By Charmaine Bee
Charmaine Bee held a performance in January in Los Angeles showcasing her powerful piece “Holding space for a reality we are told not to see.” Charmaine talked to Spine about the show and her process creating the piece.
While creating the work and examining the ways in which I could go about communicating a feeling through objects within a space, I began to identify how closely sensory experience such as smell mirrors the feelings of things that cannot be named in a way.
I became really interested in filling a space energetically and in a way that would engage many aspects of the senses to point to a reality that clearly exists that you cannot quickly point out because it dissipates ( in the case of smoke). I think this exploration was important for me in examining the psychological impact of racism and the trauma associated with the genocide that is taking place (globally) on black bodies. I wanted to speak to a reality that is concrete, that we see, that we feel, that we carry energetically, that we speak about in our homes and with loved ones, yet through systemic white supremacy we are told does not exist.
The contradictory elements are important to me in the work. I think they express that I am speaking to a feeling, a feeling that I have when I consume media related to the violence against black bodies, and a feeling related to conversations that I have around that subject matter.
The contradictions also speak to the experiences of living with trauma that is carried with the expectation of carrying on, sometimes without acknowledging that it is there. I am interested in the space of violence that exists in the gap of the physical act and the psychological violence – a space that I believe is hard to name. I however, do not have an answer or think that I can express all of how we all feel as a black collective. For me, the contradictory elements illuminate the complexity of mourning, ritual, joy, consuming these violent acts as well as serve to engage the senses in ways that maybe audience members aren’t prepared for or can’t expect.
HAVE WE HAD ENOUGH?
Societally the climate reflects that enough is enough, we are tired of the exploitation and undervaluing of Black bodies. Period. The work of our predecessors ( through writing, organizing, visual art, healing work, etc) those histories are very present in conversation concerning forward movement. I do think words are incredibly powerful, potent and healing. I think it depends on where those words lie and who with. I have witnessed words in community serving as a space of healing. I have also witnessed words, that carry the expectation of “proving” that this is actually happening to be exhausting, draining and demeaning.
I do believe that there are never too many words, think pieces, reflections, examinations, etc. about this subject matter and I see my work as a visual representation of my interpretations and feelings of these events that exist in conjunction with the written/ spoken words about this violence.
I don’t see my work solely as a mourning, but absolutely the work contains a space of mourning. Because of the monumental size of the sculpture memorial is invoked within the work activating thoughts around mourning, reflection, and celebration.
I worked with collaborators, two dancers and we had many conversations about our rituals tied to both mourning and celebration as well as how we individually and in the space of others process consuming the violence as it is circulated through social media.
For me there are moments of reflection, mourning, ritual, healing, questioning, pointing to and many other gestures of addressing what we are told not to see. What I think is so important about sharing the performance space with other black women is that we were all bringing in elements of how we express joy, mourning, anger and because of the complex energies that we brought to the work there it is not possible for it to exist as one thing.
Many of the elements that I used have a complicated relationship of tension, between pleasure and violence, leisure and colonialism, sustenance and slavery. I am very much interested in that tension and how it speaks to how those complicated histories manifest in our current societal climate.
The sound piece was composed using the arrest video of Sandra Bland as source material. I isolated a moment of escalation during the encounter between Sandra Bland and the police officer, one that spoke to psychological violence and power. I built the energy of the piece around this moment – this moment of violence that is hard to name. Repetition was an important factor and speaks to what happens when things are repeated – in some moments the repetition causes us to look closer, at other times it becomes a part of the everyday – the mundane.
I thought it was important to capture the violence that exists in the space of the mundane. The burning pots of rice and sugar created a smoke that filled the space while the performers and I were performing repetitive movements, while the sound piece was looping. Repetition, sound, the elements of smoke, water, fire are super present in spaces of ritual in different traditions, the ones I am most familiar with are southern and West African traditional belief systems.