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  • TERRITORY: Texts

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    On August 27, 2019 • By

    Texts and paintings by Zavé Martohardjono, parts of a performance series and multimedia project, TERRITORY.

    There is an island.
    There are two sides of the island.

    There is an island.
    It was split in half,
    Right down the middle.

    White white white lines carved
    In straight angles
    By white white white hands.

    On one side live all the brown people,
    On one side live all the brown people,
    On one side live all the brown people.

    On the other side live
    All the people who do not think they are brown anymore.

    On both sides:
    Same cheekbones
    Same eyeballs
    Same creaking knees

    There is an island.
    The island was split in half.

    On one side: History as you know it.
    On the other side…

    a small blue boat and a small red boat drift in green and blue waters between two land masses

    The land speaks
    Very clearly
    But only some listen, only some
    Speak back

    The land speaks
    They say everything we know to be true
    Some of us deny the feeling in our bodies
    Become sick

    So so so thirsty, so hungry
    In nations of food waste and starvation
    Big pharma
    And self-denial

    The land sees all this
    Their roots, vines, soil bursting fruit flowers gourds chemicals
    And cries

    Their wails
    Sometimes crack the sky, thunder and hail and rain
    Come down down down

    Sometimes the heat of cosmic gases
    Drive the land dry, mad
    Crops wilt
    Ocean churns up red Sargasso crisped black with death

    What does the land say
    When they are returned to themself
    Returned to those who steward its health, livelihood

    What does the land feel
    When its many-footed, winged, slick-skinned creatures taste clean
    Water, nourished air
    When minerals glimmer in their phosphorescent bellies

    How does the land sing
    When acids dissipate
    Mountains regrow firs, wide waxy banyans, lavender
    And sage brush

    When almost-disappeared bird songs echo again
    Cacophonous,
    So loud everyone shakes restless in the morning

    What does life feel like back in the bones of a nearly-obliterated body
    Some say
    All grows back faster
    Than the time it takes to
    Be destroyed

    Some say
    The colors
    Are more vivid than what you remember.

    a painting of red mountains with purple shadows under a sky of mint green and canary yellow clouds

    There is an island.
    The island was split in half.

    On one side, you know the story:
    Colonizers come onto shore with their hungry eyes and white white white hands and sharp metal and viruses hidden in the folds of blankets they claim are gifts.

    On one side, you know the story:
    Successful revolutions breed new nations that become so burdened with IMF debt that hurricanes and tsunamis go unaided hundreds of years later. Millions left to wade filthy waters, drink lead. Floating bodies ignored by FEMA dot what used to be downtown streets.

    On one side, you know the story:
    Overproduced, oversized, over-harvested food. Piled high like mountains. But the fresh-picked only trickle up to the wealthiest, lightest skinned, most educated. Sold at seventeen times the growing price, displayed in small bundles on delicate wooden shelves inside warmly-lit glassy boutiques, wrapped carefully in recycled paper and twine for those who can afford. Those who move into the matching glass condos (where the Korean grocer used to be, and before that the West Indian market, and before that the yard where grandmothers grew summer tomatoes and squash). Now, through the glass, you see the hungry outnumber the full-bellied. Most are too proud to beg. And those who do have not eaten in time spans we all think unthinkable.

    There is an island.
    The island was split in half.

    On one side, you know the story.

    On the other side…
    A story that has recurred thousands of times but has been redacted from textbooks, encyclopedias, school lesson plans.

    On the other side…
    A place where invading outsiders are found and killed before entry, both for the safety of the community and for that of the outsiders attempting to see in. Attempting to consume. Knowing the other side means witnessing, maybe even understanding freedom. And freedom is so dangerous that those who live it, make it are under constant threat of elimination.

    On the other side…
    The Protectors mask their faces for safety when inviting journalists and comrades in. When traveling for transnational organizing. The Protesters speak in undecipherable codes or create sign language to communicate across crowds. The Dancers hide the songs to preserve them so they cannot be erased, watered down, shredded apart.

    There is an island.
    An island that was split in half. You know much about one side of the island, but have you heard about the other?

    Those walking along on the border trying to cross to the other half dream open-eyed questions during hazy, sleepless dawns.

    Is the ocean water on that side blue-grey, teal, aqua? Pristine, protected, so clear it’s color changes every hour? Is it warm like the first day of Spring. Or does it, too, boil hot from the melting ice, burning Amazon.

    Do fighter jets, militia, police helicopters cluster above? Do they wake to the heavy hum of machinery. Or do the Villagers spread smoking fires to mask their land from surveillance. Do they paint their faces neon to thwart recognition.

    Newspapers write fantastical stories.

