Raja and Maria
ON AN IMPOSSIBLE FUTURE
Raja: Can I just start by letting you know, one, this is being recorded
Maria: Got it
R: And two, Maria, You are an actual light being in this whole ass dark world.
M: I really appreciate that. It takes one to know one, because you know you are that same kind of creature. Also, thank you for that reflection; I really appreciate that.
R: I, I want to say that one, because it’s true, but two, in just thinking about having this moment with you, I couldn’t help but to think back, to the first time I met you in college and I think my immediate feeling then was also the same. College was strange and college was dark and I just remember meeting you and being like holy shit there is light. There are people who are doing the damn thing. I should say it was so exciting to take a step back and think through that time and the places where we’ve intersected and come back together. So to be able to sit across from you and just say that again and it remain just as true. That’s just incredible.
M: We’re journeying. We are on a journey and it’s sweet, I think, when we get to see each other, partners on the journey. We’re each on our own journey, but it’s also a similar one that intertwines and for me it’s affirming when people who I really respect–when our paths do cross again. It’s like “Oh! Hey friend, you know, we’re still on this journey. Yup me too! Ok, great!” And it’s delightful because we can encourage each other, we can just give a smile. We already know each other, I there’s a sweetness there for me in acknowledging those memories and the continuation.
R: If I’m speaking honestly I’ll say that sometimes it can be hard to remember what your core values are. And I think, there are totems, you know, sometimes people are totems, and I feel like there are some times that I get really caught up and I’m doing the most or doing this and then I’m like what am I doing this for and then I see these totems. I remember recently, I think it was very early pandemic actually and you were giving a talk on dance NYC, you were moderating, and it was just something about the way you were moderating this conversation which I had mixed feelings about, but there you were my totem. There was something about listening, just the process of communication which I think we lose from listening, taking a beat, responding, reflecting, offering opinion, like interjecting when necessary, just like literally holding space and doing that. and I was like, Y’all, Maria Bauman out here just literally holding space,
M: Wow! Speaking of space, I’m infatuated with positive space and negative space, you know from that visual artist point of view. And my favorite form is the duet, my favorite dance form. That has, to me, so much to do with the space between us and obviously playing with that. When do we really compress it to build so much tension and when do we really expand it to intimate something about distance or expanse or possibility? And this idea of “holding space” resonates with me because it reminds me that we are tethered no matter how large the space is. When you say “holding space” it reminds me that we are all being held within the same space, elastic though it may be, and I love being connected. Honestly, that’s just part of my blueprint. I love being connected with other people. I sometimes feel like a baby that way, to be honest, like I don’t necessarily have the toughness that “individualism” asks for and I, I feel good about that actually because that’s not my lineage but…I think that space-holding you’re talking about is that I love being connected with other people. So for me, holding space is sort of like laying out a blanket in the park and saying “Okay! We can all sit on this and be together!” You know?!
R: Right, right. Oh thats a beautiful image…well we sort of just jumped right in [laughs]
M: I’m game! Raja Feather Kelly, anything that you invite me to do I wanna do that with you so I’m like you lead me I’m with you.
R: I love that. So yeah that was for me. I just I wanted to share that with you because you know who knows when I can see you down again, but now that you’re saying anytime, I might invite you for tea all the time
M: All the time, who are you telling, this is a duet already that we’re having right now and really I’m grateful. I mean I’m sitting in my living room right now by myself, but in a way I’m sitting with you so I’m happy about that.
R: Me too.
R: There’s a new emergence I think of wanting to get voices in the room, wanting to talk about covid, wanting to talk about disparities and I’m like y’all I’m just I’m not sure if I want to do that. I think it’s difficult for me to talk about being an artist and its relationship to this pandemic without acknowledging just like I’m safe. In respect to what my journey has been as an artist and where I feel like it’s been fair and unfair, you know I think that’s it’s going to be for me a continued lifelong mission of trying to hold my integrity trying to build my community and knowing that things will come and go in waves and that like my job is to like die and know that like perhaps that needle was here when I started and that needle sort of shifted.
M: My God you’ve done so much with being frank and transparent about funding in our field and I’ve really appreciated the ways that you have not felt—well I don’t know how you felt actually— but I’ll just say the ways that you have shown up, really clearly naming your experience, which is many of our experiences. And I know you’ve had shifts in your experience, but I have appreciated, when you talk about moving a needle, I have appreciated your transparency and what seems to me your unwillingness to internalize rejection but rather to externalize it and say this is happening and I feel a type of way and perhaps it’s founded perhaps it’s not, but what I’m not going to do is turn it inward on myself as a reflection of my worthiness. That’s what I’ve experienced or that’s what I imagined from you really sharing your voice and I think that has moved the needle quite a bit.
