Damali Abrams’ Residency: Week 3 Report – Groundation Grenada

The first day of the performance workshop with Damali Abrams at Groundation Grenada.

The first day of the performance workshop with Damali Abrams during her week at Groundation Grenada.

I spent last week in Grenada and facilitated a two-day performance art workshop with Groundation Grenada. The workshop was absolutely amazing!

There were twelve very enthusiastic participants. Students, teachers, actors, models, photographers, writers, videographers and more, representing a wide age range.

The first day we were at The National Museum. I created a presentation showing as much of a variety of performance art as I could in an hour. Rather than presenting in chronological order, I went back and forth between contemporary and older examples. Sheena Rose’s recent Sweet Gossip performances in Barbados, Lorraine Ogrady as Mlle Bourgeois Noir, My Barbarian, Anna Mendieta, Michelle Isava in Trinidad, Yoko Ono and so on. I showed photos and videos. The group was very engaged and we had some compelling discussions about the topics raised in each performance as well as the methods utilized by the various performance artists. After the presentations we broke into smaller groups to plan public performance pieces for the next day. We placed topics in a bag and let a representative from each group choose. The topics in the bag were high unemployment rates; stigmatizing mental illness; domestic violence; and Grenada secondary schools expelling girls who become pregnant.

The second day we took it to the streets!

Malaika, Damali and Aisha during their public performance. Photo by Zoë Hagley

Malaika, Damali and Ayisha during their public performance. Photo by Zoë Hagley

We set up in front of the Esplanade Mall on a busy day. Ayisha and Malaika from Groundation Grenada and I decided to choose a topic from the bag and create a performance as well. Our topic was the fact that if a girl becomes pregnant in secondary school in Grenada, she is expelled. The three of us dressed in school uniforms with long navy blue pleated skirts and white shirts with peter pan collars. Ayisha and Malaika stuffed their bellies to look pregnant. I carried a swaddled teddy bear to look like my baby. We walked into the plaza in front of the Esplanade Mall. It was a Friday afternoon and there were a lot of kids and adults around. We set up three metal folding chairs. To our left was a sign that read “Cast the First Stone.” In the center about five feet in front of us was a large stone. (We made sure that it was large enough that if someone did decide to “cast” it at us, it would be too heavy.) We sat there and Malaika and Ayisha rubbed their pregnant bellies. I held and rocked my baby. People began to gather around, very curious about what we were up to. There was a huge circle of people around who only continued to gather as each of our groups performed.

The group that chose domestic violence was up next. The group decided to view the term domestic violence more broadly, beginning in the home with spousal abuse and child abuse, and spreading out to domestic violence as violence against the nation and on planet Earth, our collective home. The group designed elaborate costumes and props out of cardboard and acted out a scene where an oppressor dragged two people behind him, holding onto him by a long heavy metal chain.

The group doing a performance around domestic violence. Photo by Zoë Hagley

The group doing a performance dealing with domestic violence. Photo by Zoë Hagley

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The group doing a performance dealing with domestic violence. Photo by Zoë Hagley

The next group’s performance was about stigmatizing mental illness. They had a table in the center with four chairs. The three performers came out in different states of eccentric dress. On their plates instead of food they were “eating” cell phones, condoms and jewelry. The one male performer in the group blew up a condom like a balloon and stuck it into the one shoulder that his t-shirt was covering. Students from the crowd came close to see what was happening. One boy sat at the free chair at the table and began interacting with the group.

The group doing a performance dealing with the stigma around mental illness. Photo by Zoë Hagley

The group doing a performance dealing with the stigma around mental illness. Photo by Zoë Hagley

The final group’s performance was about high unemployment rates. They marched out in a circle and then performed various gestures under a long black cloth, symbolizing domestic violence, neglected children and prostitution, some of the affects of high unemployment. At the end the group dropped to the floor and just lay there with their heads covered by the black cloth for about ten minutes, completely still. The crowd was riveted and when the group finally stood up from the ground, the audience cheered.

The group doing a performance dealing with the consequences of unemployment.

The group doing a performance dealing with the consequences of high unemployment rates.

The group doing a performance dealing with the consequences of high unemployment rates.

The group doing a performance dealing with the consequences of high unemployment rates.

It was an exhilarating experience for all of us. It was intense to create these performances around such weighty topics.  It was also a bonding experience. We took a huge risk thrusting ourselves into the public sphere and there was great reward and a feeling of camaraderie. I felt creatively rejuvenated and inspired by the entire experience and seeing what all of the workshop participants came up with. There was a certain level of freedom performing in a place where I don’t know anyone. But I also felt nervous about doing an unsanctioned performance in a public place. I couldn’t imagine how people would react. I also didn’t know if as an outsider I had a right to claim this space and comment on these issues in someone else’s country and community. Those issues remain unresolved for me, but I feel inspired to find ways to continue this kind of work wherever I am.

Infinite thanks to Groundation Grenada for inviting me and allowing me the space to share my passion for performance, as well as making my week in Grenada unforgettable.

Damali Abrams

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