augusto Boal sought to de-mechanize the body then to de-colonialize must also require the participation of the body. In order to release and re condition the body to a prior state, what state? – an organic, pure, original or unconditioned state. The influences of Butoh dance methodologies also play a large part of how I physicalize the world in my plays. Language is not sufficient enough to de-colonialize when using the English and Spanish language, these are not the original voices of the indigenous, and if we are limited to the languages of those that enacted imperialistic dominance, language being a large tool of imperialistic control, than we must also include the body in attempts to return to another influence. The body must be in relationship to the use of colonial languages imposed on the altered indigenous body, psyche and lineage. To use English and Spanish is a conscious choice of compromise, the reality of the post-colonial results, the limited makeup of our modern state and access to our cultural knowledge and disconnection. The bi-lingual aspect in my work is a struggle to reverse the colonial gaze, and use verbal language as a weapon to subvert the assumptions of power that English speakers have in speaking the language that dominants the world.

One concept in Butoh dance, is that choreography is imperialism, if that is so, than what is the process of creating a instinctual space where the body and spirit can generate and create impulse for movement “dance”. Only through the ritualistic space of invitation –not invasion of the space, can the body move in a natural state. We must question the very logic of movement itself in it’s current form, in our current body that carries the trauma and conditioning of our ancestors and world history.

The body itself holding memory and access portals to cultural history, lost verbal language that transforms into a physical language. A language of movement, that being is doing, if the body can “be” in the theatrical space, it can do what language can not do. To de-colonialize is to explore the concept of being in relationship to the spirit of our ancestors. This is linked to our ancestors inviting us into the theatrical space to honor the spirits for whom we perform for. Before a physical audiences enters the performance space, the process and beginning intentions are offered to our celestial audiences whom we seek to heal. Our work must first live in the spiritual realm, our ancestors will guide us towards transforming the common physical space into a metaphysical space with multi-dimensional capabilities. They are the celestial ensemble.

To create a new relationship with our bodies and the space itself, with time itself, we can conjure historical blood lines with an invitation to enter the playing space in a new way. We must not mirror dominant power structures by invading theatre spaces, we must bring nature, the body joined in earth and sky into our modern stages. The earth remembers, and ancestors can guide us on a celestial timeline into the past pre-colonial dimensions. We can express freedom there and take this into the future movements of being in the space with text, movement, and one another. Creating from a “non-center of power” hierarchy that allows us to manifest away from post-colonial structures of working in group dynamics, narratives, perspectives and product driven concepts. If our work is to honor these themes, the dead, and the tortured living, we must seek their permission and guidance towards a ritualistic theatre.

Open Spectrum Critical Community Dialogues: Navigating Privilege
Dec 7 at 7:30pm

Produced in Association with MAPP International Productions and Critical Partner, Culturebot.

While many conversations about privilege and equity in the arts seem to get stuck, artists are actively addressing social inequity and injustice head on. Through creative activism, cultural organizing, and producing provocative artworks, art makers are tackling tough issues despite the obstacles before them. This intimate discussion with Raquel Almazan, Kyoung H. Park, Morley and Fury Young, panelists and audience members are encouraged to participate in a dialogue about confronting privilege, social hierarchies, and their pursuits of cultural equity through art making. Participants are asked to consider their own social advantages and disadvantages, and how it is used in their creative process. How are we expanding the cultural diversity narrative through creative works? This discussion will be moderated by Rasu Jilani.

An intimate conversational platform founded on the belief that cultural institutions can and should be a catalyst for societal transformation by participating in a world of ideas, Open Spectrum provides a space for community dialogue on the most vital issues facing our community today, engaging participants in active listening, constructive discourse and action planning. 

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