TERRITORY

TERRITORY is a performance series with an installation element that considers histories of man-made colonial borders and the migrations and genocides that are archived in the land. TERRITORY features a parable of a fictional island split by a colonial border. Half of this island is home to an autonomous community that has resisted colonization yet remains unrecognized by world powers. The parable draws from research on colonial history and indigenous political movements from around the globe, asking: How do nations come to be? Who conquers and who is disappeared in the process? What are our continued and complex relationships to those legacies?

TERRITORY presented at Movement Research at the Judson Church on February 19, 2018. Video by Quentin Burley.

In TERRITORY, I perform as a character based on the Balinese witch queen Rangda and Hindu mother-goddess deity Kali. Embodying the powerful and sometimes fear-inspiring qualities of these femme deities, I deliver a message to audiences—singing, dancing, prophesying, and relaying a parable about the fictional island whose borders have been created by colonizers. As you experience the performance, you are told this island is your home, and you, the inhabitants, are part of a divided community that has internalized difference.

TERRITORY presented at Movement Research at the Judson Church in February 2018. Photos by Cherylynn Tsushima.

The project began development in Spring 2018 and was initially responsive to an on-going resurgence of isolationist, anti-immigrant policy — from border wall rhetoric in the U.S. to the U.K. digging its heels into Brexit. TERRITORY performances presented at LMCC Workspace Open Studios and Bemis Center for Contemporary Art in 2018 features an installation: costume, headdresses, and objects worn and used in the performance were displayed in a fake museum exhibit. Performances began by breaking into this anthropological display. 

TERRITORY: Omaha, an installation and performance at Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in June 2018.
Photos by Colin Conces and Debra Kaplan.

When invited to perform TERRITORY, I create choreography, spoken text, and song based on research on the colonial history of the site. For LMCC and Bemis, performance narratives addressed the colonial history of Lower Manhattan and Omaha, Nebraska, respectively. I use found materials to make costume elements for each performance, including materials carrying regional significance and political history. The headdress I fashioned for Bemis has buffalo grass fringe plucked from Neale Woods and a train of Omaha public school film reel on the era of Reconstruction. I wrote about the site-specific process of making the Bemis iteration, TERRITORY: Omaha, including how oral history played a major part.

TERRITORY: Uptown, curated by Eva Yaa Asantewaa in “Into the Mystic” at 92Y Harkness Dance Center in February 2019. Photos by Liz Schneider-Cohen.

For a showing at the 92Y in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, I created new costume and text for an iteration entitled TERRITORY: Uptown. With access to the 92Y archives, I researched social, educational, and cultural programming the YM-YWHA and 92Y offered to Jewish refugee and immigrant youth in the late 19th century and early 20th centuries. I learned about conversations on immigrant American identity and debates on assimilation that early 92Y founders and dance curators grappled with.

Video of TERRITORY: Uptown, presented at 92Y.

Using imagery of ghosts, manual labour, and references to Emma Lazarus’ (a 92Y educator) poem inscribed onto the statue of liberty, TERRITORY: Uptown challenges the American dream. This iteration asks what of ourselves and our culture is lost in assimilation and evokes histories of displacement and refugee migration embedded in the structures of the 92Y.

TERRITORY: A Ritual, presented at The Glove in May 2019.

On Mother’s Day in 2019, I explored a more audience-interactive iteration, TERRITORY: A Ritual, with a small group of artists at a music space in Brooklyn called The Glove. The previous night, my studio mates and I hosted an open studio in which I led a meditation for guests to recall histories of revolt against empire. I selected a few references and sourced a historical fact for each that I transcribed onto a slip of paper. At The Glove, participants recited facts from the paper slips, chorus-like, conjuring several global histories of revolt as I performed.

TERRITORY: Mystic River created by Raha Behnam and I and presented at Tufts University’s Jackson Dance Lab in October 2019.
This excerpt is the first collaborative expansion of TERRITORY.

Since 2018, I have created TERRITORY iterations as a solo work, also bringing it to Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance and the Kennedy Center. The series is expanding into an evening-length, group performance to premiere in Fall 2020. Another aspect of TERRITORY are written texts and paintings that visualize the parable, the history of the fictional island, and the story of the autonomous community who lives on the uncolonized half of this island. My collaborators and I are working to develop the parable collectively, drawing from our own ancestry, histories of anti-colonial revolt, and histories of the sites where we perform.

• March 11, 2018

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