Cross-Community Solidarity and Dance

STRATEGIES OF SOLIDARITY – WHAT I’VE FIGURED OUT SO FAR (Re: Cross-Community Solidarity and Dance)

Strategies of Solidarity–what I’ve figured out so far is a series in which I share my (practical) strategies of inclusion in the professional dance context. These strategies are some of my most cherished tools of destruction, with which I destroy colonialist (capitalist, racist, ableist, transphobic, homophobic, sexist, etc.) habitus, in order to then imagine and build different models. Alongside these strategies, I share my reflections as to where institutional as well as my own internalized systems of oppression are situated. The context I am referring to is the Central European independent dance and performance scene. Even if this isn’t what you are involved with, or where you are located, I hope that reading this series can support you in your own process.

Reflection

In collaboration with xart splitta, I organized a gathering* of fellow BIPOC activists based in Berlin in May. The topic of conversation was performance art and dance in the context of cross-community structures and solidarity. Attending the gathering were arts practitioners from a variety of fields, including dance, performance, and film, as well as individuals from the fields of curation, arts management, and education. During the time we shared together, we explored performance art and dance in relation to three main themes: 1) Building and strengthening structures of solidarity in BIPOC communities, 2) Addressing and working through relevant issues within our communities, and 3) Sharing resources.


My impulse to reach out to Iris and Julie at xart splitta, and then to others, originates in an experience I had way back when I was a kid, on a visit to my grandmother’s house. On this particular visit, my mom noticed that some objects were missing from the house. She asked my grandmother where all these things had gone, and this is the story my grandmother told us:

A thief had come in the middle of the night, and stolen my grandfather’s shoes and a bit of food. The next night, the thief came back and stole something else, and more food. So, the following night, before bed, my grandmother cooked dinner, and left it out with a glass of water for the thief, along with all the money she had (which my mother had given her on our previous visit). The next morning, the money had vanished and the plate was clean. She did the same thing, for another three nights, putting out food and some of my grandfather’s clothing and other belongings. Every morning she would wake up to a clean plate, and an empty space where my grandfather’s belongings had been.

After hearing this story, my mother asked my grandmother in frustration why she had given away all her money, which she needed for food and other necessities. My grandmother simply replied that it was clear to her that the thief needed it more than she did. It’s the community care I learned from my grandmother that sparked the flame in me which burns to facilitate the exchange of time, resources, and knowledge among my various communities.

The Conversation
This section is written by Deiera Kouta and Theresa Klapper from xart splitta

As a guide for diving into these themes, we posed and discussed the following questions:

  • What role do performance art and dance play for us and for our communities, regarding our political practice and cross-community solidarity?
  • How can we use performance art and dance to build and strengthen cross-community alliances and structures?
  • What barriers have we encountered regarding access to performance art and dance, and how can we break down these barriers for ourselves and our communities?
  • How can we integrate intersectional perspectives and approaches into performance art and dance, making them more concrete and tangible?
  • How can we address, articulate and/or negotiate issues that are relevant within our communities through performance art and dance?
  • How can we as (arts) practitioners support each other and our communities through the diversity of resources we have access to?

Throughout the conversation, the multiple dimensions and meanings of performance and dance for BIPOCs and BIPOC communities became clear: Dance and performance were described primarily as unifying and healing forces that provide access to collective experiences within communities, as well as access to one's individual identity; Through dance and performance, embodied knowledge can be passed down through generations and, depending on the context, a variety of emotions can be shared and processed; Dance and performance were also described as central modes of resistance and intervention, significant for social change.

During the conversation, the multiple challenges associated with embedding BIPOC dance and performance in Western, white-dominated contexts also emerged. In particular, the effects of institutionalizing BIPOC art were discussed: Processes of academization, categorization, and marketization lead to a detachment of performance and dance from various spheres of life, and ultimately to a distancing of BIPOC from their own artistic practice. Exoticization and sensationalization were also discussed as dynamics within the often exploitative working conditions for BIPOCs. In performances in front of a (majority) white audience, these dynamics rapidly eclipsed the healing and unifying effects of performativity. Consequently, performativity becomes a tool to protect oneself and reclaim one's own space. In addition to the academization of the arts, institutional barriers to accessing performance and dance were cited as constructing distance between performers and audiences, making moments for healing and empowerment within communities difficult.

