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I am Nasty, hear me roar

February 28th, 2017

This week’s First Thursday celebrates International Women’s Month with a line-up of phenomenal women artists, under the theme “Still Nasty.

d’bi.young anatafrika. Photo by Anthony Gebrehiwot.

To celebrate International Women’s Month, let our March First Thursday introduce you to some fierce female artists who are ready to share their Nastiness with everyone attending. This Thursday, March 2, “Still Nasty” features a performance installation by Mariam Magsi, photography by Zahra Saleki, an intervention in the board game Settlers of Catan by Golboo Amani and Coco Guzman, activations by Hazel Meyer and a headlining performance by d’bi.young anatafrika and her band The 333. On top of all this, you can count on the usual Night Market snacks and cash bars to fuel the late-night art-going.

We chatted with d’bi.young about the medium of dub poetry – a form of poetry spoken against reggae rhythms that originates in Jamaica – and how else she’s bringing her nastiness to the AGO this Thursday (and to Toronto in general), as well as Hazel Meyer, whose work combines feminism and competitive sports and has thought a lot about who else has worn her pinnies before her.

d’bi.young antafrika

AGO: Where did you get your love of dub poetry?
d’bi.young: From my mother, Anita Stewart, who is one of the pioneers of dub poetry in Jamaica. I grew up watching her in the first dub poetry band called Poets in Unity. When I grow up I want to be just like my mother.

AGO: When did your band The 333 become an extension of your dub poetry practice, and why?

d’bi.young. Photo by Wade Hudson.

d’bi.young: A year and a half ago I was looking for some music to jam to but I wanted very specific music. I wanted inspiring music that I could dance to. I wanted political music. I wanted feminist music. I wanted music that celebrated Blackness and queerness and intersectionality. I wanted music steeped in diasporic African and Jamaican rhythms. I couldn’t find anything. So I put out a call with the above mentioned stipulations and my dear friend and mentor, master musician Waleed Abdulhamid, not only said it was a great idea, he also agreed to be the Musical Director and the Bassist for a new birth called The 333. From there, the rest is herstory.

AGO: How do your performances with the band incorporate your experiences as a playwright and theatre maker (with your company The Watah Theatre)?
d’bi.young: The performances are deeply theatrical. They are storytelling through and through. Much of the music emerges from the plays that I have written and vice-versa. I speak with the community throughout the experience of the concert. It is a dialogue; we all gather by the village tree to be reminded that we are reflections of each other, and that we have the power to shape the world in which we want to live.

AGO: The theme of this First Thursday is “Still Nasty”. In your experience, what’s the role of the arts and performance in political resistance?
d’bi.young: I come from a long tradition of storytellers who were/are resisters, activists, artivists, scholartists, feminists, protectors, teachers and spiritualists. This is the deep social conditioning that flows in my veins. Arts and performance as acts of political resistance are my world view. The entire world is stories. Everything we understand about who we are, where we come, where we are going, who we should hate, all of it is comprised of stories that we have been told, or stories that we have witnessed. So if it’s all made up of stories, if we are made up of stories then that tells me that it is stories that sit at the root of change. We must pay very close attention to the stories that we tell through our thoughts, words and actions. We must be responsible for the stories that we perpetuate. And we must also be honest in admitting that our inaction towards combatting injustice, also tells a very specific story.

AGO: You’re performing in a party atmosphere. Do you want audience members to dance and enjoy themselves as you tell them your message?
d’bi.young: ABSOLUTELY!!!!!! We make Political Music For You To Think To, Act To, Love To and Dance To!!!!!

AGO: As a mentor to young artists, how do you feel about the next generation’s “nastiness”?
d’bi.young: I am inspired every day by the young people I mentor at The Watah Theatre. They in turn mentor me in a beautiful cyclical reciprocal process that we are nurturing in the space. They are unapologetic about the way they take up space lovingly, fiercely and brilliantly. They continually teach me that this “nastiness” means that we commit our life, every single breath, to co-creating a holistic world that we envision, for seven generations. To you, I say, Bring Your Nastiness Come!!!

Hazel Meyer

Hazel Meyer, courtesy the artist

AGO: Can you describe the installation you’re bringing to First Thursday this week?
Hazel: My project Muscle Panic will be installed in the Dutch Masters room for March’s First Thursday. It uses two borrowed units of scaffold, sourced from the conservation and installation teams at the AGO, as a base. These scaffolds are a way of working with a very functional and recognizable structure from within the gallery as a tool for supporting the more marginal ideas and objects in my work. In particular I am talking about tools, props and objects that circulate within activist and athletic worlds. The installation takes the shape of a “universal gym,” a props table, a semi-functional storage unit, and the headquarters for an imagined sports team named Muscle Panic.

This iteration of Muscle Panic is in conversation with the Dutch Master’s room, in particular through the Audre Lorde quote “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” which will be present in the installation.

AGO: Is there a particular “nastiness” of women in sports that you find interesting or inspirational for your work?
Hazel: I champion the intimacy, tenderness and radical potential of sports over things having to do with competition and virtuosity. Sports is a vehicle for me to talk about desire and the fluids, smells and leakages that accompany any and all kinds of bodies. Last Friday I was given a red pinny to wear while at SQWISH, the queer basketball league I play in. It smelled nasty, a combination of too many bodies sweating into synthetic mesh and not enough washing. That nastiness was also incredible because it was the record of the sweat and exertion of many bodies, resulting in stale pheromones, but also a kind of radical potential… Luckily for me, I didn’t have to wear the pinny as I had on a (Muscle)PANIC red tank, which will be a part of Thursday’s installation, sweat and all.

A previous installation in Hazel Meyer’s Muscle Panic series. Photo courtesy of the artist.

AGO: How do you hope your installation will interact with the First Thursday attendees?
Hazel: I hope people spend some time walking around the work, talking in all the smaller bits that make the whole, and thinking about Lorde’s ideas, which I think really resonate these days as a call for intersectionality and resilience, amongst other things.

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