I have these two very different choreographies floating through my head right now. Somehow they are trying to have a conversation there. Both of them bringing beauty into the world and both of them working powerfully on me. One makes the molecules in my body feel a kind of tantalizing, joyful, excited optimism for the human race. The other calls to me, reminding me of how much violence humans are capable of, how much work we have to do to repair those violences. I need both right now. Both unsettle me. Both detach me from any positions of certainty I may have been clinging to. Both are helping me re-conceive the world around me.*
Recently someone said to me, “art is for rich people, and they can have it.” This statement terrified me. If we give up art to those in power, we have given up everything. Art is the very life breath of humanity. Art is the breeding ground for resistance, revolution, and progress. Art takes down barriers, builds bridges, and spreads ideas.
Okwui Okpokwasili’s “Poor People’s TV Room” is a perfect example of this for me. The unsettling it enacted on me sent me digging into the Aba Women’s War in Nigeria in 1929. And in my digging, I found an article by Judith Van Allen that made the #WomensMarches #MeToo, and #TimesUp movements of today feel like distant echos of a knowledge lost to the colonial/capitalist clear cutting that has and continues to happen across the planet.
“ ‘Sitting on a man’ or a woman, boycotts and strikes were the women’s main weapons. To ‘sit on’ or ‘make war on’ a man involved gathering at his compound, sometimes late at night, dancing, singing scurrilous songs which detailed the women’s grievances against him and often called his manhood into question, banging on his hut with the pestles women used for pounding yams, and perhaps demolishing his hut or plastering it with mud and roughing him up a bit. A man might be sanctioned in this way for mistreating his wife, for violating the women’s market rules, or for letting his cows eat the women’s crops. The women would stay at his hut throughout the day, and late into the night, if necessary, until he repented and promised to mend his ways. Although this could hardly have been a pleasant experience for the offending man, it was considered legitimate and no man would consider intervening.” **
In the Women’s War against British governance practices and their “Native Administration”, Igbo women leveraged these weapons “as a collective response to the abrogation of rights.”** The women, as Judith Van Allen tells it, were successful at catalyzing reforms. However, the adoption of the reformed British governance system meant the demise of women’s political power and authority within the society. And yet, to understand that a culture had a choreography for righting social and economic wrongs, to understand a group of women advanced that choreography in an effort to resist colonial rule, is still powerful.
Art must precisely NOT be only for the rich.
Dance must destroy floors.
Choreography must resist habit’s efforts to reproduce itself, particularly habits that blind us to systemic injustices or limit our imaginative capacities.
We must remember our creative potential is an embodied potential.
*William Forsythe, Choreographic Objects, http://www.williamforsythe.com/essay.html
**Judith Van Allen (1972) “Sitting on a Man”: Colonialism and the Lost Political Institutions of Igbo Women, Canadian Journal of African Studies/La Revue canadienne des études africaines, 6:2, 165-181, https://doi.org/10.1080/00083968.1972.10803664