This post is a part of a series of posts from UMS Artists in Residence. Artists come from various disciples and attend several UMS performances throughout the season as another source of inspiration for their work. In this post, she continues her exploration on being an “artist” and the meaning of “art.”
The battle between artistry and advocacy..
I’m struggling. To write this blog. That might be because I don’t have anything to say. Or, that might be because I have too much to say…
I want to tell you who I am as an “artist-in-residence.” But I’m struggling, because part of me is still grappling with who I am as an “artist.” I know that in the eyes of many people, I am qualified to hold the title of “artist.” But as I step further and further into what drives me…I am wondering if I will hold the title much longer…even though my mode of communication will probably always be “art.”
Confused yet? Great. Welcome.
Let’s break this down. And start from the present.
“At this point in my life, I am more interested in what art can “do,” than just “doing” art.”
I don’t know if this somehow disqualifies me from identifying as an “artist.” You know, since my intentions have shifted. But my love for entertaining, alone, doesn’t make me a full-on activist either. I have reconciled my “double-purpose” into one term, with many meanings: ARTivist. What is ARTivism exactly? Really, I just want to perform and get people talking — which happens to be the mission of my company.
I officially founded Heal.Be.Live., LLC in September of 2017, and the mission on our website literally states that we:
“Use art to heal a variety of communities through guided discussion and connections to available resources. #ARTivism”
–Heal.Be.Live., LLC Website
Although the company is technically less than five months old, the idea for it began brewing in 2015 with one play: “Waking Up Alive.” For those who don’t know, the term: “waking up alive” is a phrase used within the mental health field for an incomplete suicide attempt. “Waking Up Alive” the play is centered around a similar premise. After an incomplete suicide attempt, Tabitha Blue, a young Black minister, is released from Williams Psychiatric Institution and returns to work at Harmony Church. She is met with: controversy, judgment and the threat of losing her job–from fear that her “incident” may “taint” the ministry.
While the plot is not an exact reenactment of my life, it was birthed out of my life experiences. At the onset of my depression at the age of 12, one of my biggest fears was that my “emotional state” was a sinful disappointment to God. My constant thoughts about “ending it all” and “wanting to leave this place” were always shushed, albeit not settled, by my fears that death by suicide would lead to an eternity in fire and brimstone. So I suppressed. Art, more specifically, poetry and acting became my safe haven. Somehow the “sinful” feelings that I was ashamed to express publicly, were celebrated, if masked in a poem or a monologue. I learned that it was ok to be sad…on stage. Just not in real life. The only problem was that once I got off stage, the sadness was still inside of me. This. Was real life.
During college, I started learning the truth about God and His “supposed” wrath…which had been replaced by these little things called “grace” and “mercy.” “Grace,” as many might know, is “getting more than you deserve,” while “mercy” is not getting the “bad” that you deserve. This growing revelation (that continues until this day), coupled with my passion for social work and theatre led me here. Exactly where I am today: “At this point in my life, I am more interested in what art can “do,” than just “doing” art.” I’ve never been one for boxes. And maybe the birth of “ARTivism” keeps me out of boxes, and instead, traveling down a squiggly line by which I am ever: evolving, learning, growing, and creating. Shifting. I guess the sum of it is, I am neither and both an artist and activist. Yet, something about saying either/ or doesn’t feel completely “right” either. Although I must confess that I am more partial to the title of “artist.”
Heal.Be.Live., LLC is the culmination of everything that I am passionate about. At the beginning of my UMS residency, a reading had been held of “Waking Up Alive” along with a discussion. (A short video chronicling this event can be seen here.) By the end of my UMS residency, a collaboration with: the Library Fellows Sheila Garcia and Jesus Espinoza of UM Libraries, Emilio Rodriguez of UMS and Heal.Be.Live., LLC will be held in the Hatcher Graduate Library Gallery on May 24, 2018 at 7 pm. This collaboration will preview my latest stage play and second official project of Heal.Be.Live., LLC entitled: “Telling Our Stories.” “Telling Our Stories” is a docu-play that strives to empower the voices of Black women in America by creating a space for them to tell their own, full stories. These full stories involve the stories of over 20 women and over 200 hours of conversation. (An example of the docu-play format can be seen here.) I am ready to start more conversations around more topics. “Telling Our Stories” is the next step. So, if you’re even just a little interested in what ARTivism is, this event will be a great introduction.
In sum, I’ll leave you with the ideology that gave Heal.Be.Live., LLC its name: “In order to live, you must first “be.” In order to “be,” you must first heal.
Heal. Be. Live.