Shannon, Ananya Chatterjea, Hui Nui Wilcox, and Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley wrote a creative and critical essay together, about dance as labor, as an expression of the truth of women of color’s lives, in the new anthology CRITICAL TRANSNATIONAL FEMINIST PRAXIS, edited by Amanda Lock Swarr and Richa Nagar (SUNY Press, 2010).
The essay is titled, “So Much to Remind Us We Are Dancing on Other Peoples’ Blood: Moving Towards Artistic Excellence, Moving from Silence, Moving in Water, with Ananya Dance Theatre,” and features sections in multiple voices about our experiences carving out a safe and productive space for women of color to explore differences and similarities, learn each other’s cultural histories, and build something larger than ourselves.
Check it out, and/or buy a copy here.
We will also be presenting and discussing this piece in a panel at the upcoming NWSA (National Women’s Studies) Conference, November 11-14, in Denver.
Learn more about Ananya Dance Theatre here.
The newest edition of Ishmael Reed’s KONCH MAGAZINE features Shannon’s creative work, including one poem (“Melba Liston”), two short shorts (“Monster,” and “City of White,”) and an excerpt from her novel-in-progress (“Yasmine, 1828″).
Please check it out, and tell me what you think!
As you may have gathered, I have been woefully remiss in publishing and keeping up with my website and blog lately. Suffice it to say that it has been one of the most insane summers and falls of my life — maybe the most insane actually, although all the changes are good (got hitched, having a baby in early February, writing and teaching, etc.).
So, I am now trying to catch my website up on my publications, articles, and other assorted activities recently.
In that spirit, here is an article I wrote for the newly-minted Conducive Magazine, an online publication founded by sociologists who wanted to explore social issues and problems from progressive standpoints.
By Shannon Gibney
AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2009 CONDUCIVE
I. Some Visions I Have Seen…
How would various communities of color look and function if adults had enough education, training, and opportunity to ensure that when and if a family did encounter challenges, the local community could step in and care for the children in the least intrusive, most culturally-sensitive manner? What if families had every opportunity to remain intact and children were not removed from their midst on a regular basis?
Certainly, in such a world, the reproductive debate would be expanded to not only include the right of women to have safe abortions if they so choose, but to also raise their children in their own families and home communities.
What if families had every opportunity to remain intact and children were not removed from their midst on a regular basis?Poverty would have to be reconceived in the child welfare system as a systemic process that creates less real choices and resources for those mired in it (mostly people of color in the U.S.), rather than a moral shortcoming of certain “irresponsible” individuals. A ruling of “Neglect” would not be reason enough to terminate parental rights – community-based and elected panels would look into the causes of the neglect (which are often, though not always, catalyzed by a lack of economic and social resources).
In this world, the needs of children would be put first, rather than the needs of parents/consumers. Just as importantly, children would be seen as complex individuals whose needs far exceed those of mere survival. As a culture, we would see ourselves in our children, and recognize the web of emotional, psychological, cultural, communal, and other levels which they/we juggle every day, and which they/we will need to fully engage in order to reach their/our potential.
They (the adoptees) are also committed to exploring a collective solution that redirects the communal/spiritual disruption felt by these children toward something far more positive and far more beautiful.There would need to be a reckoning, throughout all levels and sectors of society, that race and culture do matter in America today. The public would have to recognize the notion that all any child needs is “the opportunity for a good education, a safe neighborhood, and a loving family” in order to thrive in any environment is based on the lie of a color-blind society. We have to face the painful truth that race and racism have seeped into every nook and cranny of American society – including, and perhaps most insidiously, the American family.
