Thursday, October 15, 2015

Decolonizing mind, language, history

Clockwise from left:
Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi (photo: Ben Carver),
Tommy Pico (photo: Tommy Pico),
Mette LouLou von Kohl (photo: Laura Bluher)

Hosted by artist-activist Dan FishbackDECOLONIALLY QUEER drew quite a crowd to a small studio--legal capacity: 78, and things were kept legal, more or less--at NYU's Performance Studies department. The program--a collaboration of The Helix Queer Performance NetworkQueer Union-NYU and the Hemispheric Institute of Performance & Politics--featured three queer artists of indigenous heritage and offered a bracing corrective to the week's traditional Columbus Day commemoration. In fact, if performers Lady Dane Figueroa EdidiTommy Pico and Mette LouLou von Kohl could agree on an anthem for Decolonially Queer, it might well be Fuck Columbus and The Ship He Rode Over In, a sentiment the evening made abundantly clear.

Each artist rallied the strength of resistance and self-definition. Kumeyaay poet Pico, self-described "weirdo Indian faggot" living in Brooklyn--opened with wry defiance of typical expectations that he'd deliver a poem about nature--like "anemones and shit," "fodder for the Noble Savage narrative" before dazzling us with cracked wit and torrential delivery. Nature emerged in Pico's own time, on his own terms, giving us images of hills with "backs that love being stroked by our eyes" and the sky as the sole "stellar inheritance" shared by himself and his ancestors.

Lady Dane--accomplished singer, dancer, writer and ritualist--declared herself "the mother of a verbal revolution" powered by the complex experience of being a trans woman at the intersection of African, Cuban and indigenous American cultures. "Growing up, I was told by my elders, 'You have to read people who look like you.'" Stripping off her high-heeled sandals--"I'm decolonizing my feet, bitches!"--she wove a partly-sung incantation designed to shake listeners awake. Later, in the talkback moderated by Marlène Ramírez-Cancio of the Hemispheric Institute, Lady Dane spoke of her influences--outspoken singers like Nina Simone and Abby Lincoln, formal gestures recorded in Egypt's ancient hieroglyphs, rich ancestral practices disrupted by colonization and now reclaimed. In her work, she confronts English, crafting ways to turn that language into a protective and healing force.

Von Kohl's performance incorporated dance, photography, video, audio and voice in a poetic and moving evocation of her Palestine at a time before Israeli occupation. With Lebanese/Palestinian (mother) and Danish (father) ancestry, she speaks only English and French; we hear speaking French as she portrays her cigarette-smoking grandmother. Unlike her grandmother, though, von Kohl speaks no Arabic, and that disconnection pains her.

In silence, she crushes an orange she had carefully, tenaciously grasped between her jaws--juice, pulp and seeds falling at her feet. "To remember is to resist," she later tells us. With that precious orange, she calls attention to the richness of the land, the once-earthy wealth of Palestine before Israeli occupation, when her parents were orange farmers. "This is not about nostalgia," she says. "This is about memory as a weapon, as noise for the silenced."

All three artists grapple with the limitations and creative possibilities of language. For queer artists of color, indeed, this struggle has high stakes, meaning the difference between erasure and empowered presence. Pico remarks that he had to "flush all the ideas I had about poetry" and, instead, focus on "how do I sound?" Lady Dane studies, she says, "who I was before colonization; that's at the heart of everything I do."

The inspired and inspiring DECOLONIALLY QUEER ran for one night only, but you can keep up on Helix Queer Performance Network's future activities by clicking here.

“The Ancient Jazz Priestess of Mother Africa” is an African, Cuban and Indigenous American performance artist, a native of Baltimore, Maryland, Author (Yemaya’s Daughters, Brew, Baltimore: A Love Letter), playwright, healer, cohost of Inside Out Radio Show, a member of Trans Women of Color Collective Leadership Team, a volunteer at Casa Ruby, and a founding member of interdisciplinary theater company Force/Collision. She began producing her own cabarets at the age of seventeen. In 2013 she became the first trans woman of color published author of a work of fiction in DC. She has also written the book and lyrics to Roaring The Musical.

Tommy “Teebs” Pico is the author of absentMINDR (VERBALVISUAL, 2014)—the first chapbook APP published for iOS mobile/tablet devices—was a Queer/Art/Mentors inaugural fellow, 2013 Lambda Literary fellow in poetry, and has poems in BOMB, Guernica, and [PANK]. Originally from the Viejas Indian reservation of the Kumeyaay nation, he now lives in Brooklyn and with Morgan Parker co-curates the reading series Poets With Attitude (PWA) @heyteebs

Mette Loulou von Kohl was born from the orange at the center before the new world came. Currently based in New York City, Mette Loulou is a mixed-race queer femme, born to a Lebanese/Palestinian mother and Danish father. She has lived in New York, Romania, Morocco and Denmark. She is fascinated by the intersection between her personal identities as a jumping off point to reveal, dismantle and rebuild realities and dreams. Mette Loulou weaves movement, words, and her love for the unexpected into the exploration of her embodied histories. Mette Loulou is a graduate of EMERGENYC- the Hemispheric New York Emerging Performers Program and participant of EmergeLAB and Needing IT ALL at BAX/Brooklyn Arts Exchange. She is the co-founder of the performance collective A Beautiful Desperation and has performed both nationally and internationally in Canada and across Europe.
The Helix Queer Performance Network is a collaboration between La MaMa Experimental Theater Club, BAX/Brooklyn Arts Exchange and the Hemispheric Institute of Performance & Politics, seeking to nurture emerging queer performers, empower diverse queer communities, and celebrate the legacy and lineage of queer performance in New York City. Through educational initiatives, innovative stage productions and challenging public conversations that prioritize justice across age, race, class and gender, Helix aims to foster an inter-generational, multi-racial, multi-gender performance community where artists can document a broad spectrum of queer experience in the context of a rich artistic history.

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