Last semester one of my professors asked me a really hard question after one of my crits. “Why do we need to see this performance?”, I couldn’t answer her in a way that was satisfying, settling on making a comment about performance simply being an important part of the process. She challenged me further and asked why the process was important and I was lost from there. I have recently been reading W.E.B. Dubois’s The Souls of Black Folk and a lot has opened up for me conceptually and has been a stepping-stone to helping me understand the work I am making. I have been thinking a lot about the physicality of black religion, the ways in which (and I am speaking specifically here) black southern churches are so physical in their worship. How that is not typically seen by outside, but as W.E.B. Dubois wrote, from an outsiders prospective was “terrifying” (out of many adjectives). I think this word stuck out to me because it’s the one that first popped in my head when trying to think of the quote. Why is it so terrifying to see bodies in motion? To be celebrating freedom and in the case of the black church, celebrating that freedom in a safe space.
What about labor makes my body visible? What makes it raise that veil and allow others to see? Why is it that my labor is so outrageous in times of need and celebration. I am thinking that, for my performances seeing that physical component of labor is really important. There is no traveling, there is no movement without it and as much as I would like to rely on my mind and soul, in some instances the only way I can be is to be physical. My rituals are embedded with learned physicality and each movement speaks to the past and to the future, each propelling each other as creation happens. To not see that labor enables a viewer to forget and focus on the end product. What is important is not so much the end goal but the movement between beginning and eventual end.
What about text through movement places us into physical labor? How do we read a body in movements, what are the adjectives used to describe its meanings? How can we put unknown emotions into words but through the body? The telling of stories and life lessons are almost always through an idea of working, searching, traversing some aspect of self that really took work to overcome. I think of all the books that I read as a child, aimed towards black children teaching them to work hard for what they wanted to achieve to be vigilant and not only work out bodies but our minds.
I think of the jobs in the current workforce that exhibit a higher average of physical work and how low it is on the salary scale. Those who do the hardest work get paid the less, treated lesser and are often attempting to take care of themselves the best way they can. However the labor is unrecognized and is often overlooked (service workers for example). How does the work of those who serve others compare to the work of those who serve themselves? As we know our current economy is focused more on serving themselves and the false ideology is turning our labor into fleeting thoughts buried by technology and instant gratification.
Speaking of all these things together, spirituality, labor, trauma and text, I believe that labor is what works us through. It is what has kept us as a people, to keep moving forward despite the obstacles because of the eventual end…but the process to bring us there is much more important to understanding what the end is. Because I believe that we live in a society that consistently breaks us down, the labor (the work be whole, and loved) has turned from visible (slavery) to invisible (contemporary systematic oppression). The labor we enforce to stay alive mimics in my mind the labor we enforce to stay spiritually and mentally well as a people.