In this world, a Christianizing mission, and its historic role in conversion by any means necessary to the point of separating children from their parents, would be undermined. This would be accomplished via a devastating critique from the public and educational spheres, as well as through the de-funding of organizations and groups that purport to determine who is and who is not fit to parent based on a person’s adherence to a specific set of “Christian” values. The connection between Christianization, racism, and cultural genocide throughout the world (especially in indigenous communities in the U.S. and in Australia) would be made so plain that to deny it would be to deny your own heart.
children would be seen as complex individuals whose needs far exceed those of mere survivalThe sexism that women face – be it in a powerful institution such as her employer, or the church, or even from family members – would not be allowed to fester and grow in such a world. Women in every culture would have as much access to education as their male counterparts, and would be encouraged and supported in their efforts to tell their stories and present their reality. Even though she might at times feel like her choices were more limited than she would like, depending on her situation, no woman would ever feel that external forces made her either relinquish a child she wanted, or take on a burden that she could not bear alone. In short, there would be far more understanding and support for, by, and of women in this world.
II. Angle of View
Are these visions of justice so impossible in this kind of world? Are they so far off? In some ways, politicized transracial adult adoptees carry these visions with them in their minds, bodies, and spirits all the time. They embody the response to the all-too-familiar questions, “So, you believe we should get rid of adoption altogether?” or “What should we do otherwise?” Such a polarizing approach to the complicated and often contradictory process of child relinquishment and re-attachment to a new family and new community is as limiting as it is unimaginative. Has society’s angle of vision really become so narrow? Can it really only see what is already there, the mess all of us are standing in?
The visions put forth above are not the stuff of fantasy; they represent the labor, analysis, and dreams of so many people.What a collective group of adult adoptees have done is provide a space to discuss these complexities. The organizers and participants of the Pedagogy & Theatre of the Oppressed Conference look forward to continuing the political education and growing consciousness that is shedding light on the chronic problem of removing children of color from their home communities and placing them in predominantly (foreign) Caucasian ones. They are also committed to exploring a collective solution that redirects the communal/spiritual disruption felt by these children toward something far more positive and far more beautiful.
The visions put forth above are not the stuff of fantasy; they represent the labor, analysis, and dreams of so many people. Socially aware people have noted and identified the intersection of the multiple oppressions and systems of power in transracial adoption: sexism, nationalism, Christianity, militarism, racism, poverty, and so many more.
Shannon Gibney lives and works in Minneapolis, Minnesota where she teaches writing, journalism, and African American topics at Minneapolis Community & Technical College. She is a 2002 graduate of Indiana University’s MFA program in fiction, and also holds an MA in 20th Century African American literature from that institution. Gibney was awarded a 2005 Bush Artist Fellowship and the 2002 Hurston/Wright Award in fiction. Currently, she is at work on a novel that chronicles the journeys of 19th century African Americans who colonized Liberia [excerpted in Fiction on a Stick: New Stories by Minnesota Writers, (Milweed, 2008)].
In October, Shannon had the opportunity to collaborate with some wonderful visual artists and writers in the “Recipes from the Austerity Cookbook,” project — organized by Talking Image Connection, and The Soap Factory.
Three Minute Egg, a grassroots, local arts program, covered the event. Click on the story titled “Visual Literature” on the Three Minute Egg website to catch the four-minute video.
“Mad as hell”: International Theater of the Oppressed conference in Minneapolis
All photos from conference by Sheila Regan
By Sheila Regan , TC Daily Planet
May 31, 2009
The May 1 death of Augusto Boal, founder of the Theater of the Oppressed, overshadowed the 15th Annual International Pedagogy and Theater of the Oppressed (PTO) Conference, held May 18-24 at Augsburg College and nearby locations. Boal, who spent a lifetime creating a series of techniques for using theater to create social change, was honored throughout the conference, which included a memorial service for him on Saturday night. Organizers of the conference, including his son, Julian Boal, discussed how to continue the work that Boal started.
Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) was developed by Augusto Boal in the 60s and 70s, in collaboration with Brazilian teacher and activist Paulo Freire, according to the conference’s brochure. The goal of TO is “to turn spectators into actors, all participating in breaking oppression together.” Specific techniques of TO include Image Theatre, which is creating images of oppression using bodies and trying to find ways to break it; Forum Theatre, which are plays where audience members can stop the action of an issue-oriented play and make changes to break the oppression; Rainbow of Desire, which aims to identify and break internalized forms of oppression; and Legislative Theatre, which is performed by citizens in concert with members of a legislative body with the goal of passing laws to lift oppression.
This year, PTO conducted a legislative theater session with the Minneapolis City Council. Council Member Gary Schiff said that he was invited by PTO organizer Shannon Gibney to a PTO workshop in February at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC), and helped to organize a session with the council members last Wednesday. While only four council members participated in the workshop (Cam Gordon, Ralph Remington, Robert Lilligren and Gary Schiff), Schiff said that he was happy with the session, because it got community members and council members dialoguing about timely issues.
The PTO group performed scenes about youth violence, immigration, health care, and police/community relations. The audience, which included nearly 100 people including the council members, voted to particularly focus on the last scene, which dealt with not only police brutality but with the upcoming issue of whether Minneapolis will close its Complaints Investigations Unit (CIU), sending pending and future cases to the state human rights department. Schiff said it’s an issue that “we’ll be voting on in a couple of months.” He was satisfied that the scene brought the issue into the community, and allowed people to get involved in the decision making process.
“What a great crowd,” said Council Member Cam Gordon. “Great energy.” Gordon said he had never heard of Theater of the Oppressed until he received an email about the workshop. Gordon too was happy that the group decided to focus on the status of the CIU because he hopes that it will be saved.
While the individual workshops throughout the conference required a fee, many of the keynote speakers and presentations, including the legislative session at City Hall, were free and open to the public. In addition, organizers of the conference provided Spanish translators for some of the events.
Accessibility is an important issue for members of PTO because the techniques are meant to “rehearsal for revolution”, as Julian Boal quoted his father saying. On the opening night convocation, Boal said that it was important to remember that his father didn’t believe TO should be entertainment for the oppressed, but rather the practitioners of TO should “identify ourselves as oppressed.”
Choreographer Ananya Chatterjea, who spoke on Friday evening and whose dance company “Ananya”, performed on Saturday night, said that accessibility continued to be a concern for her company. Her company conducts free workshops in local schools, and struggles to provide affordable presentations for the public.
“We’ve had a huge debate with the Southern Theatre, [where Ananya regularly performs]” Chatterjea said. “There’s an assumption that the more a ticket price is, the more prestige comes with it… We’re not happy with where we’re at.”
Mad as Hell?
The theme of this year’s conference was “Mad as Hell?” and encompassed such issues as massive defunding of public education, the broken health care system, the largest disparity in student achievement rates between black and white students, affordable housing, and police brutality. In her opening remarks, Shannon Gibney said “While no one can deny the enormous political victory [of Obama’s election], the grim facts that oppress the country, indeed around the world, cannot be denied.”
In addition, speakers throughout the conference spoke of issues that they were “mad as hell” about and wanted to be able to change. Waziyatawin, a Dakota activist, said that Minnesota has a particular legacy of genocide and ethnic cleansing of Native people. “Everyone who is here today is here at the Dakota’s expense,” she said. Waziyatawin challenged the audience to reflect on Minnesota’s history, and to fight for Dakota liberation and reclamation of its homeland. She spoke of decolonization not as tweaking, but rather as overturning every existing institution that continues to oppress all peoples.
Uwemedimo Atakpo, a Nigerian playwright, spoke about his plays, which deal with the oil industry’s disastrous effects on minority populations and the environment in Nigeria. In an interview, Atakpo said that he takes his plays to the “nooks and crannies” of Nigeria, in order to influence political thought. “I have written a play against military violence,” Atakpo said, “And some [militants] have read the work and decided against violence.”
