Political Artistic Expression: An Alternative Approach to Activism

On a rainy Friday night, my friends and I took a break from the student life and went to see Camille A. Brown & Dancers perform excerpts from Mr. TOL E. RAncE, Black Girl, and New Second Line at Bryn Mawr. Through beautiful choreography and music, the dances deconstructed Black mainstream media representation and confronted particularly timely issues of race, identity, and celebration of culture. Unique to other dance concerts, at then end of the show the dance company opened up a conversation for audience members to express their immediate thoughts and reactions to the pieces as well as inform the audience on the inspiration and intent behind each of them. dance

While peaceful marches and public demonstrations that have been going on for the past couple months are important outlets to voice support and opinions, Camille A. Brown & Dancers shows us that there are alternative, yet equally important, approaches to activism. 

I feel like it’s my job to show… what are the things you think of when you hear the word ‘black girl’. —Camille A. Brown

Black women are trapped in the roles of angry black woman or strong black woman. —Camille A. Brown

I want people to see beyond race. I know it’s called Black Girl, but I’m also a girl, also a human being.  —Camille A. Brown

It’s also about challenging how we view the work as well. —Camille A. Brown

It’s me trying to reconcile myself with my idea of “Black girl-ness” outside of what the media is doing. It challenges you to confront your own complicity in identity.  —Dancer

When people treat Black Girls badly it feeds off onto all girls of color. —Audience member

The media doesn’t show our culture for being open and collaborative, only the arguing housewives. —Camille A. Brown

The last piece, New Second Line (2006), was inspired by the events of Hurricane Katrina and drew from New Orleans spirit and culture. This was my favorite piece artistically. The dancers came onto the stage dressed in black with umbrellas, representing the grief after Hurricane Katrina. As the piece moved on, dancers confronted the more positive strengths of persevering. What made the most powerful impact on me as a viewer was when the dancers ended the dance piece with their hands up in the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” pose. The lighting of the piece was also red, and as they lights went down on the stage it would be impossible not to connect the pose to the recent injustice in the Michael Brown case and Eric Garner case.

It saddens me that while many of these issues (racism, stereotypes, etc.) represented in the dance pieces are rooted historically, these issues are still reoccurring and are ever so relevant in today’s society. #BecauseIAm not part of the Black / White binary, it is easy for me to take a complacent role. However I recognize my privilege as an Asian American woman at a private elite institution and therefore strive to make my voice of support heard (or physically shown through dance) as an ally. It is not my place to lead marches or chants. Sometimes I feel that as an Asian American, it is my role to be the token Asian American present at rallies and events to show that Asian Americans do care. I know it is wrong to think that, and while I go to events for my own reasons, I sometimes wish there were more fellow Asian Americans there. I have expressed my support in other ways such as talking about the court cases with my family and friends and educating myself on the issues. Even by just attending the dance concert and supporting the arts, I have learned by listening to more opinions and interacting a different set of perspectives I would have not had access to in my personal environment. I am inspired to get back to dancing in the Spring semester with fresh enthusiasm for the intersections of the performing arts and social justice.


Other Artists Respond:

A group of artists started this Facebook event calling for submissions for Artists Against Police Violence: https://www.facebook.com/events/1507356286217003/

Musicians write songs protesting the non-indictments: http://www.wnyc.org/story/we-need-new-dylans-new-public-enemys-new-simones-new-de-la-rochas/