R: Thank you.
R: What for you is the Impossible Future ?
M: [Pauses] A lot resonates for me in that, I’m grabbing my pillow so I can cuddle. A lot resonates for me in that. I’ve got to say, to bring it home for me, this idea of an impossible future….. I don’t think it’s impossible but it feels improbable and I love leaning into that which is improbable and unreasonable. That’s an organizing strategy that I’ve really been appreciating, taking that on from MPD150 and Ricardo Levins Morales and other organizers…this idea of ‘let’s dream into the impossible and the unreasonable and the unprecedented as a real organizing strategy,’ and mine…mine really is Black wellness at this point. On all of the levels, and I’m thinking nitty gritty, just thinking about our statistics when it comes to health outcomes–whether we have healthcare not, whether we have PhDs or elementary school education–our statistics actually defy those categories. It seems to be the most weighty category in the U.S.: whether or not you are Black. Full Stop. And that has to do with infant mortality rates and blood pressure and fibroids and all different kinds of things, and that has really been drawn to fine a point in my own life recently and I’ve long seen it in the life of my family and so…. yeah I know it’s not impossible, but it feels unrealistic or unreasonable or improbable given that we have not yet eradicated racism, we’re on our way, but I’m really dreaming into Black Wellness and a time when all of my tissues are functioning perfectly. And I’m not talking Afro-futurism, I’m talking about now. I’m going: can we all be unfettered in our bodies now? And to be clear I do not mean a lack of disability. I’m using the word “wellness” rather than “health” on purpose, because I think wellness really encompasses a state of harmony and function that does not have an absolute. It is a state of being-ness I think that we determine you know. “Am I feeling well or am I not?”
R: Right, It has an opportunity to shift. There no endpoint to wellness
M: That’s what I mean, exactly, there’s not an absolute point that says ‘oh well you’ve reached it or not.’ So, yeah it’s really basic and I want to be thinking unicorns and rainbows, which in a way I am, but to be honest that IS rainbows and unicorns when we look at what’s actually happening now. So that’s a future that I am really excited about. I’m kind of going to compress time and think more Sankofa because it’s a ‘now’ that I want. I feel a real sense of insisting upon that now. And I agree with you that the Earth is fed up and I also feel that she’s recovering and that heartens me. I read something last night that said, I think in 2020 there was a 7% decrease in carbon monoxide emissions across the globe, I hope I’m getting that correct, I think the Earth has every reason to be angry and grieving, if she is, so… and I also feel that she’s putting us in timeout like ‘y’all sit down you don’t know how to act so y’all are in time out because mama needs…’
R: I’m fed Up with y’all! I’m fed up go sit over there
M: ‘Go lay down somewhere, go sit down somewhere.’ I feel that that’s what earth has said to us and there’s a way that I want to listen. Because capitalism, oohh, she’s rough. Capitalism seems insatiable and I know I’ve internalized it. I mean how could I not? I know I’ve internalized it; I feel it everyday. But I’m heartened by this idea of there’s possibility for repair. So that’s part of it as I think, ‘oh if I get off of this roller coaster or if I get on a small roller coaster,’ maybe I say ‘I want the wind in my hair but not this much…not you breaking my neck. Okay, let me get on a different ride…’
R: It’s the Whiplash…
M: Right! ‘But don’t give me whiplash! Let me go on one that has some gentle exhilaration.’
R: Where does, where does Black Wellness begin?
M: Hmm Well who am I to know first of all, but I want to say…
R: Well, where does your Black Wellness begin?
M: Thank you, that’s what I was going to say. For me, I’m learning that it begins with connection. I’m just learning that. I’m really learning a lot of lessons around how we are socialized to isolate and how I have gotten a whiff of a lesson along the way and really internalized this idea that my worthiness is attached to how cheerful and available I am for other people and so sometimes that has resulted in–when I’m not doing so well I just don’t…you don’t hear from me–and when I’m doing well I’m super available. I’m realizing ‘Oh, Maria, get a little smarter. Reach out no matter what.’ I’m just learning…I’m learning how amazingly generous people are and how we’re so fragile in our humanness and also so mighty. So when I feel a little bit like I’m crawling, or I’m on my knees, or I’m stumbling, lately I’ve been just taking a little risk and still reaching out. And I have just been blown away by encouragement, resources, knowledge, stuff that I need in order to be well. So, I think connection is the beginning point of wellness. And for me, connection feels very Black. That doesn’t say that we don’t need alone time or that there aren’t Black introverts; I’m not talking about that. But it means that we didn’t arrive wherever we are alone. I think that’s true for all of us, but I do think that in Black culture we really underlined that fact.
R: Amen, Amen
M: I don’t want to act as if, or speak of this Blackness is a monolith, cuz we know it is not.
