TERRITORY (2018-2021)

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?

Artist Talk about TERRITORY series

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 U.S. border wall rhetoric to the U.K. digging its heels into Brexit to Bolsonaro’s rise to power in Brazil. 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. Performances presented at LMCC Workspace Open Studios and Bemis Center for Contemporary Art in 2018 featured a fake museum exhibit. Gallery vitrines displayed costumes, headdresses, and objects worn and used by the parable island’s people. The costumes and objects were made with found materials from each site TERRITORY was installed that carried the place’s history. Wall text described the island with maps and anthropological information. 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.

In performances, I broke into the displays, activating the objects and costume with their body, and telling audiences the island parable. Through monologues I addressed audiences directly and relayed pre-colonial, colonial, immigrant, and refugee history from the sites — Lenapehoking (Manhattan, NY) and Omaha (Nebraska) — gathered through research including conversations with Indigenous leaders of local sovereignty projects and members of refugee resettlement support programs.

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

These initial TERRITORY installation-performances asked viewers and visitors to grapple with pre-colonial history and memory, their positionality, and the erasure of Indigenous, immigrant, refugee, and people of color communities from the sites the work was presented. 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. Other solo TERRITORY iterations have been presented in 2019 by Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance and the Kennedy Center.

TERRITORY: Mystic River created by Raha Behnam and zavé martohardjono
Presented at Tufts University’s Jackson Dance Lab in October 2019

In 2019, artist Raha Behnam joined the project to create a duet with me — the first collaborative expansion of TERRITORY. Invited to Tufts University by Professor Lily Mengesha, Raha and I re-crafted narration to be site-specific, reflecting on the colonial and slave history of Medford, Massachusetts, where Tufts is situated. Our in-process duet acknowledged the Missituk people and the Isaac Royall House and Slave Quarters on Tufts’ campus.

Engaging the site’s history, we carry our individual cultural and anti-colonialist understandings of movement and text into this duet using queer, inter-disciplinary, and cross-cultural approaches to storytelling. TERRITORY asks: What futures exist outside of empire? What do we remember and what have we forgotten — both of our own colonized and revolutionary histories? What histories of resistance key to our survival have been hidden from us? Where in the land do these histories of revolt live?

TERRITORY: Rangda’s Land Ritual
Part of #NEWGLOBALMATRIARCHY in March 2021

A 2021 iteration of TERRITORY is a virtual environment within the interactive exhibit #NEWGLOBALMATRIARCHY designed by Ines Kang on Mozilla Hubs and created by Maya Mackrandilal, Stephanie Graham, and Scarlett Kim. Maya, Stephanie, and Scarlett invited me to be part of #NEWGLOBALMATRIARCHY and I proposed a design to Ines who then built a digital island that houses a selection of short clips from different TERRITORY rituals and performances from over the years. On March 27, 2021 I activated the TERRITORY space by performing as an avatar, Rangda, offering a ritual in the space to visiting avatars to consider their relationship to the land amidst a global pandemic. 

TERRITORY: The Island Remembers
Premiered through Gibney Presents April 4-7, 2022

In April 2022, the TERRITORY series culminated with an ensemble performance and ritual based installation. Check out the project page for full details. 

• March 11, 2018

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