When Go! Push Pops met Nyssa Frank at the Living Gallery to pick up the keys for use of the space during our month long Warrior Goddess Workshop, the first few words out of Push Pop co-leader Diamond’s mouth at the time were,
“A year of planning leading up to this and it all flew by so fast. I kept thinking I would really be a Goddess by the time this workshop rolled around – but I’m not so sure.”
Nyssa replied, “You are definitely a Goddess.”
Could it be? What does it mean to embody the Goddess and how do we get there physically, emotionally, and spiritually? How do we burn away eons of patriarchal residual – the self-loathing, objectification and physical/emotional violence which ensued for all peoples during the dark Piscean age of war and pillage on this earth now past? When do we commit to being present, seeing reality clearly and letting the heart lead us back to a past-present-futurity in which women, who by yogic science possess sixteen times the cosmic primordial creative energy of men (in order to carry new life) will celebrate and accept their own beauty and power?
Before Nicolas Bourriaud wrapped up social practice in all his constipated white male European intellectual fantasies, feminist artists were doing social practice and they were doing it better. They were doing it fueled by a lot less money and hype than say, Tino Sehgal getting six figures to turn the Guggenheim into a people petting zoo for alienated folks or Rirkrit opening a soup kitchen for the culturally-emaciated Art elite. They were doing it like Suzanne Lacy making “art” with LAPD to bring hidden experiences of rape into the media domain and change public policy. They were doing it like Jane Dickson’s collaboratory cardboard “City Maze” at Fashion Moda in 1980, a site most well known and historicized for the contributions of the male artists involved. As Jane recalled at a panel this past winter at the Bronx Documentary Center, it was the first time since 1980 she had been asked to speak about her work at Fashion Moda because it was the first panel scheduled during a period when the men had something better to do.
Let’s get the truth straight. Co-creating – not self-punishment, torture, bad romance, ego jousting, pleasure comas or minds fires – is actually the true and real essence of creativity. Creativity is our ability to relate. And it ain’t always easy. Art minus objects gets messy. It gets overlooked and underpaid, blind-sighted and steamrolled and ridiculed by our societal fears and insecurities. And yet, we still do it. In a characteristically artsy fickle and paradoxical fashion, we continue to insist that real art doesn’t look anything like art, it looks like Life.
With this in mind, Go! Push Pops set out this past May to engage with the Bushwick Community in a trill way. All the tainted approximations of the word “community” circulating within art discourse notwithstanding, we were motivated by a sincere desire to connect across age, race, ethnicity, and cultural identity within our neighborhood. We were particularly interested in helping young women towards the empowerment and embodied feminism we so boldly wore on our sleeves and solidified into gestures and symbols during performances.
Problem is, you can’t heal the community until you heal yourself. With one third of our funding and four thirds of compassion, we set out to bring the “juice” – THE GODDESS JUICE!! – to young, at-risk youth of Bushwick and greater New York City at large. We prepared thoroughly, collecting Goddess Archetypes from around the world, planning yoga hip hop flows and creativity chakra tutorials. We made flow charts about Christian fear of buttocks power, earth and sky awareness, and the throat center as the seat of a human being’s power of manifestation. We brought in BoomBoxBoy aka hip hop artist Prince Harvey to teach the young ladies to rap about their pain, their power and their place in the community. We brought in Tanto BinEverett to teach a martial arts self-defense workshop, and called up Little Skips Coffeehouse for donations of bagels. We invited Da Urban Butterflies, a Washington Heights based Youth Leadership Development Project for young women, to come teach about being a Warrior Women alongside us. Nyssa Frank, director of the Living Gallery, one of the few galleries in Bushwick doing sustained community art practice, generously opened her doors to our project.
We were all in agreement. We wanted to build a bridge between the existing community in Bushwick and the migratory artist population. We wanted to explore the spiritual webs interconnecting us all as we embodied our feminisms and celebrated the diversity of the collective voice.
