Interview by Lauren Ash
I am so proud to connect with someone who I consider to be one of the most prolific and prophetic artists of our time. Someone who creates art that speaks very deeply to what it means to be a woman of color forever connected to our ancestors and both the beautiful and horrific spiritual experiences they endured. Sharon Bridgforth, creator of the theatrical jazz installation River See, is, herself, a seer. (Curious about theatrical jazz? Sharon recommends Theatrical Jazz: Performance, Àṣẹ, and the Power of the Present Moment, the first full-length study of theatrical jazz coincidentally authored by her wife Dr. Omi Osun Joni L. Jones!) I have attended two manifestations of River See and words fail me when I try to describe the nature of the performance. Adjectives come to mind: majestic. black girl magic. love. earth. grounded. spiritual. cyclical. queer. deep. blurry. engaging. performative. multilingual. ancestral. moving. dynamic. Above all: liberatory. In celebration of the multidimensional nature of our lives as people of color, women of color, and black women and illuminative of how liberatory it is to exist in joyful community with those who share our skin, experiences, and wisdoms. Sharon’s work echoes that of so many of our womanist ancestors, it’s as if they are speaking directly to her. Maybe they are. I trust you’ll be inspired by all that Sharon conveys, and hope you can witness a future manifestation of her work.
LA: Who are you? Right now, in this moment.
SB: I am a child of the Great African-American Migration. I am the beneficiary of the courage, brilliance, sacrifices, dreams, prayers and lives of my family, of the ancestors and of the many who envision and work to make the world a better place.
I am an L.A. gurlboi. A grown wildchild. I am a lesbian, a mother, a lover of beautiful coffee, the ocean, french bulldogs and pugs. // I am an artist, offering my work in service of connection, inspiration and healing. I am a believer in joy and the full moon.
LA: What does liberation mean to you?
SB: I believe that liberation is a human right, one that we must all work to ensure that everyone, everywhere has. I believe that liberation work starts from within. That cultivating compassion, clarity and love for ourselves is a first step for gathering the tools and capacity to create a peaceful, safe, resourced world. A world where all people have opportunities, dignity and the freedom to be themselves.
Omi, my wife, and I are artists-in-residence at IDEX in San Francisco. IDEX partners with funders and donors to provide flexible small grants to effective, locally-based organizations in Asia, Africa and Latin America led by women, youth and indigenous leaders, partnering with them for 3-10 years. One of the many reasons that we are proud to serve IDEX, is that IDEX models how to partner with, learn from and support women and Indigenous people as leaders. I think this makes for a powerful road map for liberation globally and for the work of learning to love and care for ourselves, our families, our communities — right here, right now.
LA: I didn’t know that about you, Sharon. That’s beautiful. So, you told me that have a new project: Finding Voice. The reason behind this project is because you "believe that art and art practices are the gateway to healing and transformation." Can you share more of your personal experiences which led you to create Finding Voice? And how you hope it will liberate the voices of people who engage with it and with you?
SB: I created The Finding Voice Facilitation Method to encourage people to explore their identities, cultures, family histories and dreams. To tell the stories they are most afraid to tell. To employ individuality with rigor as they sharpen their artistic voice and expand their artistic tool-kit. To serve as witnesses and a holding space for each other in the process. This is the work of spirit, the stuff change is made of. I have facilitated using Finding Voice around the country for more than 20 years, including as Anchor Artist for the Austin Project (tAP), 2002-2009, at The John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies, University of Texas in Austin. An archive of our work with tAP is published in Experiments in a Jazz Aesthetic: Art, Activism, Academia, and the Austin Project, University of Texas Press, which I co-edited with Omi Osun Joni L. Jones, and Lisa Lynn Moore.
My own performance practices, my writing, my creative process — the way that I heal and grow through my own life challenges — are centered in Finding Voice.
I have recently teamed up with Baladé Black to create a Finding Voice video course that will include virtual “live” talks and a community support. Baladé Black is a radical enterprise bringing forth supporting and promoting homegrown, indigenous, baladé black wisdom, knowledge and technologies primarily by women of color and Indigenous women elders. Currently, you can go to http://www.balade.black and sign up to take a course with Chief Luisah Teish (author of, Jambalaya: The Natural Woman's Book of Personal Charms and Practical Rituals). My course will be available in the fall but you can go to http://sharonbridgforth.com and sign up to start receiving videos and info now.
LA: Please keep me posted on when it’s available! Is there anything else you wish to share with us?
SB: Whenever I facilitate creative process circles I ask participants to ask themselves throughout our time together the following three questions: 1. What am I feeling? 2. What is that (the feeling) about? 3. How does that affect how I live my life?
I find that the roads these questions lead to can give rise to the investigation of old stories that no longer serve us, and can be a gateway to deeper listening to the wisdom that our bodies, our spirits and our intuition is offering.So, for the next seven days, throughout the day…ask yourself: 1. What am I feeling? 2. What is that (the feeling) about? 3. How does that affect how I live my life? Do stream of consciousness writing (write without stopping, even if at first you are repeating the same word over and over). Honor yourself and your feelings. What is your experience of this? Whatever it is, celebrate the journey…
LA: This offering of yours will no doubt positively, and meaningfully, impact me. I’m going to commit to it and encourage our community to do the same, Sharon. Thank you so much!