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What would it feel like to have held your breath since 2019 and finally be coming up for air two years later? Can you imagine what that would do for the body? How would the absence of breath affect your voice and your ability to articulate your thoughts?
Martha Connerton/Kinetic Works, based in Charlotte, NC, in partnership with the Charlotte Art League, offered a palatable representation of artists starved of the ability to create for a two-year period. This being their first live performance in two years, Kinetic Works dancers "respond to a year of isolation, demonstrations, and affirmations." Using the space to express their principles of "fostering awareness of dance as an art form that impacts lives in a direct, positive and evolving process," there were various insightful perspectives to interpret from start to finish.
Creating an exposure of multimedia, Kinetic Works used a compilation of artwork called Airing out the Dirty Laundry by Andrea Motil Downs as the set for the entire performance, along with murals by other artists. I was delighted to experience such powerful artistic representation.
Echoing the despair within the community, these murals were brought to life "in uptown Charlotte during the 2020 protests after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN." All of the pieces were superb, but a few, in particular, voiced themselves to me. Artist Makayla Binter externalizes her perception of unity onto the plywood canvas, using a blend of vibrant colors to extract beauty from the tears of an individual seemingly crying for unity. This idea of "UNITY" and togetherness seems to be the framework for which Binter builds her portfolio. Access Binter's work by visiting her Instagram handle, @artsandmarks, or via her webpage, Makayla's Artist Shop, where she is developing an artist shop of merchandise that features her artwork and more!
Many of the accompanying pieces offered inspirational messages that encouraged unity as well. Graphic designer and artist Meliah Banger illuminated a blank plywood canvas with dancing Black bodies in the center and a radiant red heart encapsulating the essence of their movement, along with the message, "Love us in the streets like you love us on the field." Banger, along with her artistry, is the owner of a Black-owned business called XCV Designs and Art "that strives to bring you rare and unique custom-made products and artwork." Her most popular: newest arrival is a piece marketed as POWER FRAME, which features a Black fist of pride.
Making my way around and into the center, I came to find "Airing out the Dirty Laundry." This piece speaks volumes. The framework for this concept is "an ongoing participatory collection of women constantly receiving messages. Sometimes, we hear these messages and internalize them. What if we could send a message back?"
Using the messages that women have shared in response to their experiences, Downs uses her artistry to highlight their stories. The theme of "dirty laundry," was presented with each piece on a clothing line, revealing these stories through the sheer, mesh, or see-through fabric of a clothing item. I couldn't resist the curiosity of what was behind each fabric piece, waiting to be exposed. I pulled up the fabric of an item that interpreted the story of an individual who says,
"Women, you don't have to feel guilty for your joy, independence, success, abilities, and saying 'no.' Uphold your boundaries."
I pulled back the cloth of another to read the empowering affirmation,
"I forgive the parts of myself that have never been loved before."
What better way to start the show of a piece centered around breaking chains, not taking no for an answer, and standing up for yourself?
Clearing the stage of the opening act masterpieces, images of trees in their varying likeness appear onto the white screen to begin Tree of Faith. The audience saw the photo, video work, and a poem authored and performed by Martha Connerton, shortly followed video performances. In the video performance "Dancers Against the Wall," dancer Alyce Vallejo fancied herself moving between two walls, intentionally carving through the space. Kimberley Parks broke the confines of the wall but found herself confiding in its comfort. Audrey Baran, at first appearing in profile, turned mysteriously to face the wall as she struggled to find trust in support of the wall.
Throughout the night, dancers offered an array of video and live performances, showcasing their innovation throughout the limitations of being denied access to their desired space.
As dancers moved into the space, channeling a childlike game of tag, the movement continued until the movers laid their hands upon one another, piling their bodies into the likeness of a young flower bud. The dancers later dismantled themselves from this figure with a unifying touch and release, opening up and blossoming into a migration across the stage. Creating wind-like movements and paired with the airiness of a wind flute, dancers embraced their bodies as life.
Powerfully taking the space, Camerin Watson came out to perform "Dirty White Laundry."
"SHHH... women should be seen and not heard shhh.." While finding it difficult to live in the essence of this phrase that women must be seen and not heard, Watson emulated what it meant to embody that statement. Sifting her way through the depth of white cloth, she found herself center stage to be "seen," wearing a white covering across her mouth, restricting her from muttering the slightest sound.
Though, in her silence, I heard a noise.
I overheard the silent cries of a voice longing to express itself. Watson continued in this piece using black paint to etch the words, "Silence is violence" onto her skin. Watson revealed a message written onto the cloth wrapped around her body that read, "If you ever wondered what you'd have done during slavery or the Civil Rights Movement, you're doing it now." In response, she removed the cloth from her wrists, slowly began to peel the barrier from her mouth, prepared to scream out, and...,
Yet again, silencing the exposure of the voice, even if it did speak out.
I nearly held my breath and was at the edge of my seat throughout the entire presentation. I'm glad that I came up for air to experience the voices of the community as they shared their perspectives through their artistry accompanied by the Building Bridges 2021 collaboration with Charlotte Art League. Much appreciation to Kinetic Works and Charlotte Art League for using their platforms to facilitate empowerment and enrichment to enforce unity in the community.
Until next time! Aneesah Abdur-Razzaq -- Breathe, Believe, Be FREE.