How are you? How are your hearts, spirits, souls? Since the election I have gone through shock, denial, disbelief and anger, and in recent days, come to equilibrium. What has sustained me is a knowing that we have the tools to combat hate. We have the songs that open up space in our bodies to feel, to push against the numbness, to find freedom again. The work of Vessels and the Freedom Chamber has helped me to practice these knowings. Gathering together with black women to sound, tell stories and sing has reminded me that I can keep moving, keep strategizing, andorganizing, as long as I hold my community with me. We are at one moment in a long struggle for freedom, and I am interested in continuing.
As an artist, I know my calling is to create stories, rituals and experiences that bring solace, release grief, and uplift spirit. We will soon embark on our 3rd Vessels intensive (slated for April of 2017) and have launched a crowdfunding campaign to invite our community to support our work. With your help, we will raise $25,000 for our next intensive and would love for you to invest in this work. Please listen to our story, donate, and share by clicking here.
Vessels is incredibly important to me. At a time when we are fighting to remind ourselves and our society that black life matters, it is imperative that we continue to strengthen our healing containers. Vessels has been a transformative experience, connecting me more deeply to my ancestors, my work, and my healing, and I hope it will do the same for all those who are able to witness it.
Vessels October Intensive
From October 23-30, 2016 we had our second Vessels intensive in New Orleans. This spectacular week was supported by the New England Foundation for the Arts, the Arts Council of New Orleans, and the MAP Fund, along with Tulane’s Newcomb Art Museum. Returning intensive participants connected with women who were new to the process as we dived deeper into the sonic world of this piece. We were also blessed to be able to strengthen the ritual practice of our process by working with Mama Nana Anoa, Mama Sula, and Aesha Rasheed throughout the week.
While last May’s intensive focused on conjuring the boat world of the Middle Passage, this time around, we combined song, movement, and ritual to explore the survival strategies of our ancestors that were rooted in JOY. Given our speculative approach to the recorded histories of the Middle Passage, we asked ourselves, “How might joy, pleasure, and comfort have appeared during that journey?” Our designer, Jeff Becker, also led us in a deeply meditative drawing experiment, through which we created image inspirations for the sculptural environment that will house the ritual performance.
On October 28th, we had an open rehearsal at the Newcomb Art Museum. There, amidst totemic trees meant to guide human spirits from ground to sky, we experimented with space, bodies, song and sound. The art within the galleries, made by aboriginal Australian women, was incredibly inspiring and grounding for our work. The intensive culminated in a work-in-progress sharing at Dancing Grounds on October 29th – a deeply joyous and wonderfully held event. Using an abbreviated Critical Response process led by Stephanie McKee, Artistic Director of Junebug Productions, witnesses offered wide-ranging and insightful reflections and questions about the connections of our work to current movements, and the impact of joy on survival (to name a few).
Thanks to the generous and brilliant women who invested their spirits, energy, and love into this work: Mykia Jovan, Denae Hannah, Anna Martine Whitehead, Rebecca Mwase, Mysti Adams, Jamie Dzandu, Marguerite Hemmings, and stage manager India McDougle.
In the News
We leave for Ghana & Senegal in a week and a half! Ron, Jeff and I are thrilled to participate in a residency at L’Ecole des Sables (home to the amazing Compagnies Jant-Bi) and to engage with artists in and near Dakar around ritual practices of women. We’ll also lead a Vessels intensive at the University of Ghana Legon, visit Cape Coast and El Mina castles, and travel to Île de Gorée. Follow us on Instagram @vesselsperformance and on Facebook to follow us on our travels.
Our engagement project Freedom Chamber is going incredibly well. Ron and I had the opportunity to lead a Freedom Chamber workshop at Arts in a Changing America’s Detroit REMAP event. Jamilah King, a journalist and participant in the workshop said, “It pushed me out of my comfort zone. I'm not a singer and was nervous to participate, but this workshop helped me think about how, when, where and why I use my voice.” Since then, we have conducted three additional workshops with our New Orleans partners – STAND with Dignity and Women with a Vision. The workshops have been incredibly profound, and we’re excited to share upcoming events and public engagements in the Spring. If you or your organization is interested in bringing a Freedom Chamber workshop to your community, please let us know.
Posted by Rebecca Mwase