The exploration of environmental injustice, the intimate relationship among hierarchies of gender, race, and class, and the historic violences against eco-systems and world communities led us to a second multi-year project: a quartet of works exploring the ways in which Black and brown women, womx, and femmes experience and resist systemic violence.
It was important to us not to “domesticate” violence, to see it as discrete incidents for which an individual, someone else, can be blamed. Rather, we wanted to dance about the recurring systemic violence that runs through and rends the shared histories of women, womxn, and femmes from global Black, Indigenous, and communities of color.
We investigated this global theme by tracing the history of four naturally occurring elements: land, gold, oil, and water. Each of these has been appropriated, mined, or harnessed as capital in ways that have led, directly or indirectly, to horrific violences. Together, the stories of these four elements tell of capital’s march to commodify natural resources and destroy habitats and sustainable systems of livelihood in the world’s economic systems.
The research methodology for the quartet shaped our process in important ways. Due to funding priorities and limited resources, most organizations working with gendered violence focused their work on providing direct services. This was different from our intent to broaden the frame and look at how day-to-day gendered violences and sexual assaults were built into larger systems of social organization. It meant that the artists had to research specific phenomena around violence, bringing their individual perspectives to the creative process and sharpening their identity as “cultural activists.”
Our new investigations confirmed what we had learned during the environmental justice trilogy: that some of the most courageous resistances are propelled by communities and leaders who are completely marginalized. Stories about the strategic resistance led by women, womxn, and femmes from global Black, Indigenous and communities of color inspired much of our creativity. The quartet series strengthened our conviction that our dances needed to articulate complex and layered narratives that share as much of the devastation of communities as the little known yet critical responses that come from them. We sought to inspire in our audiences, hope that emerges from sharing a struggle and participating in a diverse community of people.
For a majority of the quartet, we collaborated with theater artist and writer Laurie Carlos, whose “jazz aesthetic” influenced our creative process, inspiring us to intersect vocalizations, footwork, and movement. We also juxtaposed stories from different contexts, disrupting possibilities of a linear narrative, and highlighting contrasts and resonances amidst the differences.