Ivy Monteiro –  a performance lecture on queer spirituality and Afro Futurism

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The Swiss based Brazilian artist Ivy Monteiro undertook a two week research residency at LADA in July 2019 as part of LADA’s collaboration with Pro Helvetia, the Swiss Arts Council on a three-year initiative to raise the profile of Swiss Live Art in the UK and contribute to the development of exchanges and collaborations between artists and promoters in the UK and Switzerland.

At the end of their residency Ivy gave a public presentation at LADA about their work and issues of queer spirituality and Afrofuturism

We are delighted to publish Ivy’s lecture in full.

 


 

INTRO

I find my self in a difficult position. And i should be used to that, but i am not.
Feeling like this, traces back than, when i was little, pre-maturely finding my self in difficult positions in life.

Just like now, back then, i wanted to merge, or puzzle together parts that didn't necessarily belong together. A lot of the grown ups, thought i was a strange kid for having so complicated creations and characters in my playtime, elaborating the most fantastic storylines possible. But truth is, i wasnt just playing. I was just trying to make things work to my understanding. Trying to digest the hard world out there into something bearable for my reality. Reshaping, reapropriating, merging, puzzling together.

My life now, it's not so different. I'm still trying to puzzle stuff together. Lately, most precisely Queer People of Color and Spirituality. How do i do that? And how come there is so little written about it? Like before when i was little, i find my self reshaping, merging, puzzling together and playing with all that i can find around those themes. Now i still find my self "playing", and i am called an artist for i play on stages like this, for you. And i am Playing the most fantastic storylines possible, you would say. But i am not just playing, am i? I know deep inside of me, that Like before, I am looking for answers. How do i merge QTPOC and Spirituality? What good will this bring for my community and how pertinent is to talk about this right now? How do we surpass the barriers that post-colonialism and fundamentalism has built in the past generations concerning our Spirituality as QTPOCS?

 

STARTING POINT

The triggering point for my research was when i had to fish my self out of a crisis. I didn’t know who I was anymore or if I should be an artist still.

Now i am high. High on a lot of emotions and grateful for doing this work, but 8 months ago i was miserable to find my self so in the edge of giving up. I was also back, in the same place i was 10 years ago. Literally and Geographically, i have was in the same place. I was Haslach in Kinzigtal to visit dear friends. I was In a small foot open road, in the middle of the Black Forest in the South of Germany. Passersby was still looking at me like i didn’t belong there. And in the couple days i was back in this village, people still asked me the same annoying questions they do to immigrant QTPOC.... but now, something was different. But what was it?? Fog surrounded me as the sun was setting its winter dim lights everywhere, and in the playlist of my phone, a track of Rilo Kiley was playing. The same track that i used to play 10 years ago when i walked through those woods. Back then, i had newly arrived in this small village and my mind, soul and body felt massively how alien i was to this land. People also seemed to have no shame on how to hide their eyes, energies and body language to show me how alien i was as well. It was violent. I felt crushed and i gave up. At least i thought i gave up. But barely did i knew i was just starting a new path, and usually we never know when we start new paths… we just know when we look behind and see the path trailed.

And so during that walk, while the lead singer of Rilo Kiley singed broken heart lyrics, I have cried. It was cathartic. And the funniest thing is, that my eyes started crying even before i realized what was happening. Damn Rilo Kiley… was my heart broken and i didn’t know ?? No… it was something else… My legs stopped in the middle of the fog, and i felt cramps in my belly. My head was dizzy. My eyes blurred humid and i was sobbing out loud. This was me, the subconscious me, my soul, giving birth to the realization that it took me ten years to turn out to be this strong. To recognize how far have i gone and how many shit i had to swallow in order to be this new me. Births are always painful but they are also joyful! This time i was not only rebirth, and i was not only bulletproof against the bullshittery that caused me traumas, i also had guns. Heavy machinery given with a lot of love by those who thought me how to be a beautiful black femme i am. I was stronger. Stronger because I have completed a cycle.

And full of joy, i realized that i needed to take this lesson, and run away with it, sharing in my art how painful, joyful and cathartic our life can be if you just trust your self and trust foremost the journey you set your self to go through.

