UMS

Artist in Residence Spotlight: The Power of Being

By UMS Lobby

qiana townsThis post is a part of a series of posts from UMS Artists in Residence. Artists come from various disciples and attend several UMS performances throughout the season as another source of inspiration for their work.

Qiana Towns is author of the chapbook This is Not the Exit (Aquarius Press, 2015). Her work has appeared in Harvard Review Online, Crab Orchard Review, and Reverie. A Cave Canem graduate, Towns received the 2014 Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize from the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature. She is a resident of Flint, where she serves as Community Outreach Coordinator for Bottles for the Babies, a grassroots organization created to support and educate the residents of Flint during the water crisis.

Each year I choose a theme to live by – a leitmotif to carry me through all of the beauty and chaos a year can bring.  I like to think doing this offers some perspective and guidance for how to conduct myself. It also seems to provide a starting point for engaging with the world around me.

2017 is the year of no apologies.  Though if I’m being honest, there will likely be a few apologies. It’s just how I was raised and I certainly don’t want to become a microcosm of the current government administration.

What I mean to say is this: My plan for 2017 is to be the artist I’ve always wanted to be. And I do mean artist. While, quite literally, poetry has been my primary vehicle for creating art, I’m more than ready to — to continue the metaphor — get a new car. Or a bike. No apologies.

RoosevElvis
Photo: RoosevElvis. Photo by Kevin Hourigan.

Even before I attended the performance of The Team’s RoosevElvis, I imagined creating a performance piece based on a road trip I took from Los Angeles to the Bay Area just a few years back. It was a road trip inspired by Kerouac’s On the Road…but blacker and powered by all of the feminine energy of the women writers I’d connected with in L.A. I made several stops along the way including a stop at Bixby Bridge (near the location where Kerouac penned Big Sur). There were no alter-egos, no drugs. Although, whenever I tell this story back home people ask if I was high on something. Maybe they can’t fathom a woman traveling in unfamiliar territory alone, and along some of the most frightening highways and pulchritudinous sights in America.

The road trip that is RoosevElvis drove the audience through an exploration of self-identity. It reminded me of the part of America that still wants to define itself as the land of the free and the home of the brave. I might argue that it is neither, but that’s a discussion for another time. Either way, RoosevElvis seemed to ask the audience to pause and consider how each of us embrace or reject ideas about who and what we are in America. The performance piece I’m working to create may answer this question or it may add other questions to the list. It may do both.

Nora Chipaumire
Photo: portrait of myself as my father. Photo by Anna Lee Campbell.

Somewhere in my creative process I have coupled the aforementioned experience with the sheer rawness of Nora Chipaumire’s portrait of myself as my father. If I had a comfort zone, “portraits” would probably have taken me out of it. I thought to myself, “Isn’t this what art is supposed to do?” I need to do more of this.  Meanwhile, I clandestinely watched as the people around me began to shift as the performance carried the audience through exploration of sex and the black male body. It got hot in there. Even after the artist shifted to other subject-matter, the heat of the moment did not leave us and Chipaumire did not offer a single apology.

I have not given myself any deadlines or requirements for the development of my first performance piece. I have only given myself permission to embrace the fullness of being an artist. Actually, I’m sure this is enough.

Follow this blog for more updates from Qiana throughout this season. Learn more about Renegade this season.

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