February Commons: Constructing Identity Through Embodied Re-membrance and De-colonization (2017)

Charlotte Henay & Zavé Martohardjono


Charlotte Henay

All of My People’s Bones Are Here – “Genogram”

ARTIST STATEMENT

This is a collection of re-membrances, rooted in experiences of negotiating the boundaries of Blackness and Indigeneity in the Caribbean, from multiple geographical and cultural locations. The work pushes the boundaries of Caribbean Indigenous thought, seeking a space of possibility through this ongoing negotiation of multiracial identity. Rearticulating a voiced and embodied Caribbean diasporic female subjectivity, and Bahamian matrilineality, poetry is praxis in a cultural liberation project. In interrogating the role of narrative and historical memory, how we remember becomes our own language. This work began with my mother’s death, as a catalyst for activism.  I walked into and through grief, scripting the conversations I began to have with her. The parallel stories of suppressed trauma and genocide emerged from sitting with her bones, pulling me into an investigation of what we tell ourselves to accompany the violence we visit upon each other. In narrating the stories that are a part of our DNA, I bear witness to the telling, living, and memorying combined to construct our identities and politics, as Bahamians inside and outside of the imagined boundaries of nation state. The piece speaks new imaginaries inherent in Afro-Indigenous futurities, addressing witnessing as more than an act of listening. Witnessing each other, we carry one another, and our stories, in a sacred act of presence—holding memory in our minds, hearts and bodies. I question whether seeing is really knowing, constructing the in-between as a challenge to binaries inflicted upon us by categories of race, culture and belonging. The powerful relationships between storyteller and witness have the potential to liberate us, as well as to envelop us in perpetual and willful amnesia; national forgetting become living myth.

BIO

Charlotte Henay is a mother, daughter, teacher, storyteller, and researcher. She works to counter extinction myths through storywork, and relationships of imagining. Charlotte writes about cultural memory and grandmothers’ gardens, as an activist for Afro-Indigenous futurities. She has a background in critical race theory, and being exiled. Her work has been published in Feral Feminisms; Decolonization, Indigeneity, Education and Society, and is forthcoming in a Demeter Press anthology, Mothers and Daughters. Charlotte’s visual artwork has been shown at FAC: Toronto’s Feminist Art Conference, York University’s Crossroads Gallery and 416 Gallery for MIXEDArtTO. Her moving poems in the series All of My Peoples’ Bones Are Here, are part of the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas’ National Exhibition 8 in Nassau, Bahamas. Charlotte has been a teacher, administrator and consultant in First Nations, mainstream and international education contexts, and co-founded Nusdeh Yoh, BC’s first Aboriginal Choice School. She is currently a Ph.D. student in Comparative Perspectives and Cultural Boundaries at York University.

QUESTIONS

What do we remember when we remember together? How might we rethink and redraw boundaries so as to claim space that is exclusive of black subjects in discourses of indigeneity?

Is it necessary to talk about intersections in racialization? What do we gain/lose through a mixed race discourse about blackness and indigeneity?

How might we begin to disentangle the complicit discourses of territoriality and identity?

RESPONSE

I’m thinking of you sitting with your mother’s bones—real and metaphorical. I’m watching images of archival documents that detail a legalized freedom of slaves. I’m wondering if these images detail your family’s political history. I’m listening to your voice harken back to memories—your ancestors’ and your own.

The word interstitial jumped out at me from your film. Gaps, small spaces that hold undocumented universes. Together, we remember how things really were, because what historian tells it like it is? The interstitial carries the forgotten, the hidden, the taboo. And in remembering and visioning what is undocumented, uncatalogued, unevidenced, erased and suppressed from colonial history archives, we finally remember the details of an impossible survival.

I’m curious about how your family identifies racially. How did your ancestors self-identify? How do Afro-Caribbean and indigenous Bahamanian identities overlap?

I admit that my knowledge of indigenous peoples is so limited—and indigenous history is so deeply eradicated—that when I think of what I know about the Caribbean, I can only trace back to colonialism and slavery.

From Southeast Asia to South Africa to Brazil to the U.S., the colonial terms used to categorize mixed-race identities hold white supremacist notions of racial and class mobility defined by one’s proximity to whiteness. That proximity is reinforced by colonial classes of slave laborers in relationship to the slave-owner house. All this lies at the heart of “mixed race.” Multi-racial Blackness, Brownness, Asian-ness, indigenous is left out of mixed race visibility.

Nationalism is on the rise in the U.S. and globally amidst Western neo-colonial countries. State-sanctioned racism and isolationism is now turning the clock back on generations-long multicultural and global identities. Brown immigrants everywhere must now assimilate even more deeply. We are being asked to give up our ethnicity in exchange for Western citizenship, if the state deems us lucky enough or worthy. In 2017, our survival and legitimacy is more deeply entrenched in territory and citizenship.

