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What is the relationship between situ and soil? What does it mean to be in situ with shifting landscapes? How do we define space for dance in the Diaspora that transcends geography? What does it mean to be situated in dance, in movement? Today? Virtually? How does our dance practice situate our work in the realm of performative action and transformation? What are the situated knowledges developed through dance and choreography? What histories are embodied in the spaces and bodies we inhabit? How can dance respond to the challenges of the environment? How do we move as dance artists in our natural, original position as leaders? 

Forthcoming: "In Situ: Responding to Space, Place, People and Time", to be published by Serendipity UK in October 2022. 

DANCE/NYC 2022 SYMPOSIUM

Life Cycles, Livelihoods, Legacies: 

Continuum of Lives of Dance: Makeda Thomas in conversation with Alexandra Beller.

19 March 2022

ARCHIVE: #iART #iMOTHER

AIR DANCE CONFERENCE 2022

UPCLOSE: Emerging Legacies, Dance Ethnography,

and Innovation 

Miami Dade College - Miami, Florida

6-10 March 2022

BELMONT BABY DOLLS: CURATING RADICAL CARIBBEAN FUTURISMS THROUGH MASterful PERFORMATIVITY

Arts & Creativities Research Group - University of Cambridge

1 March 2022

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"Working at the intersection of dance, Black feminisms, African diasporic theory, and Caribbean performance aesthetics, we welcome Makeda Thomas to speak about her Carnival Mas-making practice and performance. Makeda has written about her work as an embodiment of a political and feminist ethos, which works through and extends the layered histories of the traditional carnival character the Baby Doll, to forge an embodied, contemporary practice examining how gender, sexuality, and race shape Carnival rituals and how her contemporary Mas-making curates of/for radical Caribbean futurisms."

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"What am I mounting here?

Baby Doll mas performance in the context of Trinidad & Tobago’s Carnival, as a performance of love, in its fullness, as both a strategy of survival and intentional reclamation of equanimous, open, apologetic, and soft relationships between mothers and daughters; where empathy does not sacrifice accountability and reckoning with our selves, others, and the spaces in between and all around, where the benevolence of mothering or daughter-ing resists being weaponized...where a Black girl's emerging womanhood does not transition her to competitor but as an expression of generations to come; of futurity.

 

In either way the mas is played - and there are infinite ways I imagine - the Baby Doll mas performs the demand for accountability or owed apologies; of which the would-be recipient is deserving, thus teaching daughters that they are deserving of respect and reciprocity, and to hold accountable those that bring them harm - both within the mother-daughter relationship and outside of it. And so, this mas reaches far back and forward into the "mother line" - to comprehend that which activates in our present lives. Yes, this ritual dance of the mas -  playing Doll - is an ancient source of healing and like Petwo - returning back to the Ezili Dantor, Queen of Petwo - it is also a dance of the spirit of sedition."

VIRTUALLY BLACK: dancingBLACKtogether

The Collegium for African Diasporic Dance - 5th Biannual Conference

Duke University - Durham, North Carolina

18-20 February 2022

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dancingBLACKtogether. Ten years of CADD. 

 

I was honoured to introduce and close, from Trinidad & Tobago, the virtual platform for the Collegium for African Diasporic Dance's 5th Biannual Conference. CADD 2022 opened with a procession, under the gaze of a Moko jumbie - a “Jouvay” that was followed by two days of “Ame” to those ancestors through whom we’ve inherited it. Lovingly, we placed our ancestors in dance - Eleo Pomare and Dr. Mama Kariamu Welsh - on the altar of this year’s gathering, attended to by our colleagues in dance, the Executive Board of CADD, and Keynote Presenters - Dr. Yvonne Daniel, Dr. Jasmine Johnson, Baba Abdel Salaam, and Dianne “Lady Di” Walker.  

 

What began in 2012 as the African Diaspora Research Group is now a sacred occasion to join in the beauty of dancingBLACKtogether. Give thanks for all who made the virtual platform for CADD 2022 as rigorous and BLACK as it is, always. I was so moved. We closed this year’s Collegium for African Diaspora Dance Conference looking forward to all the times we will, most certainly, danceBLACKtogether. 