We are taught to think that self development, that ones evolution, is characterized by life changing it's courses into better stages. I tell you this much my fellow friends, this is not true. Life and consequently life's force, is a circle. It's not a straight line. Definitely not STRAIGHT. It's a circle, because to evolve, is to recognize that one self will eventually always get back to the same place that one self's has started their journey. No matter how big the journey was. And once they are back in at square one, they embrace the significance of the journey and start a new cycle.

This does not mean we have to keep the eyes and senses fixed in the point where we left from - On the contrary, we should forget the starting point, and have faith that our being will recognize that point when we pass by it again. Trust is the key to find the way back/starting point. Trust is magic. And we do make magic happen in the end of every journey. And i like to think of every cycle turning into circles. Turning into gemstones. Beautiful and sometimes flawed gemstones that i wear it proudly around my neck. Protecting me and shining bright, to show me the path of my next journey.

song:

TRINTA Y DOIS IGUAL A 5

"Trinta Y Dois Igual a 5" is rhythmical, experimental and ritualistic performance; In this new venture, Ivy conjures an Afro dissident music collective. They have taken 32 years to cross the Scalding Desert of Life and after all this time, 3+2 is still equals 5. FIVE points, fIve elements and fIve swords, ruling their life, wherever they possibly go. Like a pentagram, drawing a cage around their alien bodily experience. The collective recognizes it, they rage against it and make peace with it in a continuous circle of love, hate, peace and war - all translated in music, rhythm and movement. It’s a spiritual/self-acknowledging journey translated in live performance-show.

The Performance proposes an audio-visual experience around Tropicalia and Afro- Futuristism. Using those counterculture movements inside a post-pop concert format, the artist invites the public to dive into a dystopian reality where futuristic ancestrality is not just the aim, but is also the way.

This is the abstracts that i am currently using for my work…

I started sketching Trinta Y Dois Igual a 5 on the summer of 2018 once Marc Streit, curator of Zürichmoves Festival in zurich, asked me to present something for the festival this year. The theme of the festival was "On Eating and being Eaten" talking about antropofagia and appropriation. I said yes and didnt even blink. This is highly relatable to Brazilian Culture, since the concept of antropofagia in art was first time presented by modernist artists in Brazil around 1928.
 
Written by Oswald de Andrade, The "Manifesto to Atropofagia" has often been interpreted as an essay in which the main argument proposes that Brazil's history of "cannibalizing" other cultures is its greatest strength, while playing on the modernists 'primitivist interest in cannibalism as an alleged tribal rite, Cannibalism becomes a way for Brazil to assert itself against European postcolonial cultural domination. The Manifesto's iconic line, written in English in the original, is "Tupi or not Tupi: that is the question." The line is simultaneously a celebration of the Tupi tribe, who practiced certain forms of cannibalism ritual and a metaphorical instance of cannibalism, by eating Shakespeare.
 
If Myth or Fact i don’t know but it’s “known” that savage American natives used to eat the powerful enemy in order to gain their strength. Following this inspiration as a thread, i started to think how should i engage in a process of creation for this commissioned work? If you eat the stronger, what do you do when you recognize that you have overcome a battle within yourself and that you are indeed stronger than before? Sometimes we just can’t administrate our strengths for the best, and we become our self saboteur, or a powerful worse enemies. So how can we make peace within ourselves? Can we than eat ourselves in order to become stronger? Like an ouroboros - this magical snake piece of adornment, used in witchcraft and alchemy - can we eat our tails in order to continue cycles of self learning, and consequently self development?
 
And so, not knowing any of those answers and still with a very confused mind, I started eating my self.
 