    How long have the People been there. Did they get there by foot or floating wood or were they always there. Did the ocean sink to make them an unreachable  hill. How many were they 10,000 years ago. Thousands enough to make and trade and build pyramids which now lie submerged under the thick of the jungle. Or were there just a few dancing at night in caves or air-carved cubbyholes scooped into mountainsides. Did they rise with the sun to pick fat berries and sweet sour fruits from the thick knotted vines.

    Anthropologists speculate about the Sovereign, the Autonomous, those who must live in secret to stay alive. And scientists, hunched over humming screens fallen asleep sometimes wonder.

    How do they love. Do they nestle to share heat against cool night breezes. What do they call that luscious feeling. When skin on skin becomes moist, slippery so that limbs tangle together effortlessly. That delicious rush of sensation before exhaustion overcomes.

    Are their days long or short. Or lived in long chunks so that mornings, afternoons, night times, and twilights are each a day on its own. Do they count years, hours, months. What cycles of their body are honored as time. Does blood mark a season. What do they call that unexpected spurt that makes a child into a lover. The shrinking of an elder’s bones back to her baby size.

    What sounds do their languages hold. Clicks and coos and drawls. Soft husky bristles like paper against paper. Dark moans. High tones that emanate like piercing sunlight from their eyes and crowns. Do they speak the same languages. How many.

    Do you wonder?

    Who is called when misunderstandings, misused words fly about between everybody. Does a circle form to repair what is tattered in conflict. Do elders gather and redirect misfortune or pass along their knowing. Are family members asked to walk the forest alone until they can hear their own wisdom again.

    Are children cared for communally. And the dying held into their last breaths.

    How does their despair feel. What about their delight. Birth, death, and the long stretch of aliveness between. How does their sourness, sweetness taste. What colors do they see.

    a painting of a Palapa by the ocean with a pile of pineapples under the shade of the hut
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  • Reflections from Omaha

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    On June 14, 2018 • By

    Thanks for reading! I’ve been thinking a lot about my creative work in charged political times and wanted to share a bit about a trip I took to Omaha a couple weeks ago.

    On Memorial Day, I flew to Nebraska for a week of research, workshop teaching, and installing/performing my newest work TERRITORY for the closing of Sick Time, Sleepy Time, Crip Time: Against Capitalism’s Temporal Bullying.

    I came with awareness and questions about Omaha’s indigenous history, the colonial legacies that have shaped the city, and the many global communities there. (In 2016, Nebraska led the nation in resettling the most refugees per capita. I learned that among many harms, the federal government’s anti-refugee agenda has gutted many of the city’s refugee resettlement services.)

    I was extremely fortunate to have the opportunity through Sick Time… and Taraneh’s coordination to offer my movement workshop, LIMINAL BODIES, to Afghani, Burmese, Thai, Congolese, and Nepalese students who are in a language-learning program together offered as part of Lutheran Family Services’ resettlement program. With multiple translators in the room, we did movement exercises centered on physical healing that acknowledges our lived experiences, present and intergenerational, with political conflict. It was a challenging context on many levels and I worried my facilitation skills might not meet the test, but my post-workshop conversation with participants revealed — to my delight — that  a lot of ease, lightness, and strong memory came up in our moving together.

    Taraneh, Fia, Taylor, and I in the wild fields of Neale Woods.

    With Taraneh and Fia Backstrom, another artist in the show, we then visited with Taylor Keen, a scholar and community leader of Umohon and Cherokee descent who co-founded Sacred Seed where he and supporting community members re-plant indigenous corn, squash, sunflowers, and bean seeds — the four sisters — which have not been planted since the 1800s. Some native corns are planted only for decorative uses and many are under threat from Monsanto patenting. We talked for hours, visited Sacred Seed’s newly planted and quickly sprouting corn, and walked through Neale Woods nature preserve. It was a huge privilege to listen to Taylor relay detailed stories he has collected. He told us about indigenous cosmology — which he is documenting in an upcoming book — and retraced millennia of unrecognized history of Nebraska (derived from “Nibthaska” meaning “flatwater” in the UmonHon language).

    All these learnings folded into my site-specific closing performance, TERRITORY: OMAHA. Building on performances I’ve done in New York, in this iteration, I worked found materials into my costuming including local grasses, found materials from Bemis’ attic (like film reel from an Omaha public school educational film on Reconstruction). I also created a song verse based on the research I’d done over the week.


    The performance began by breaking into an anthropological exhibit of the costume and performance materials, bringing them to life, and coming into character to sing a song to the audience. Here are a few photos on Bemis’ Facebook page. (Full photos and video coming soon!)

    This trip was a jam-packed and extremely rich learning experience for me. I continue to consider many challenging questions in my creative work about how to examine the traumatic, violent, colonial histories that shape our present and future political realities. Our need for recognition, sovereignty, reconciliation, and healing care run deep. I’m grateful for the chance to engage these questions creatively and in a city very far from my own.

    June 14, 2018

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