-Zavé Martohardjono


Zavé Martohardjono

in formation (2008)

Cinematographers: I’in Cox and Jon-Carlos Evans

“in formation” considers pre-colonial and indigenous notions of gender queerness and the dual presence of colonized and colonizer in mixed-race bodies.

Autogeography: A Kind of Beginning (2011)

Performers: Kate Johnson, Amanda Torres, and Devika Wickremesinghe

Director of Photography: Niknaz Tavakolian

“Autogeography: A Kind of Beginning” resituates the figure of Barong, an animal-like spirit in Balinese performance who protects individuals and villages, in contemporary Brooklyn. As the Barongs wander through the rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Greenpoint, they ponder questions of homecoming, exile, and displacement.

ARTIST STATEMENT

I am an interdisciplinary artist who makes intercultural, geopolitical, boundary-defiant, high glam performance works, videos, and installations. My multiple identities inform my artistic practice and the subjects of my work. I am mixed-race Indonesian and Italian-American, bi-national American-Canadian, third generation immigrant, non-binary transgender, and queer. Core to my artwork are liminal, transcultural, and queer images and stories.

The terms in considerationTrans (gender, gressions, migrations, racial)are personally significant but also evoke an approach to narrative I’m interested in as an artist. Transgression is key. I excavate my identities and ancestry through my artwork and I am not interested in codifying or further colonizing my body. I want to trouble categorization and legibility.

I use queer and de-colonized practices to center my Indonesian roots in the films and performances I make. I often research Indonesian performing arts in my artwork but eschew a colonial approach. I do not segregate “traditional” from “contemporary,” “folk” from “high art,” and Eastern from Western, but blend all my cultural histories. I mash up Indonesian dance and mythology with queer storytelling and queer iconography, and intermix contemporary artistic practices and aesthetics. I make films and performances that keep questions about race, ethnicity, and gender intentionally messy and political, with no easy answers about how all these cultures fit in my body or are understood by audiences.

Personally and in my work, I am uninterested in codified legibilityalways engaging experimental formats and often leaving interpretation up to the viewer. I understand that the audience sees my work through their own cultural lenses. I keep cross-cultural references and gendered images in my work intentionally muddled to acknowledge the presence of audiences’ complicated cultural assumptions about what they are seeing. I believe that is inherently a part of the work.

I’m interested in visualizing states of transformationand the notion of the liminal or transitional as permanent states. Visual themes in my work are ever-constant change and reveals. Combined movement practices like Western improvisation, the Japanese post-war dance form Butoh, Indonesian dance, and queer gesture in choreography visualize the ever-shifting ways I am read in my mixed-race, queer, transgender body.

QUESTIONS

How can mixed-race artists and scholars disrupt our “post-race” world and bring to light contemporary forms of racism and nuanced prejudices that permeate multiracial communities and movements?

What undocumented or little-known mixed-race and multi-ethnic histories, figures, and/or mythologies have you discovered through your work? What transgressive principles do these histories or figures offer?

RESPONSE

in formation

The choice of profusion, in images and story, in this film was deeply engaging and unsettling. The play with/on temporality and use of multivocality were simultaneously powerful engagements and representations of Dreamtime. I’m wondering, in the choice of Dreamtime as label for the action of/interaction with spirit and becoming in this piece, whether the tribalography of the word is specifically referenced? In the teachings that I have received, engaging Indigenous Methodological concepts (two/three-spirit and dreamtime) invites in spirit and accountability. How do notions of obligation feature in your conceptualizing of this piece/work? Several phrases underscored the nostalgia and longing that claim space alongside the provocation of how stories are written on the body. I’m especially haunted by, “Ghosts that, in passing, pause to honour their own memories in us.” The loss resonant in, “Bound to tongues that translate through misperceptions and corrections,” and “Our ancestries with us only in dreams” I would term as representative of diaspora and exile, though not necessarily mixed race. Hybridity can reify racial binaries and misrepresentations as effectively as it can challenge them, the former most effectively when entrenched in specificity. How can this tension be addressed in seeking in-between space beyond the bounded self?

Autogeography: A Kind of Beginning

The flatness and surreal aspects of this piece serve to embed it in dislocation and dispossession, yet it does not feel woven with possibility as does “in formation.” The evocations of in-between and perpetual movement speak diaspora to me, yet I’m skeptical of spirits embodied having corporeal concerns while remaining recognizable. Zave’s insight into impermanence as self-recognition is evocative and the refusal in owning perpetual movement I can relate to as a womon in exile. I’m thankful for Zave’s articulation of disinterest in codified legibility, I take it as permission not needed yet welcome.

-Charlotte Henay