First i licked, and i liked it. The taste was known but somehow unusual. Tasted like chicken and it made me hungry. I stretched my mouth open enough to bite and swallow fast. But first i needed to bite. And so a wide and deep bite i took from inside of my memories, trying to hold in my mouth all the concepts of religion and spirituality that my elders and ancestors used to have, and how those were directly related to my daily life, or how were they important for my formation as a person. I am in constant digestion of those practices and beliefs. I am in a constant state of eating them as well, because ancestral knowledge is infinite and comes in many ways and in many flavours, and pops at your face in the most unexpected places. I am digesting right now, while I undertake this residency in LADA, having the rare time to go deeper in all of this that i am telling you right now. I am digesting by turning myself onto Candomble, Vodou, Shamanism, Umbanda, Catholicism and Indigenous practices. I am digesting all of this by decolonizing my beliefs, and reshaping them to fit my needs AND the needs of my community; to the needs of my present existence AND my hereafter existence. I am digesting and i am eating and i am in constant hunger. It’s a hunger that never ends because all that society gave me and my QTPOC counterparts to nibble, was nothing but crumbs regarding our own salvation and how to perceive spirituality. Either we should deny our selves as queers or deny salvation. We are raised with the feeling that you can never have both.
 
The Vodou Priestess Racine Sans Bout asserts in the book of Omiseke Natsha Tinsley „there is a higher percentage of homo, trans and non binaries at Vodou and Afro diasporic creeds ceremonies and in priesthood, than the general population“ because gender and the sexual complex of colonized people of color are excluded from the priesthood and congregation of Catholic and Protestant Churches, leaving Afro Diasporic religions the only spiritual community open for them to practice their faith. In fact Every Vodou, Umbanda e Candomble temple is understood to need gender nonconformist practitioners. Marilyn Houlberg, still adding to it in the book of Tinsley, reports that they „are important to guarantee the efficacy of a service; as I have seen, they often play a special role in ceremonies, facilitating the arrival of spirits and possessions through their expert dancing“

 

QTPOCS have to not just build and protect their identities and families but also our own spirituality. And The most fierce, love-sharing and all round accepting human beings i know in terms of spirituality are QTPOCS. And we, even nibbling on crumbles, and even being cast away from religious spaces, we are able to multiply our blessings, heal ourselves and heal each others. Salvation is for sure singular. But the concept of salvation can be very broad. Maybe the only salvation that we are looking for is some piece of mind, and to be able to give some piece of mind for our beloved ones.

 

Afro Futurism and Tropicalia as Tools

In order to show a work, we need frames. I have always been the kind of person who loves those big ass, fat frames. Golden, opulent, baroque style. The science of framing a piece of art in any media actually - it’s an art of its own. And right there we have to be careful because sometimes the frame surpass the strength of the work itself and suddenly the whole art is unbalanced and it loses its purpose, or it’s purpose gets a harder or twisted reading by the spectator.

Visually and sonically framewise, I have chosen to work with two art movements that are deep to my heart as a visual artist and as a musician: AfroFuturism and Tropicalia.

Tropicalia or Tropicalismo is the term used to apply to an artistic and political movement that happened around the 70’s in the brazilian dictatorship period. Itwas born renewing the concepts of the Antropofagia Manifesto written by the Brazilian Modernists on the 30’s. Tropicalia’s main media of expression was the music. This was leaded by well known icons of brazilian music like Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Tom Ze, O Mutantes between others. Like atropofagia, Tropicalismo was used as knife and fork by those and many more other artists, to eat foreign cultures, digest it with brazilian gastric juices, and shit (or birth, if you may) something different, provocative and new. Its music was a mix of Brazilian and African rythm and Pop Rock. And their lyrics would also mix indigenous, Yoruba, colloquial Brazilian and Western Languages. Many of the artists due their provocative work suffered under prosecution, censorship, exile and even death.

As tropicalia is a more local reaction to foreign culture and political pressure, Afrofuturism is a broader reactionary approach on possible (or impossible futures) focusing of afro diasporic thinking around the world. Quoting Jone Johnson Lewis “Afrofuturism can be seen as a reaction to the dominance of white, European expression, and a reaction to the use of science and technology to justify racism and white or Western dominance and normativity. In afro futurism Art is used to imagine counter-futures free of Western, European dominance, but also as a tool to implicitly critique the status quo. Afro futurim is, in one aspect, a literary genre that includes speculative fiction imagining life and culture. Afrofuturism also appears in art, visual studies, and performance. Afrofuturism can apply to the study of philosophy, metaphysics, or religion and The literary realm of magic realism overlaps often with Afrofuturist art and literature.”

