Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Art and Activism

This last weekend I went to two amazing fundraisers that both featured art and activism. The first was a collaboration between Chaya, an organization that helps domestic violence victims from South Asia that live in the Seattle area. and Tasveer, a non profit that sponsors South Asian independent film festivals . They presented films, dance, non fiction readings, and an amazing performance piece called Yoni Ki Baat based on the Vagina Monologues from a South Asian perspective. Ten woman told their stories with dignity, drama, and humor, ranging from childhood traumas to adult dating.

The second fundraiser was CARA, Communitites against rape and abuse. They also emphasized the intersection of art and activism, with hip hop performers, many of them quite young offering inspiring lyrics about their lives and the street and their losses. The audience was mainly African American, but the keynote speaker, Andrea Smith, was a Native American activist and she said CARA was also organizing around justice for Indian boarding school victims. The boarding schools introduced sexual abuse and drug abuse into native communities. Andrea is the author of INCITE: Women of Color Against VIolence.

The contrast between the two groups was dramatic. The first, Chaya, featured only women performers, many of them elegantly dressed although one was a Tibetan transgender who wore a suit and necktie. But the performances were on a stage with sophisticated projections, sound and music.

The second group was very grass roots. We met in a room that felt like an old defrocked store with wooden floors and big windows. We had a wonderful dinner and everyone was relaxed and chatting. The performers wore various low key clothes like the street related low pants look.

But the biggest difference was for Chaya the focus in the performances was on domestic violence related to specific South Asian cultural practices and prejudices. The dance performance focused on the selling of young girls into the sex trade. The dancer adapted traditional Asian dance to tell the story of one young girl who was sold into sex, but then was able to escape.

At the CARA event the focus was on communities in a more public sense, the problems of instiutitonalized violence, jails, police, and gangs. We have had a lot of gang murders in Seattle lately.

Both of them were reaching out to the community though. And both embraced young people being given a way to express themselves through creative words, music, dance, film. In both cases we saw the power of art to give a means of expression to people.

Both are great groups.

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