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.
TERRITORY: Omaha, an installation and performance at Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in June 2018.
Photos by Colin Conces and Debra Kaplan.
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.
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. 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 continues to expand in collaboration with Raha Behnam and Ube Halaya. Raha, Ube, and I have worked since early 2020 to develop the parable collectively, drawing from our own ancestry, histories of anti-colonial revolt past and present, and the living histories of the sites where we work. We have researched the resilient and pre-colonial histories of our Iranian, Filipino, and Indonesian ancestors. We are looking at communities that act to steward the land, including looking at indigenous technologies and vernacular architectures that resist climate change. Inspiration for the parable draws on numerous examples of communities surviving against social, economic, and racial disparity in locales around the world. This includes researching divisions between nations situated on islands, like the ethnic and economic divisions between Haiti and the Dominican Republic; West Papua separatist efforts to leave Indonesia; and movement technologies developed by recent Hong Kong protesters fighting for independence from China.
Increasingly over the course of 2020-2021, we turn to the now to weave present-day collective survival technologies around us into TERRITORY. While co-writing, we have been part of local revolutions—Black Lives Matter protests, anti-Asian violence organizing, NYC free food and pandemic mutual aid efforts, rent strikes and anti-eviction movements. These living histories and the many global anti-colonial uprisings we are witnessing, from Hong Kong to Myanmar to Colombia, have each made their way into TERRITORY.
Raha, Ube, and I have grappled with tracing histories of revolution and indigenous sovereignty movements from our ancestral lineages that we did not learn growing up, that were redacted from textbooks. We aim to prompt audiences to consider questions we’ve wrestled with in process: What autonomous, diasporic, and indigenous wisdom from our ancestors has been taken from us via assimilation and colonization? What redacted histories, past and present, can teach us how to build a sustainable future now?
More recently, the global economic crash due to the pandemic spread of Covid-19 is recontextualizing TERRITORY’s questions. Late-stage capitalism grinds to a halt, revealing the failings of government and the absence of support to healthcare and social systems. Simultaneously, our air, wildlife, and land is healthier than ever. Neighbors are rapidly forming local mutual aid networks and rent strikes. One of most gentrified, corporatized, and colonized cities in the world, New York City, is organically responding to crisis through community-building for collective survival. The possibility that this alternative to history becomes our future feels real, at least for the moment.
As we work, we are creating texts and paintings that visualize the parable, the story of the island, and the story of the autonomous and colonized communities who lives on separated sides of this island.
In April 2022, TERRITORY’s culmination will premiere in New York City as an evening-length, live performance. My collaborators and I will present TERRITORY as a group work creating an installation of the parable island that will be activated with rituals.
© 2023 Zavé Martohardjono | performer. video artist. community-minded curator.
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