"ON BATTY MOVES"

Program Note for Five College Dance staging of Urban Bush Women's 

"Batty Moves"

11 November 2021

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A Black woman, most certainly of Khoi-San descent, sat beside me on a 2004 flight from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, South Africa. Her round, open face resembled images I’d seen of Sarah Baartman during independent research. “She will be so honoured to know that you came to check her”, my mother said in a very Caribbean way, on that first call home. 

 

Days later, overlooking the largest sundial in Africa, I am sitting on “Assembly Hill” at the final resting place of Sarah Baartman. The journal entry I wrote from that spot reads:

 

“Sarah Baartman [shaped], in the Western mind, the notion of black female sexuality. Sarah was twenty years old when she left the Eastern Cape in 1810, traveling west to Cape Town. It was there that she worked for a Dutch farmer who let his brother take her to Europe. From London to Paris, Sarah became the object of 'scientific’ study and European audiences who came to see her - exhibited as a freak of nature…She was twenty-five when she died. After her death, Europe’s finest minds made a plaster cast of her body. Her skeleton was articulated. Her brains and genitals were removed, preserved and exhibited in Musee d'Homme in Paris for all to see. Until 1976. In 1994, with Nelson Mandela as President, South Africa began working with the French government to return her remains to her homeland for proper burial. Sarah’s nearly 200 year old remains were repatriated in 2002.”

 

“Batty Moves” is a victory dance - the victory of repatriation to the body; of being at home in one’s body and free from Western violence that has sought to define Black womanhood. Urban Bush Women (with whom I danced as a company member) describes this work as “a celebration about seeing beauty in all the different shapes, sizes, and shades we come in”. “Batty Moves” also proclaims, through dance, that it is not sufficient to just have the batty, but that it must be confirmed through movement. When batty moves, it pushes back - and forward - from Congo to the Caribbean in the dancehalls of Jamaica and on the road for Trinidad’s Carnival to Eastern Cape where a beautiful Black woman named Sarah Baartman projected herself into our future. When batty moves, we dance with our whole bodies - across time and space, making while undoing those mantles upon which the Black female body and womanhood has been altar-ed/altered; that would fall, by virtue of this work.

 

Urban Bush Women’s “Batty Moves” revels in this agency. Its reverbs were felt at the 1995 premiere and are still being felt today. How does freedom move, in the body, and why? Urban Bush Women’s 37 years of existence and Jawole Zollar’s naming as a 2021 MacArthur Genius Fellow for “using the power of dance and artistic expression to celebrate the voices of black women” together comprise an ancient naming that futurizes itself in the batty moves of a Black woman. 

  • ARCHIVE: SARAH BAARTMAN & BLACK FEMALE SEXUALITY

CURATIVE COLLECTIVE CONVERSATION:

Makeda Thomas & Mēlani Douglass

A program of the Women, Arts, and Social Change initiative at the

National Museum of Women in the Arts

15 November 2021

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"In this series, join us for in-depth interviews with the Curative Collective, a group of Women, Arts, and Social Change partners working at the intersection of food, art, and social change. From advocacy and social justice to healing and restorative self-care, this diverse collective serves communities throughout the Baltimore–Washington metropolitan area. The Curative Collective is also working on NMWA’s exhibition, RECLAMATION: Recipes, Remedies, and Rituals to make sure that the exhibition incorporates local communities and their perspectives. This week dancer and artist Makeda Thomas joins us to talk about her artistic practice." Excerpt from live reading by Makeda Thomas:

(She)

was the daughter 

of a daughter of a daughter, herself 

the mother of my great-grandmother 

Christiana "Mami Dora", 

mother of my grandmother, 

Sheila Virginia, 

mother to my mother, 

Lynette Dianne, 

I am her daughter and 

mother to a daughter 

Nyah Love. 

(She)

was the daughter of a daughter of a daughter, 

herself the mother of my great-grandmother 

mother of my grandmother, 

Alma, 

mother of my father, 

I am his daughter and 

mother of a daughter

Nyah Love. 

This is for Her.

