• A Festival of Ideas
  • May 2 - 5, 2024
  • Guelph

Acknowledging Space and Inviting Yourself In

When creating a piece of art, whether for yourself or for another, is it the idea which initiated the work that we call art? Or is art what we call the final product? For some it is neither. It is the movement between that is the art itself.

Vanessa Andreotti, who holds a Canada Research Chair in Race, Inequalities and Global Change at the Department of Educational Studies at the University of British Columbia, opened the “Meaning or Movement? Objects or Rhythm?” panel, part of the larger ArtsEverywhere Festival hosted by Musagetes, with an account of her dream. In her dream, she is walking through a border of barbed wire and becoming wounded, and she puts wedges in her wounds to keep them open to make them visible for others, so that the pain is displayed in its occurrence.

This dream had reoccurred for her, but one night it was different. While she slept, she heard a song that gave her strength. She took out the wedges and healed, and she began to dance: “Colonialism occurs through the body, through dreams, and intellect, it is not just informational,” she said.

Pain. Anger. Joy. The emotions and traumas you experience are intertwined in every facet of your being, through your mind, through your expression, through your body.

“Dance is about being in this world… it is about moving knowledge,” stated  Zab Maboungou, founder of the renowned Zab Maboungou/Danse Nyata Nyata Company. She shared how dancing transformed her world. Born in Paris, she moved to the Congo as a child with her father: “I learned to dance in the Congo, it came to me, how could it not, it is at the heart of life.” She has a strong presence, one that features wisdom, care, and faith in the movement of dance. Maboungou connected the room with a deep openness as she told us to stand, challenging our habitual lecture posture, and proceeded to instruct us on how to come into an embodiment of groundedness both physically and spiritually.

Zab Maboungou

He reminisced about a busy, black Pentecostal church: Ashon Crawley, an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and African American and African Studies at the University of Virginia. He pointed to “Dancing in One Spot” by Bishop Roberts Evans Jr as an influence for his poetic letter exchange The Lonely Letters, which discusses blackness, love, hope, and joy. He stated that there is something about a black Pentacostal church—a noise underneath the noise—that is publicly intimate.

In response to Crawley, Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes, an artist, filmmaker, writer, and designer, opened by stating that “instinct is the height of sophistication,” the liveliness of tracking the pattern of art creation—like a dance. It is not about the tangibles and the takings, it is about the process.

Our bodies negotiate colonial spaces constantly—Western ideals call us to perform and move our bodies in Western contexts; we are constantly in the midst of navigating our bodies in spaces.

In black Pentecostal churches, if you have a deep connection to the sermon it is acceptable to express that connection through your body by standing, and performing movement, say dancing in one spot. In colonial contexts, our bodies are limited to stillness and calmness, and lack of movement of expression, maybe a nod or a smile or polite applause at the “correct” time, but nothing more.

Alley-Barnes challenged the room to cyclically acknowledge our understandings of knowledge, the way we cocked our head, nod, smile, during lectures to perform our acknowledgement: “the notion of the limitation is the boundary and what you carry into a room… that limitation is the opportunity.”

Next time you are in a space, know there is an invitation for depth, for movement, for expression—take it.