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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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