To mention some of the most important artists and thinkers around Afrofuturism we can name a few like : Pamela Phatsimo, Cyrus Kabiru, Octavia Butler, Yatasha Womack and Sun\RA I one of the theories that threads this work, i like to believe that Tropicalistas are in fact Afro Futurists in the attempt to fight the system and construct a possible future where many afrolatin cultures converge and are able to exist as tool to debunk elitist and dominant power.

Merging those two movements that for me are not just complementary, but essential and inspirational for generations of afro-latinx artist like me, is more than a challenge, is a delight. But also come with responsibility. Acknowledging this responsibility is what should make my work evolve to the next level. In other words, my main preoccupation while using those movements as inspiration and tools, is: Are they the best frame that i can have to present my work? Will i pay enough respect to queer spiritual practitioners by using those movements as frames, or better said, as altars for this sacred ritualistic venture?

Me and my collaborators are putting the work to make it fit and answer those questions positively. We believe that Afrofuturism is nothing more than a way for ancestral energy to be recycled and envisioned in a powerful contemporary and futuristic way. We believe that this is the language that keeps important communal traditions alive, and its on young people to do so. So, we are doing it. And now since i started talking about collaborators, i would like to say their names: Tracy September, and Wellington Gadelha. And i would like to talk about them briefly too.

Reason ONE is to obviously show their importance for the production of this performance; and
Reason TWO because language is key in processes. And the process to do this work have been the one were i am allowing my self to have most time for it. And when i talk about language, i just don’t mean verbal, but in our case and most important to note is the ancestral, musical and spiritual language that we use with each other.

Tracy September is a fierce femme of color from south africa. Tracy is a performer, DJ, musician and spiritual practitioner, bringing not just in her life, but also in her art usage of rituals to honor the dead ones and holding space for the spectral world around her. Habits that she holds tight to her heart and that passed from generation to generation in the tribe that she comes from. Wellington Gadelha is a brazilian queer of color, performer, musician, community gatherer and spiritual practitioner as well. Wellington is Son of OXAGUIAN (and when i say son, i mean protected and guided by a certain orixa) and was born and raised in a Candomble Temple in the north of Brazil. Wellington refers to his faith in every performance and the energy felt as an audience is surely not just his, but from another realm of power. Get me chills everytime.

When i am in Europe i do this show with Tracy and when i am in Brazil i do this with Wellington. And both of them take the same role while delivering a distinguished energy with me on stage. Both of them helped me in different ways to produce this show, but both of them have the same opinion and inquietations as me, which is “how to translate our queer spirituality into something appealing and more accesible to others queer people of color” Or even better “How to instigate people of colour to discover and/or construct their own spirituality” and foremost make them question the importance of it as a place of escape and piece of mind within our society.

 

The 5 cycles

If we as humans, have to learn something with nature, is how to renew ourselves from an old version of us in temporal cycles. Mother Nature has been doing this for aeons. SHE always raises up from her own ashes or deadly winter depressions. - And climate change and our looming human future is nothing but another way to close one more cycle (that shouldnt be closed so soon, and we are fucked, and the chances of saving our butts are not so good, but we have only us to blame).

BUT as i was saying Nature has cycles for all the elements (air, fire, water, earth and soul) and in my performance i reenact those cycles in sounds, lyrics, energies and movements. By doing that i engage in a journey, honoring the elements, the entities responsible for them and my own self who should be in balance with them in order to reach illumination.

To gather all of this material and influences i went back to my afro diasporic roots, doing my homework on how the Yoruba Mythology, Syncretism and Rites works. As my hunger is constant so is my digestion and learning around those themes.