Ultimately, the main healing we did was within. As we sat there, first amused and then sad and then ashamed… while very few young women came to attend our workshop. Sure, a few came. Our first week we had an amazing session with young ladies of the Art Start Program, a non-profit arts organization that works with at-risk youth. We circled up like women have been doing for centuries and studied the Goddess. There was Tiamat, the Great Babylonian Goddess representing primeval chaos associated with the soul, the psyche and the unconscious. There was Green Tara the “Mother Earth” or “Buddha,” a fierce goddess who saves us from physical and spiritual danger and has attained the highest wisdom, capability and compassion. There was Nut, Ancient Egyptian Goddess of the Cosmos, the sky goddess depicted supporting the sky with her back, her body blue and covered with stars. There was Oshun, Yoruba (West African) Goddess of the rivers that sustains life, rules love, beauty and the arts, especially dance. Under the wings of these and many more Goddess energies, we guided the young women to meditate and heal. They began to speak their truth and release past coping strategies.
In the following weeks, our student base trickled to none. Our projected final performance, what was to be a big show for the community at large – did not happen as we planned. Despite our extensive outreach efforts at local schools, non-profit arts and community organizations and their ilk, it was not easy to bring young women with full lives of their own onto our turf, on our time, for our agenda. Especially not with zero advertising dollars and frankly, limited connections outside of our “Art World” network. More than we encountered young women eager to practice the fusion of yoga and hip hop we encountered passionate adults working for the same cause at organizations which, very much like our outfit, had too many projects and not enough money or time. Whatever ties they held to communities through schools, parents and kin networks they were very busy – too busy! – applying to their ongoing and long-term work.
We were forced to ask ourselves – what had we been doing for the community that was both long-term, sustaining and mutually satisfying? What was community and where was ours? Was the art world too married to agendas of profit and self-seeking to serve our spirit as we grew? How could we change this from the inside out?
All the energy we had put into our work – our exciting, spectacular, often violent and abrasive and raw and most accessible to our insanely busy globe-trotting peers in the virtual (that is Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, oh my!) – shown back on us like a mirror. It returned to us in unfamiliar form. Call it the alchemy of adrenaline and ego. Go! Push Pops hit a tipping point. So we tipped, we rained tears like the clouds in the sky and ran to the trees for rejuvenation and grounding. Our work was suddenly cloaked in all this quietness, all this emptiness lurking at the underbelly of our too fast-paced lives.
It was a challenging gift to receive. The first moment since our collective’s inception we had been forced to sit still and face ourselves, face the quality of our output and its return despite our wishful thinking and fantastical feminist gyrating toward a less alienating and violent reality. We gulped, hiccupped, did the work and rebooted. We continued to build that bridge between the body and mind honoring the wisdom of all the body’s organs, most importantly the heart center which brings more opportunities into our lives to give and receive. We sutured up our longings for peace, presence, community, beauty and compassion through our actions, words and physicalities.
Like the rest of the world, the real impetus for our adoption of hip hop as a teaching tool came from the way we too had been seduced into a very powerful racial spectacle recounting all the pain and pleasure of this country’s white supremacist roots. In the broad sense of things we understood the poison before it set in. Those shrewd intellectuals like Julia Kristeva and Guy Debord warned us. We new The Spectacle was both delicious and deadening, alienating and enlivening, that it both solidifying and encumbered human coalitions. By the time hyperreality had subsumed our lives, we had already flipped that biotch on its side, taken the goods and ran widdit into a new paradigm. Capitalism, xenophobia, imperialism, colonialism – these tired entities were extinguishing themselves and in the mean time all we could do was go within and pick up the pieces. What we saw in Hip Hop was a deeply powerful spiritual tradition that had persevered in misshapen forms through all the atrocities of slavery, patriarchal religion and colonial imperial genocide. It was still living and breathing and it shared fundamental elements and relative wisdoms with spiritual traditions around the world.
Today we choose to engage technology as a tool in the realm of the collective consciousness, and yet refuse to be the tool, victim or product of it (Facebook stop advertising “Loyal Black Men” on the Sidebar!!) Today we choose to continue the work of the Warrior Goddess Workshop in our daily lives step by step. We put one foot in front of the other with our heads held high walking a path of beauty, grace and clarity.