R: It doesn’t sound that way
M: Within Black culture, we are never showing up alone; we just aren’t.
R: That’s where our work begins, and I think that’s the sort of behind that I think, as for me what I feel like a responsible artist is understanding that lineage, being like I’m not necessarily, like making something new, I might be revealing, I might be pulling something forward that started in 1999, or 40 years before that, or a hundred years before, that begot three hundred years before that when we arrived here, right you know, like this imagining of a future impossible.
M: And that’s what I appreciate, is the both/and-ness.
M: So in MBDance, I’m known for having said “rugged individualism is a boldface damn lie!”
M: It really is. I mean, it’s a damn boldface lie. I like what you said, “it’s a scam.” It simply has never been true, but certain populations have been socialized to wear that cloak and to kind of show up and go, “I made that!” or allow themselves to be propped up as a singular genius. It’s not true.
R: yeah it only goes but so far
M: I deeply believe that the best art, the best creation arises when it’s got the fingerprints of a lot of divine beings on it. So the collaborators who work with me–I know they’re sacred moonbeams and I know I’m a sacred moonbeam–we are different. We have different blueprints. We signed up, I believe we signed up, and came to this planet to experience different aspects of it. And that keeps me really affiliative, so whether I’m facilitating an experience of a workshop or whether I’m facilitating practice, dance rehearsal, for my own dance company, it’s going to start with a check-in about the whole person, it’s going to include questions about ‘how does this feel to you’. Yeah that’s part of it and I think the undoing racism work that I’m really grateful to be a part of, is all up and through my artistic work as well. Mainly I think…there are a couple of ways, but mainly in that I’m centering us without translation. That feels really important to me, not to center Black queer folks in order to prove how wonderful we are, how brilliant we are, how worthy we are, not to prove–just to center us. Full Stop. That there is a world, and it’s a world that I’m co-creating and many other people are co-creating along with me in their own fields, where we are not tokenized, where we are not “included” and I put that in quotation marks, where we simply ARE. In my artworks, that is a world that I’m co-creating and adding to and I feel really good about that.
R: Yeah that….it seems so simple, when I’m like [laughs] ….it seems so simple that it’s just it’s…I guess I think about who may read… Its typical for me in this moment as the person is like bringing these ideas together, where I’m like it’s all so clear and you know I asked you in the beginning like you know, where does black wellness start and then again in talking about you work there was something again that you said, you’re like you know when practice begins, I’m checking in about the whole being, everyone, and that…you know that to me I’m like oh that’s where it begins. Where does black wellness begin? It begins with checking-in making sure everybody, you know, how is everybody doing, and who is everybody.
M: And, and I was just going to say ‘including me.’ And I think that’s the lesson. I turned forty during this pandemic and…
M: Thank you, thank you! and on my personal journey on this plant planet, I think that’s one of my lessons that I clearly came here to learn, is that the “everybody” and I’m putting that in quotation marks. When you ask ‘who is everybody?’ it includes me. So I recently shared something pretty huge with the company members and I felt a little out on a limb about it. I thought, ‘Oh gosh, you know this might be kind of weird. Maria’s bringing in her personal stuff,’ or ‘I don’t want to make people feel worried’–because it was some stuff that was vulnerable about me–but I thought, ‘If I say that I’m trying to co-create community, but at night I have no community to go to, then I’m not doing a good job, then I’m not being authentic.’ So I’m trying. And that has been the case in past years: that I’ve held space for others but not had that space for me. So I think I’m reckoning now with saying to myself, ‘Okay you’ve done a good job, Maria…you’ve done a good job embodying your values, but you can do better. Let’s go deeper.’ And so I’m really endeavoring and taking risks to check that communities that I’m a part of co-creating can hold me as well. And what I’m learning is that they can! One of the dancers, the next day after I shared, sent me this beautiful text message and said “Hey, I sat with what you shared with us last night and it really meant a lot to me and therefore I want to share this with you and also here’s a playlist that has been really helping me through some difficult times.” And can I tell you, it brought me to tears when I clicked…I was already blown away by the generosity of that, and then I clicked on the playlist and it was called For Maria, and that just got me. I was like ‘Oh! I’m held. I’m valued.’
