Local Politics and Hyper-Local Embodiment

Following the cohort check-in in March we readjusted our expectations. During the month of March there was a transition in leadership for the cohort and we reassessed the priorities of the cohort members before June 2021. We considered taking time to assess what safety is in our respective chapters and how we could develop education around that value. Similarly, the most recent ask in the national campaign meetings was to reconsider our safety, security, and comfort before committing for larger actions. A proposed method was to start a read-along to the collection of essays in The Revolution Starts at Home Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities edited by Ching-In Chen, Jai Dulani, and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. As we move into the spring, committee members will sit with this text and develop curriculum along with this book. The cohort will also move their timeline to hosting trainings by June 2021.

The exciting promise of this project was to be able to understand how BYP100 members’ artistic practices connect to political values at a local level. In the realization that we had varying relationships to our art practices as public and teachable, I was encouraged to start with what publics I am most in conversation with in my practice. I rededicated my intentions over this month to examining the arts environments in which I consider myself “local” and their actions during the current exacerbation of public health crises.

A portion of the community-based art in Durham supports local efforts for abolition and mutual aid through creative placemaking. Creative placemaking, as explored by Robert Bedoya, are practices whose “aesthetics of belonging contribute and shape our person, the rights and duties of individuals crucial to a healthy democracy that animate the commons. It should also animate Creative Placemaking not as a development strategy but as a series of actions that build spatial justice, healthy communities and sites of imaginations” (2012). Groups like Durham Beyond Policing, Art Asylum, and SONG (Southerners on New Ground) host events like community art builds in Durham around the times of vigils, marching actions, or car demonstrations. These events provide time for Durham residents to reflect and process their feelings through crafting, yoga/meditation, and sign making. Thinking of these events as liberation zones where goers do not require a certain amount of political knowledge to participate and facilitators organize relatively safe spaces makes these groups’ events essential contributors to creative and political placemaking Durham.

And what of my own discipline, performance? The idea of live performance may seem antithetical to the circular experience of a community art build (thinking of circles referenced in the last post). Much performance culture has been restricted to expectations in the entertainment industry of a stage or theater production that asks audiences to sit and listen. Thinking of queer performative cultures that have become increasingly visible in the US, like ballroom and drag pageantry, or the spaces of traditional African dance in a Baba Chuck performance, our expectations of spectatorship change. What if instead of performance being stage-based and centering-virtuosity, we better understand the values in performative cultures of minoritized people? I am first suggesting that live performance provides an undeniably political moment when the minoritized performer requires audience or witnesses to shift understanding of theater decorum and passive spectatorship. Within this question there is a critique of how we interact with Black and brown bodies or people of the global majority, particularly when audiences expect a certain type of performance or way of relating to the performers.

At this point in 2021, we know art that engages political thought will continue to be made. Considering performance spaces that make art through the body provides way to see how political movement can encompass a range of actions. As a step further, I encourage readers towards embodiment which may include somatics-based reflection or even dressing up to go to a digital drag show. By practicing self-reflection through movement practice, we can radically change how we act in spaces which are uncomfortable for us due to a particular kind of hypervisibility or vulnerability. At the end of this blogpost there are some resources on somatics. I will also leave readers with these questions: what does freedom taste, smell, sound, and feel like for you? How do you move when you feel free?


Bedoya, Roberto. 2012. “Creative Placemaking and the Politics of Belonging and Dis-Belonging (R. Bedoya).” Arts in a Changing America. September 1, 2012. https://artsinachangingamerica.org/creative-placemaking-and-the-politics-of-belonging-and-dis-belonging/.

To learn more about

SONG: https://southernersonnewground.org/chapter/sample-chapter-one/

Art Asylum: https://durhammentalhealth.wordpress.com/about/

Durham Beyond Policing: https://durhambeyondpolicing.org/

Queer Wrath: https://www.instagram.com/queerwrath/?hl=en

Somatics (and tools for embodiment): http://somaticstoolkit.coventry.ac.uk/

BEAM (Black Emotional Mental Health Collective) on Black Somatics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YcnpqusaYSQ

Generative Somatics talk “Somatics, Healing, and Social Justice in the time of coronavirus” on Staci K. Hines book The Politics of Trauma: Somatics, Healing, and Social Justice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3eR-6OAc24

Ayan Felix is an MFA in Dance student currently researching how physical and social improvisational practices interact in spaces that affirm Blackness and gender fluidity. Their most resourced practice is site-responsive using improvisational styles based in modern/post-modern dance, physical theater, house, and majorette training which they learned over years of experience in Texas, Pennsylvania, and now North Carolina. As such, experimentation in ephemeral movements leaks into their arts organizing work. Ayan’s research relies on multi-disciplinary collaboration to choreograph worlds that blur the line of audience-participant, performance-practice, and artist-organizer. By approaching dance performance capaciously as a type of social movement, Ayan seeks to understand how to produce performance spaces that are accessible yet not necessarily material. They are in their second year at Duke.

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