How do you think of “feminist performance?” Is there an “essential feminine” energy that is important to your creative practice?
YANIQUE HUME: “Feminist performance creates an alternative, breaking the normative mold of dominant representational regimes and strategies that marginalize, silence or suppress women’s realities and the experiences of those not deemed powerful. Because it is unapologetically inclusive, feminist performance extends beyond strictly women’s stories to embrace other narratives, themes and experiences including that of race and sexualities. Daring in its approach and political in its stance, feminist performance fuses multiple media to awaken consciousness and center the gaze on the complexity of the human condition. Even with its universal tenor, the power of feminist performance for me resides in its ability to situate women as central to the human story. When I think of feminist performance as an aesthetically radical, socially transgressive and politically subversive force I am led to the enormous influence of Grace Jones and her ability to cross boundaries, provoke reaction and discussion through her art practice. My own work does not follow that same trajectory of transgression, but it is inspired by the rawness and eroticism of her craft and its ability to explore the many facets of black diasporic womanhood.
“My creative practice is rooted in exploring the contours of the sacred and specifically the generative powers of the divine feminine. I am guided by the archetypal principles of different goddess traditions and explore the myriad articulations of feminine energies through my work as a mother, priestess, teacher, performer and choreographer. In this way I’m clear that there isn’t a sense of an “essential feminine” but a plurality of feminine powers that demonstrate the expansive range of our reach and potential. The work of black feminist, activist and lesbian scholar Audre Lorde becomes particularly useful here because as she clearly articulates in her “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” the erotic resides in a deeply spiritual plane as a site of creative power. Explorations therefore of the sacred and the feminine must engage the erotic and likewise the political. It pushes us to go brave and “create dangerously” without inhibition. Through working from the space of the erotic the sensorial and experiential takes prominence as we are able to harness the power to make art and continually fashion ourselves a new.”
JESSI KNIGHT: “My work relies heavily on the concept of the ‘essential feminine.’ As a mother, teacher, and nurturer of sorts, my work could not exist in its current form without the fullness that is my experience as a black woman/mother/artist. Nurturing those within my communities-my children, dancers, elders, is an essential part of creating work that exists, not within a vacuum, but within that connective tissue that is humanity.”
RUJEKO DUMBUTSHENA: “Not every woman is fighting for the same cause or has the same mission nor can one character or production speak to all women. Because of women’s complexities and individuality, I do not imagine that any one feminist performance can be successful in speaking to or for all women. I think of feminist performance as that which is directed and created by women with clear women’s perspectives. It may express inequalities, oppression or highlight women’s strengths. It must speak to women’s empowerment, directly or indirectly whether explicitly or implicitly.
“Fundamentally, feminist performances should be spoken, performed and produced by women with productions in which women are in the majority either on stage or behind the scenes. Feminist performances present strong female characters whose positions are being reinforced within the story and which in turn empower the community of women being depicted. Of course, women are diverse and dynamic. Themes that help transform historical, political, and social depictions of women through stories retold and characters reimagined may not serve to benefit women of all races and cultural backgrounds.
“Because I hold this perspective, I am drawn to performances that have a personal expression and whose message is specific to the individuals telling it. In this way I can draw on my own experiences and inspirations regardless of anyone else’s interpretation. The potential to touch on a theme that is universal and less culturally specific becomes more meaningful to me.
“More often than not, my images of women are reflections of myself, my ancestors, my stories. In my observation of various interpretations of womanhood in the United States, often I could not find my mother, my grandmothers, or myself depicted in the stories. It is disheartening not to see yourself represented, and it becomes an essential idea to combat this by drawing and depicting your own essential female characters. It is a personal and less political style. Because I am a product of displacement, my enduring goal is to bridge the chasm of what is culturally specific to me and yet resonates with an audience that has little to no understanding of where I am from. Who will relate to these stories and how they interpret them may often be uncertain.
“Women are my primary inspiration, their voice, their movement, their power and control, their grace. I want to conjure in African women’s stories, a reflection of African traditions including age-old gender conventions entangled in contemporary cultural and personal concepts in an attempt to drift between past and present. I hope to present an essence of my female performance characters dancing between upholding tradition and being fully functioning modern women, whose characters speak to and question the limits of what the patriarchy perceives.”
LÉNABLOU: “In Guadeloupe, my island, “feminist performance” does not have the same flavor, the same color or the same significance as it does in the West. We, Guadeloupean women, are perpetually in a fierce battle with life, men, and children. It might be part of the legacies that Creole women have bequeathed to me: strength and intuition. I have not felt the need to use art to brand my womanly vision of the world. I was born “feminist,” a being with a natural posture as her signature. This feminine energy to which I was introduced, gives me tremendous strength to shift the tectonic plates, the traumas of slavery that are still present in the collective unconscious. I am deeply conscious that I use my art––dance, concept Bigidi Techni’ka–– as a weapon sheathed with a lot of love in order to touch what is intimate about women as well as men. This feminine energy animates my reflections about the Caribbean body in order to say to the new generation: do not be afraid, dare to conquer the world.”