UNEARTHED is a night of video installations and performances by Bay Area emerging artists exploring ancestry and diaspora, trauma and healing, vulnerability and sexuality, and questions about our past and future.
Co-curator Claire Staples interviews three of the artists:
Claire Staples: You have been exploring the bathtub birth story in your performance work for a little while now. What were your original inspirations and interests, and how have they changed?
Titania Kumeh: My fascination with performing birthing or origin stories began in 2015, really. Jackie Clay was searching for artists to be in their group show at SOMArts and the topic was singleness, being uncoupled, and like the only one. I had just finished graduate school at UC Berkeley and I had hated it, I had a terrible time—mostly because I felt like the people I had paid A LOT of money to be around me and teach me had no clue how to relate to story ideas generated from the experiences of a Black woman. Maybe that’s what I learned from grad school—how much my ancestral memory impacts my creativity… Anyhoo my mom is from the Bahamas; my dad is from Liberia and Jackie’s show brought out this desire in me to journey back into the womb and recount the cellular memory that I have inherited from my parents. I carry where I come from everywhere I go… Magically enough, my friend Angela Newsham also invited me to be in a performance she choreographed using the movements that everyone makes (some how, some way) when inside and exiting the womb. Those movements are yield, push reach, pull, and grasp. There’s a whole body-mind centering somatic school of thought that practicing these movements can help you heal from traumas that occurred inside the womb, before you born or anytime during your lifetime, really. I guess these natural movements can be impaired by traumatic events, they can be altered in some way so that one movement is not balanced with the rest. Like maybe someone has more push or pull energy, pulling you in during a handshake, for instance, instead of yielding and meeting you where you are. Anyhoo, practicing and performing these movements is sort of like returning to the womb and being born again. And I learned more about it from rehearsals for Angela’s performance which was called Eyes Yield: The Importance of Healing a Rape Culture in Community.
Claire Staples: How has working on this show since April with the other artists influenced your work?
Semaj Peltier: Being in UNEARTHED has been monumental to me as an artist. Experiencing the work of others in this show has motivated me to be a stronger artist and identify what inspires me, which is community and being a collective vessel of creativity. Upon my first meeting for the UNEARTHED show I felt nervous to show my work and didn’t feel like I could identify as a filmmaker, but everyone has been such a great source of validation and empowerment. I collaborated within this show to create CHI CHI’S HOUSE PARTY and feel very lucky to have found a space that honors my work and other unrepresented folks. This show has been influential on me in many ways but the positive influence it has had on my identity as an creative is what i will eternally be thankful for.
Claire Staples: This is your first video. Coming from a background of spoken word, can you talk about your process and experience adapting your work to a new medium?
Karl Gomez: A few years ago I noticed that the style of my poetry was changing. I knew it was bound to happen but I was not very ecstatic. I found it difficult to write the way I used to; even my motivation shifted. It wasn’t easy but with time I accepted this new me and started to feel a bigger shift within. I was also in the middle of an intensive healing process and I felt ready for a huge change. If change was happening then I would let go and ride it out. I began thinking of all the ways I would want to present my new style. I connected with the part of myself that performed and I realized that I would visualize my words during performance. A dreamscape would appear and solidify my rhythm and keep me on my game. This realization got me excited! I had always enjoyed the challenge of getting an audience to connect with my experience through words and now I found a new challenge to face. Get an audience to connect with my words AND visuals. I loved the idea of taking my work a step further. The act of writing poetry is one thing, but to add a visual aspect deepens the message. Finally things began to click. It felt like the next step for my poetry, and as an artist. I began recording video that felt poetic at random. I would later go home and try to match it up with a poem I had written. At first I was excited, but felt stuck. The video and poems wouldn’t always work together how I anticipated them to. I started to watch more movies, trying on a new lens in hopes of breaking something down. I noticed a few techniques and gave them a shot. That started to get the juices flowing. After who knows how many movies later I felt the breakdown of something. I started planning out what I wanted to record visually. This took lots of thinking and lots of listening to my poems. Again, I connected with the part of myself that performs. I tried to locate the places I would go and try to think of a real location that could capture the dreamscape. With planning I began capturing video I was happy about. Video that started to mash up with poems better. I’ve kept at this process since May and have come a long way. I am constantly learning the video editing software and creating my own structure to recording video. This entire process of making my very first video, a poetry video has helped me settle into my writing. It has also been the glue keeping me grounded and pushing me forward.
UNEARTHED opens Sat, Feb 2, 8pm at CounterPulse. Get tickets here >>