R: it’s so hard, so hard because I have just, I have I have… I felt like I spent so much time being like I’m just going to take care of myself as a way to like ground my being so that then, so like now that like I can walk on my two feet I’m like no, I don’t need anything because i might be weakened and then… you know, it’s been a process, that I am in now of like you know, allowing myself to be vulnerable you know it anywhere, anywhere and also allowing myself to not have to practice that power behind closed doors. I can send a nasty email and I can also just, I can do that compassionately, I can do that, you know there’s something about the power of truth that I’ve taken for granted up until this year of my my life where I’m like I don’t deserve to be treated this way, or I do deserve to be treated this way, or you know, I’m not going to compromise or like why does there have to be a compromise, you know things like that, and just being able to hold power in in the truth of like what my purpose is like, I am here to be a contributor to culture, I am here because… I don’t know how to always bring people together, but I know that I want to, and I want them to feel safe, and I want them to be beyond themselves as a daily practice, I know that’s what I want
M: I appreciate this idea of the power of truth. You know the motto of my dance company MBDance is “Sweat your truth!”
R: Sweat it out [Laughs]
M: You know?! [Laughing] That’s the acknowledgement that we each have a specific, individual, different truth and a collective truth and that they’re all sacred. What you said reminds me of A Course in Miracles, which says that the truth is defenseless. I think about that a lot. That then means that we don’t have to stew in our juices as you said, and write the nastiest version of it behind closed doors, because that’s almost as if we’re trying to add power to the truth. But actually the truth is the truth and it doesn’t need any added power. And I think for me–so that’s your version, or has been in the past–my version that I’m trying to let go of is that I have sometimes secret-ed the truth between many many ‘please’s and niceties and ways of making people like me. I have sort of made a truth salad that has a lot of other stuff in it. I think your and my historical responses are two symptoms of the same malady, which is not being believed…not trusting that our truth stands and is honored. I think that what you and I are learning is that the truth is defenseless and so I can just bring my compassionate self, my assertive self, I don’t need to try to make it palatable. And I think what I hear you saying is that you don’t need to add the venom to it. It’s like ‘this is simply the truth, what it is. I do deserve this, we deserve this, what do you need?’
R: Yeah exactly, exactly, what do you need. That comes up alot because that’s what it feels, like if I take my own experience, it’s that it can be challenging to ask yourself that question, right and that’s what…for so long I didn’t ask myself what do I need, you know, maybe somebody else is in that position, where they need to be asked because they haven’t asked themselves, what do you need? And it can be a huge, it could be a powerful just like, you know, way of opening space: What do you need?
M: And we are not even always prepared to answer.
R: Well it has been an absolute pleasure. An absolute pleasure
M: Raja, I‘m really happy that you invited me. I’m just reminded that, I mean I knew I really liked you alot, but I’m just reminded that as a person I like you! So I feel happy that this was the occasion that I got to spend time with you today.
R: Likewise and congratulations on your marriage. It wasn’t that long ago was it?
M: It wasn’t. We’re only two years married
R: Ok we are just a year.
M: Woot Woot woot! It’s beautiful.
R: It is.I think marriage is really special
M: It is.
R: So congratulations
M: Thank you. Well I’ll stay tuned, but this has been a pleasure.
R: Yes Ok, more soon.
M: Ok, bye! [Holding arms wide as if welcoming an embrace]
R: Thank you
Maria Bauman-Morales is a Bessie-Award-winning, Brooklyn, NY-based, multi-disciplinary artist and community organizer from Jacksonville, FL. Bauman-Morales is also a sought-after facilitator and speaker on the topics of social justice practices within performing arts, embodied and arts-based leadership development, and racial equity in the arts. She creates bold and honest artworks for her company MBDance based on physical and emotional power, insistence on equity, and intimacy. In particular, Bauman’s site-responsive dance work centers the non-linear and linear stories and bodies of queer people of color in multiple ritual settings. She draws on her study of English literature, capoeira, improvisation, dancing in living rooms and nightclubs, as well as concert dance classes to embody interconnectedness, joy, and tenacity. Bauman-Morales brings the same tenets to organizing to undo racism in the arts and beyond with ACRE (Artists Co-creating Real Equity), the grassroots group she co-founded with Sarita Covington and Nathan Trice. Currently, she is an Urban Bush Women Choreographic Center Fellow and a BRIClab resident artist. She has also been Community Action Artist in Residence at Gibney, Artist in Residence at Brooklyn Arts Exchange, and DiP Artist Resident under the direction of Eva Yaa Asantewaa.
As a cultural organizer, Bauman-Morales partners with various groups to lift up calls for justice via art. She was honored with the 2018 BAX Arts and Artists in Progress Award for “the work you do to undo racism in our daily lives while lifting up the work and lives of your membership.” Bauman-Morales has facilitated community engagement workshops for El Puente, Chorus America, Ramapo College, Rider University, and has helped create cultural campaigns with various locals of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). She’s been a keynote speaker and core facilitator for the 2018 Day of Learning on Equity & Inclusion, Camille A. Brown’s 2016 Black Girl Spectrum Convening and several Cultural Organizing for Community Change symposiums. She’s a Core Trainer with The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, working closely with them on Understanding & Undoing Racism training especially for artists.