 

The Work: A "re-collection" in which I revisit and revise my own earlier versions of work around my family history, and the "restoration" of a personal and professional archive lost in a 2018 house fire. The work motions to simultaneously deconstruct the performativities, politics, methodologies, and aesthetics of the Archive while conjuring a new archive, in which there is space for imagining and connection among blood ties and beyond. No, it would not be left to family or public records (fallible, as there are records with incorrect dates of birth and death, omissions due to social structures of the respective time or additions which bend to the will of the recorder). My work - and everybody have their own “wuk” to do - is to create a fluidity, a movement between lineage, narrative, and self-generated records: a re-collection of self.

I fill the space from the loss of information due to fire, enslavement, and colonization with a "radical imagining" (Hartman) with movement, performance, dance, art - to guide what becomes part of it, how it might be used today, and in the future. I engage the choreographic, literally, and in the sense that it enacts multiple ways of participating in and making of the world, that is, a performance practice. It is choreographed and improvised; lived and imagined; both ephemeral and concerned with the archive. It is planting and mas. I include birth stories -  where, how, why women birthed, histories of naming, Dreams, Recipes & Sayings, Healing Knowledges, inherited gems of wisdom, and made Artefacts -  all  launchpads into my family history and functioning items in my home today. The Art(e)Facts include “a tiny little thing”, a 14-foot birthing cloth which was exhibited at North Carolina’s Turchin Center for Visual Arts in 2019 and “Aunty Girly’s Ole Kitchen stool”, made at home at the start of the COVID19 pandemic in Trinidad and covered in pages from Frida Kahlo’s diary.

This is a tracing of Her story; of matrilineal descent from my Ancestresses. I trace a path from Iere (“land of the hummingbird”, the island now known as Trinidad) where I was born, as was my mother; to the Garínagu (mixed African and Indigenous people) of Yurumein (the island now known as St. Vincent) where my grandmother and great-grandmother were born. Before that, I must imagine (She)  - Great Great Grandmother - indigenous as She was…I want to/know her…I trace….knowing that the tracing will not legible until my daughter, born on Sewanhaka (now known as Brooklyn, Long Island) has spoken. As she surely will…

She was Alma, my grandmother, a”jamette" who cried if there came a Carnival where she could not play mas in San Fernando. Alma’s mother was Irish, married to a dark skin Black man and  link to my family’s Merikin heritage. 

“I am Black!”, would proclaim her daughter, Alma, who refused to identify as “mixed”, while being frequently referred to, even decades after her death, as “Spanish”. I imagine what it meant for my Alma to leave the Moruga country life for the big city to become a bail bondswoman in 1950s, pre-Independence Trinidad - I imagine her wanting to be free of the fuckery of it all. I imagine how they said she loved to dance.

She was Shirley, Alma’s daughter, who was called "too bright for her own good”, too many times. Because she was. She had impeccable style. Shirley’s daughter, my cousin Jacqueline, is the first professional dancer I’d ever known - the first person who when if asked what she “did”, answered “I am a dancer.” Blew my mind right open.

She was Sheila, my grandmother, who was best friends with her mother until the day she died. I imagine my grandmother had a great deal more to do with my grandfather's wealth and success than had been credited. She died of breast cancer. She was “Mami Dora”, my great-grandmother, who then raised all 12 of Sheila’’s children until she, too, died months later. 

She was “Aunty Girlie”, a cousin of my grandmother, who became my grandmother. Her singing is heard in my short experimental film, “Ramgoolie Trace”, and her recipe for King Fish Pelau is in my master’s thesis. 

She was Stacy - my cousin - the older “family archivist”, the keeper of immense knowledge, the one I went to the fill the spaces…

I fill these spaces..with myself, my experience, this life, this body, these women, my Ancestresses…all portals through which I can now “cycle up”. So, while this work is a redress of the “pockets of mythologies, “fragments of discourse”, silence, and lack of nuance of identity in the archive of Black and Indigenous women - it is…a way; a practice which mends inheritances so that the structure of my family softens...like a tributary....becomes a "desire line" - a meandering foot etched path and most efficient route/root to the end, or beginning, of the mother line. This is an “Ame” to the process of decolonization; a project of reparations and praxis of freedom that motions towards Black Radical Feminist Futures.