The need to imagine alternative forms of organization in order to rethink institutions and to strengthen cross-community alliances and solidarity was also a topic. For example, the strong pressure to categorize one's own artistic practice, especially in the German context, could be countered by the targeted creation of interfaces for more fluidity. These should be open to change, and allow for a continuous questioning of power structures. In this context, a (re)reflection on values from BIPOC communities would be necessary, questioning individualistic attitudes and divide-and-rule mechanisms. In this way, space could open up to encounter each other differently. Critical questioning of one's own position and reflection on one's own privileges were named as further important tools: It is necessary to question which people are selected by institutions as representatives of communities and which dominant ideas of art they reproduce in their work. In this sense, a return to BIPOC spaces is necessary, which have a long tradition of dance and performance, but are not recognized as artistic within institutions.

The redistribution of resources between collectives, associations and individuals was also discussed as an important strategy for strengthening cross-community solidarity. In addition to material resources, this should also include the sharing of emotions, time and knowledge. In this context, shared spaces for exchange of experiences and advice - also with regard to dealing with and surviving in institutions - and of mutual empowerment were ascribed particular importance.

Finally, with regard to the question of how topics with added value for BIPOC communities can be developed, collaborative processes were mentioned above all. Actors at different levels should be involved in the development of programs and concepts from the very beginning. In collaborative processes, it is particularly important to allow space for ongoing conversations, to be open to the development of content-related focal points, and to be guided more strongly by one's own intuition in creative processes. In this sense, one's own understanding of art can and must be questioned and expanded again and again.

Other questions that arose during the conversation were:

  • How do we break down the barriers and the biases that have become inherent within performance art?
  • To what extent am I part of the problem?
  • What can I learn from others and what can I unlearn, having been trained in these institutions?
  • How can we expand our understanding of an institution and how can we rethink its role and function?

"What I meant to say earlier is that, to me, the word "institution" sounds static and fixed. If something is an "institution", it is "established" ("established in ..."). What I'm really interested in is how to (re-)think institutions as spaces of flux, expansion and growth, for trying things out and learning/unlearning in the process, and for being in collaboration with others (and of course choosing your collaborators wisely). I'm also thinking of structures of remuneration and re-distribution (salary, conditions of labor, respectful treatment of everyone who works there, appreciation of what constitutes "valuable" work, commitment to anti-racism and restorative justice, etc.). I think when we use the term "white institutions" / "white-led institutions", a lot of the time we are using this term as a kind of shorthand to refer to institutions that do not commit to the issues above, and who perpetuate a lack of accountability and BIPOC extractivism..."

– Kathy-Ann Tann

“Almost normal. Almost acceptable. Almost indigenous. Half, a quarter, a fraction, a piece. Gender, sexuality, ethnicity, cognitive or physical dis-/abilities. Toxic beliefs, ableist and racist structures in society continue to harm. Some are embracing their differences in order to heal…and they’re connecting.”

– Red Haircrow

*This gathering was made possible through the #takepart program of the Fonds Darstellende Künste with funds from the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media.

Recognition, Accountability, and Triggers

I am someone who understands themselves as having internalized oppression, in that I recognize that I have been conditioned to act and think in a certain way based on colonialist (i.e. transphobic, ableist, capitalist, racist, etc.) ideas. And that lays out a path—a worthwhile, beautiful one I’m happy to choose —where I learn more about conscious destruction, such that I reflect more, learn more, consider more, and love more. So, within this never-ending process, I know that there is always the possibility that discriminatory language or ideas are present in what I write. Please reach out to me via the contact form if you feel that is the case.

To all BIPOCs doing community care. Thank you!

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