Artist statement : “The word text is rooted in the Latin verb texere, which means ‘to weave’. I am a writer and performance artist thinking through craft, generating texts that exist as woven objects and time-based works. By performing craft processes, I explore alternate modes by which documentation can occur.”
I find Indira after exhaling my way through SF traffic, something that remains quite stressful for me coming from a town of 1,000 people. I take my first deep inhale as I step foot in the SOMArts Cultural Center where Indira’s work is featured. Her energy finds me and I am calmed, allowed to settle into good conversation. / / We find balance. The stories we tell each other weave together, withdrawing me from, yet reminding me of, my worldly cares. They evoke in me memory of myself, and they instill in me a longing to seek new. / / I spend rest of the night writing in my journal, trying to chase the thoughts that Indira provoked in me before they run too far away to be caught.
What are your roots? Where do you come from? Who are your people?
My father's people are descendant from indigenous Africans forced into chattle slavery, Cherokees living under the radar of colonialism in Bessemer City, North Carolina and Athens, Georgia and the Irish who were assimilating into an American construction of Whiteness by colluding with and participating in the hyperexploitation of Black Americans of mixed African decendancy.
My mother's people are black, descendant from multiple tribes of indigenous Africans mixed together as part of the system of American chattle slavery in colonized Cherokee, Chickasaw, Muscogee and Choctaw territories. They survived by being able to work the land before ultimately joining the Great Migration north to an industrialized Detroit.
I was born in Detroit but we moved from Michigan away from the Crack Cocaine epidemic in the 80's to Portland, Oregon where I grew up and grew to love the landscape of the PNW but not the cultural monochrome.
How did you childhood affect the work you do now?
Upon arriving in Oregon as a small girl, I was really stunned by the whiteness of it visually and culturally. I approached the outside world quietly - observing everything first before moving closer. I think this sense of perception - of the environment and of human behavior - and my experiences of trauma that were associated with both, continue to inform the current interest in language in my work.
Oregon is very different from the Bay, can you tell us about some of those differences? How does race and art interact with that?
There are more people of color here, and there is more interracial mixing and coalition building here. That is refreshing for me as a person descendant/ascendant from multiple lines. As a result of such cross-cultural allyship, there has also been a recent focus on identifying and interrupting anti-blackness within some non-black communities of color here, something I did not experience at all when in living in Oregon.
How does all of this impact art making and art viewing? I think the cross-cultural mixing contributes to a greater sense of empathy, humility and curiosity between artists of different backgrounds. Cross-cultural dialogue reminds us that there is no 'center' in other words it frustrates the production of the 'other' within larger social and political discourse. I want the conversation to shift from the view that the work of Black and Native artists 'is different from that of the cis-male European cannon' - this still centers the Eurocentric cannon and highlights our work as a deviance. Instead, it could be said that 'our works differ in some important conceptual ways from each other' - in this way, there is no cultural center (no first world or third world either) - only a multiplicity of cultures in dialogue with one another.
We have heard you work in areas of film, weaving, poetry, and even music. Can you tell us a bit more about these mediums or others? And the connection between them?
They are all ways of writing - of text production. For me, there is no difference between a bar of video footage on an editing timeline stacked on top of the corresponding audio, a line of thread in a tapestry layered atop other threads in a weaving, or a line of text stacked above other stanzas to make a poem.
With this, who and what inspires you to create?
The feeling of text inside of me that needs material performance to express itself.
What role has intersecting identities played in your life?
Well, in short I am suspicious of people who assume that there is one language or one cosmology with which to think about anything. More broadly though, I have had the unfortunate experience of having been exoticized and eroticized both by white people and people of color. I get the 'where are you from' question less here in the Bay than in Oregon, but still far too often. There are other moments where-in I realize that a person is speaking to me as if I am not also a Cherokee woman because they do not imagine a Cherokee woman or Native woman to look like me.
In this country, the 'one-drop rule' still operates in full force (even among non-black communities of color) so my Blackness often functions in society as being more racialized, more present or more potent than my Cherokee-ness. Sadly, the language of Blackness in this country does little to delineate the differences between my experience and someone who is say first generation Nigerian-American/African-American (we each have a different relationship to the continent) and the differences that Black folks with white parents and I have from each other. (I phrase it in this way because as result of the institutionalized rape of women forced into chattle slavery most Black Americans are already of mixed European background - this however differs from the experience of having a parent with white privilege in the home.)
Do you do other work not classified as "art"? How does this interact or affect your art?
I believe, as Alonzo King says (choreographer for the Alonzo Lines Ballet) that "Art is what is inside of us." Some of us have training and encouragement to express what is inside of us and some of us suffer with the inability to express what is inside of us due to a lack of material, kinetic or alphanumeric language to do so. The mundane, the quotidian details of my life might not be classified as "art" but I don't draw a line between the aesthetics I need in my life and the aesthetics of my work. The latter is, after all, born of the former!
What advice do you have for young Black and Indigenous youth? For other marginalized peoples?
The integrity and sovereignty of our bodies is literally all we have at the end of the day. Who do you share your body with? Ask yourself if your partner(s) treat your intelligence and your intuition as a Black and/or Indigenous youth of any gender as precious gift (the planet saving kind of gift). If the answer is no, know that you deserve - no require - the kind of love in your life to have the longevity necessary to do the healing work that our ancestors need for us to be doing.
How can we support you?
Thank you for asking that question - I am so *rarely* asked how I can be supported. Overall, I would be grateful for a paradigm shift regarding the prevalence of artists struggling to make ends meet - rather than blaming us for being artists and locating the problem of economic struggle in us as individuals - it would be amazing to locate the problem of financial barriers that most artists face within a larger system that benefits from our labour but insists on devaluing it monetarily.
Things that make a huge difference for me professionally are the ability to be funded - adequately paid for teaching when interfacing with non-profits and to have generous honorariums/stipends offered to me for university visits, exhibitions and artist-in-residences. Affordable studio space in the Bay Area is rare to come by and the type of loom that I have specialized training to work on - the TC-1 Jacquard loom exists only a few places in the country and to have my own to work on would be upwards of 50k. So yes, $50,000 and a space large enough for a big ol' loom and a compressor - a worktable and office space would be a dream. In the meantime, I have to rely on residencies to have the space to make my work (but without the loom I'd like).
How can we plug into your work?
instagram and twitter @indiraallegra
I'm on Facebook as well.
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Mia Ritter-Whittle is a Hasinai and Lenape student who just wants to tell stories well.
Each artist was interviewed and photographed in conjunction with the In Visible Aesthetics project, which can be fully found at: email@example.com.