Abstractly-Defined Artists Restore Humanity

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with both an old college professor and a local artist about the notion of healing through art.

Comparing both conversations I found some striking similarities: Both people I interviewed came from backgrounds with troubled family dynamics that could easily be argued was — and still is — the foundation of every artistic thing they have ever done. Independently, yet simultaneously, they have taken their personal experiences and embedded them into ridiculous institutions [by way of teaching] with the objective being to either entertain or report possibilities in real time.

Collectively, all three of us are teachers, writers, and visual artists; captivated by distorted truths and attempting to integrate them into genuine realism. One point of view believes that the creative process is an individualized one with hopes of giving the artist a new perspective. The other affirms that we’ve witnessed the oppressor long enough, and is steadfast at creating safe spaces for P.O.C’s regardless of their gender identification.

I remember being a sophomore at Augsburg College and enrolling in Sarah Myers Improv Theater class first semester. One of our first assignments was viewing the stage play Neighbors at Mixed Blood Theater in Minneapolis. To be frank, the production blatantly and [to some] disrespectfully discussed racism. I was so captivated by the show that I saw it nine times! Not to mention as a young creative, I was both intrigued with the artistry of the writers and director but also offended by the intolerable stereotypes that cowered over the actors. The healing that Myers offered me as a young, Black woman in America has forever indebted me to her. For the first time – at the age of 19 — I had my first real conversation on race with a middle-aged white woman. Unbeknownst to me, at the time, Myers had had her own share of discrimination by simply being Jewish. A bisexual Jew.

Sarah Myers, a native to Chicago, IL and active theater professor at Augsburg College, utilized expressive art in her stage play, I Do Today. Myers, a self-proclaimed “‘Bi’ first – queer now” woman of the Jewish faith said that writing the play was a healing process for her in that she’s an introvert and doesn’t share specific moments of the play publicly because – well, “people make assumptions.” Myers says for her the creative process, “draws from a personal ordeal” with something she feels emotionally connected to. Whether it’s in front of or behind the stage – in Sarah’s case, most likely behind, or standing in a room full of students, Myers battles with internal issues that most of her professional community would be perplexed to know: What are Jewish laws for being bisexual? Can you be bisexual and have a heterosexual marriage? That’s one for the theologians.

I had the pleasure of meeting Keno Evol three years prior in a kitchen, on the south-side of Minneapolis where there were hood politics being discussed in the kitchen. It was something poetic about being immersed in a room full of Black people harmoniously engaging in the most relevant conversations of their lives.

Keno Evol is a local artist, performer, poet, educator, spoken word artist, dancer, and director. He and his eight siblings were placed in foster care; he spent three years in that system. Evol currently sits as the founder and executive director of Black Table Arts, an arts-based organization centering on conjuring other worlds through Black art, by connecting creatives and cultivating volume in Black Life; as well as Black Lines Matter [sharing the same acronym as Black Lives Matter] which is a “writing arena where social politics meets the poetic.” Black Lines Matter produces writing through the works of historical and contemporary protest poetry by Black poets while building Black comprehension. The project’s desire is to create an atmosphere that is “free to the public yet highlights and produces premium Black writing.” Evol realizes that there is much healing to be done in the Black communities across America and his goal is to “constantly hold a free space for us to invite more folks to the table, sharpen our swords and lead with love.”

After speaking with both artists I reflected on all the times I did something creative to counter pain. It’s effortless to reach for something either over-the-counter or “under the table” to reduce the imposed upon melancholy set by societal preferences. Artists are never normal — we are too complex — like an contradicting oxymoron. Writing, however, keeps me sane, sober and solvent. Why? Because writers “see” — performers “do.”

I recall leaning on my pen more than my pipe to inhale forgiveness and exhale and cough up the trauma of child abuse, domestic violence, sexual violence and low self-esteem. I distinctively remember being molested, slapped around, and raped while considering my faults. Uniquely, I have a tattoo, orbiting my right ankle, that reads “Dance, Laugh, Sing” — a daily dose of remedial acts. As artists, where do we lie down our vulnerabilities when our audiences purely want anecdotes about a new love or the most lit party ever? I am also a lifestyle blogger, as well, and was told by a reader that I should speak more on my romantic relationships. Perhaps if she knew what all I was still applying Preparation-H to she wouldn’t be so eager to exploit my healing all in the name of creativity.

How ironic is it, though, that my personal pain cleverly disguised as creative works shall be the remedy for her ailments? My responsibility as a creative is not just to honor humanity but goddammit – to restore it. Often times it is a tedious expense [investing in humanity] but to give on up would be like leaving an extensive wound uncovered. In the words of the Notorious B.I.G, “we can’t change the world until we change ourselves.” I say we can’t heal the world’s problems until we heal our own – the cure…is art.

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