A Performative Moment – Presentation for Northern Kentucky University

On Thursday May 16th, FRESH MILK presented a programme to group of visiting students from the department of theatre and dance at Northern Kentucky University, USA. Presentations were made by Barbadian artists Ewan Atkinson, Sheena Rose and Shanika Grimes, local playwright, actor and artist in residence Matthew Kupakwashe Murrell, our two international resident artists Marla Botterill and Conan Masterson, and our off-site resident artist Damali Abrams who joined us via skype. All of the participants engaged in discussion with the students on performance, and the many forms it can take in the arts.

All photographs taken by Mark King.

Matthew Kupakwashe Murrell’s Residency: Week 2 Report

IMG_0480[1]I remember as a student under Sonia Williams, she said that creating art is like satisfying your God complex. And the more I go into the work that I am doing, creating a piece despite the story being told before, I have my own vision of it. Adding layers and layers to the piece satisfies my God complex. I don’t want to add any “spoilers” to my work, but I think I’ve found the structure and formula to tell my story and every day of research and reading excites me more to this creation. Listening to Maggie Maloney in the documentary and talking to her personally, she has such a poetic way of speaking. Her words and inflections have to be duplicated and not modified in writing the script, so natural and poetic. Listening to her talking about her son and the memories, and then continuing to read, gave me the impression of Isis and Horus or Jesus and Mary Pieta. Therefore, the ancestral conversation between mother and son as a spiritual African concept should be embedded. That said, I am making it the story told through the eyes of the mother, son and the soul of the movement, a holy trinity. The most memorable play that I know that deals with this concept is ‘Shepherd’ written by Rawle Gibbons of Trinidad, in which the story centres around the struggle of the Spiritual Baptists and rise of new dispensation within the movement.

This week I was grateful to receive a book about Rastafarian Theology. Only few chapters into the book, and already I have more appreciation and respect for one of our Caribbean indigenous spiritualities. The history I was always informed about, the theology and struggle for acceptance is another. It always had me wondering why we as Caribbean people frown upon spiritual concepts that are not foreign and that are ours. I mean, I know why! Christianity and Islam were ‘forced’ upon us and defined our socio-economic status for hundred years, our tongue, ideologies and culture washed from our brains and forced to morph into a belief of ignorance. Not just Rastafarianism, but Spiritual Baptist, Revililism, Shango Baptist and many others. I hope we recognize and respect them as our cultural thoughts and spiritual connection to our heritage, even if we chose another spirituality to believe in.

Thursday evening, we, Fresh Milk artists were the host for 15 students from the University of Northern Kentucky. Telling them about my residency and what I was writing about intrigued them plenty. The students seemed genuninely interested in what I was writing about. The story about I’Akobi Maloney captivated these young thespians and started conversations about injustices or hate crimes against minority groups around the world. For other students, what interested them was the religion of Rastafarianism. Of course the obvious image for them would be that of Bob Marley, but what is it? Is everyone who has locs a Rasta? Who do they believe in? The students were also interested in Caribbean theatre, two young women came up to me to ask me specific questions about it. I honestly feel we are still defining the concept of Caribbean Theatre, as wonderful and amazing it is. They never saw or read any Caribbean plays. On the top of my head I listed a few – my favorites, of course. The two girls also asked me what was the difference between Caribbean plays and American plays, to which I said ‘the culture’, when you travel around the island and everything new and amazing you find in the way we live, talk, interact with each other, our music, our movement, and if you find it different from when you are in the US, then that’s the difference. I find it interesting that despite the fact that our young people may be bombarded with cultural intrusions from the US, their students were very interested in who we are. Be true to yourself; people find you more interesting when you are you.

At the end of a productive and art full filling evening, we the artists hosts, myself, Mark, Sheena, Marla, Conan, Versia, Shanika and Juan…eerr I mean Ewan! went to Mojos. One thing I love, is hanging out with artists, no other people stir up stimulating, enjoyable and entertaining conversations like artists do. Oh, yeah we took the Canadians (Conan and Marla) to Oistins. I’m not a fan of crowds, so I won’t comment much about it except that I’m sure Marla and Conan appreciated the culture.

So the plan for week 3, complete the book, which by the way is entitled Rastafari Theology: From Garvey to Marley. Add the extra scenes that contain a hopefully warm ancestral conversation of the holy trinity. Keep writing, keep thinking, keep being grateful for all small mercies.

“…Spirituality is not theology or ideology. It is simply a way of life, pure and original as was given by the Most High of Creation. Spirituality is a network linking us to the Most High, the universe, and each other…”

― Emperor Haile Selassie I