Now, the African Yoruba Syncretism gave birth to Candomble and Umbanda - religions of black descendant people in Brazil. Those religions have some similarities with Vodou, from the Caribbean - which is also an Afro diasporic religion, and also came to America long time ago with the black population of slaves. In a MACRO view and Epistemologically speaking, those Religions are queer per se as they are self constructed creeds, gathered by common knowledge of African native tribes. The colonizers did not allow the slaves to practice their own religion with fear of communal power and rebellion, and forced them to convert to christianism. In Brazil, Some of them did, some of them blurred the lines between christianity and Yoruba Beliefs ( creating Umbanda) and some of them just kept doing what they did, evolving their ritualistic practices and beliefs into what is candomble nowadays. And i want you all to be aware that my main focus is on those 2 religions since they are brasilian rooted religions. I hope in my research i get to focus more in Vodou in a near future.

Foremost, in all of those afro descendant religions nature plays a HUGE part, where most important Gods are embodied by nature elements. Spiritual deities are ruled by nature forces and we are essentially part of this equation, since we are part of nature itself. Our body, mind and soul are connected to nature more than we can ever imagine. It is indeed a shame that society have forgotten this or just pretends that this is true in instagram pictures and stories. Not just in this performance but in most of my works, the connection with Nature and environmental issues are recurrent. And i dont do this directly as an activist act. I do this because that’s what my ancestors and elders would do, and the energy that i get to work on my art, is directly connected to them. Ancestral stream of power and Afro-indigenous religious practices have broken the code on how nature is a vital part for not only our physical being, but also core part for our spiritual healing and afterlife salvation/illumination.

In my performance I engage in a idyllic venture within the 5 elements, putting myself in a journey, investigating in my body and voice what affects, what crosses, what instigates my body when I come in touch with each one of those energies and the entities representing them. I ask for their guidance and power to close every cycle in order to proceed to the next one.

For EXU - LAROYE EXU Mensageiro e abridor de caminhos, ---- is the one opening the ways for the passage.

For AIR - EPARREI OYA Senhora dos Ventos, ---- is the wind in my back and the rain in my hair nourishing the fertile grounds of my imagination to fly.

For EARTH - OKE ARO Oxossi Caçador, ---- gives me the goods of the mother nature in the form of food to eat and be taken on this journey.

For WATER - OXUM Ora ye ye Deusa do Amor, ---- bathes me in her sweet waters and gives me gold armor and jewels, perfume and flowers sharing her beauty with me before the battles.

For FIRE - OGUM Ogunhe Senhor da Guerra e do Ferro, ---- is the spear, the metal and the fire that incites the battle.

For SOUL - OXALA Epa Baba Deus infitino e Eterno, ---- is the greatest and the purest one. God and father of all the others and ruler and protector of Orun, which is heaven to all of the orixas and enlightened souls.

In the end of this performance, after the way is opened, after i have took off flight, after i have eaten, bathed in gold and perfume, battled the final battle, i land back in the lap of the creator, closing the ultimate cycle. By the end of my venture I am tired, happy, cleansed. I am not part of this plane, or planet anymore. Or am i? In this part i wanna leave to public thinking if i have reached my goal of illumination or if my body just have faded on the battle as so many other black bodies did... I want people to reflect, not just in the end of this performance, but throughout the piece, if what i am doing is an spiritual sci-fi musical theatre or just a ritual. It is maybe both. Fact is, me, my self, i dont really know. And i dont think for now this question should be so important, or even if it will ever be.

For me, what is important now, is to bare a new vision on how can we as queer and ultimately queer people of color engage with our soul and with our ancestrology, which is in constant exchanging flux.

As Nina Simone said: “To me, we are the most beautiful creatures in the world— black people. So, my job is to make them more curious about where they came from and their own identity and pride in that identity.” And i know that by that time NINA had urgencies to make the black movement ignites on fire and vibrates on black pride, mainly trying to keep the movement and the subjects of the movement alive. Nowadays, we are still trying to keep our selves alive. Situations might have slightly changed in some places, but factually speaking, the struggle is still the same. My practice and concept for this performance in centered in keeping us alive, but more than physically alive. I am out here just hoping for a better future, even if its an imagined or ethereal future. If the world is in the brink of collapse and we know that black and brown people are and can unfortunately still be the ones who will suffer in the first blow, then we might as well find that space where no physical force can get us. And what better place than inside of our selves?

Thank you very much for coming.


Date Posted: 30 July 2019

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