Carrying on the Legacy
Throughout the conference, Augusto Boal was spoken of with reverence. Julian Boal, his son, who choked up in his opening remarks before the session at the City Council. He told of a woman telling him: “For me, your father is a God,” to which Boal replied that he was not Jesus Christ. “There’s no inheritance to be claimed,” Boal said. “There is only inheritance to be deserved.”
Francisco Arguelles, an attendee at the conference, said that in his work as a community organizer, he observed the power of theatre to create a connection between the mind, body, and community, but he thought, too, that intellectuals and academics could be “seduced by the technique”. He said that Boal’s work has value only when it is put into practice in a concrete way, as opposed to simply being a tool for educators.
A number of attendees attested to the success of TO techniques. Liz Quinlan, a professor from Saskatchewan, Canada, said her community used Forum Theater to create dialogue and cross-cultural healing surrounding this issue of sexualized violence against aboriginal women. “We were able to come together as a community,” Quinlan said. “We put pressure on police to change their practices, and establish Aboriginal training.”
Kathy Juhl, a professor from Southwestern University in Austin, Texas, said that in her community, TO techniques were used to create awareness of environmental issues, resulting in students voting that the cafeteria dispense with the use of trays.
Throughout the conference, a diverse array of young artist/activists showed they were taking the spirit of Boal’s work and carrying it on in their own art. Hip Hop spoken word artist Tish Jones gave a particularly breathtaking performance about identity and her personal struggle with finding truth in an oppressive society.
Activist Alejandra Tobar-Alatriz pointed out the poster for the conference was created by a group of young people through the Youth Design Committee.
Arts literacy educator Jan Mandell, from Central High school in St. Paul, summed up the process of passing on the legacy of politically informed theatre: “We all get our skills from our mentors. When our mentor passes on, it becomes our responsibility to pass on what they’ve given us.”
Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis theater artist and freelance writer. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Article Tags: Minneapolis, Arts, Daily Planet Originals, Entertainment, Thea
“Every stumbling block became a steppingstone,” Liberian President
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said during a Twin Cities visit.
By ALLIE SHAH, Star
Tribune, April 11, 2009
Africa’s “Iron Lady” — Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf –
electrified a sold-out crowd Friday at the University of Minnesota,
capping weeks of excitement among local Liberians.
Sirleaf, the first woman elected to lead an African nation, is on a
national tour to promote her memoir. She used her historic stop in
Minnesota, the state with the largest Liberian population in the
country, to build support for her vision of a prosperous Liberia.
During her talk at the U’s Northrop Auditorium, Sirleaf expressed
support for permanent residency and possible dual citizenship for the
thousands of Liberians living in the U.S. who were granted special
immigration status during the country’s long civil war.
She told the crowd that as much as she wants Liberians to return and
help rebuild the country, Liberia is not ready to absorb all of them at
“While we welcome them back, we know it takes time and they’ll have to
plan it,” she said, acknowledging that many have been in the United
States for so long that they have children who were born here. The crowd
cheered in response.
A guest of the University’s Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public
Affairs, Sirleaf joined an elite group of dignitaries that has included
President Bill Clinton and the Dalai Lama. She also received an honorary
doctor of laws degree from university officials.
After her speech, she met privately with leaders of several Twin Cities
companies and colleges to discuss possible partnerships. She wants to
build a pipeline of support between Minnesota and Liberia, said Wynfred
Russell, a leader in the local Liberian community and a member of the
Minnesota group that planned Sirleaf’s visit.
Her visit has a special significance in Minnesota, which has 20,000 to
30,000 Liberians, most of them living in Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn
It also came on the heels of a decision by President Obama to extend
the deadline by a year for those Liberians living in the United States
legally on a temporary immigration status and who faced deportation last
month. Their supporters say they will now push for legislation that
would make it possible for them to attain permanent residency.
Perhaps the most memorable moment of the speech by the Iron Lady — who
joins other female world leaders to carry that nickname, including
Margaret Thatcher and Indira Gandhi — came when Humphrey Institute Dean
J. Brian Atwood asked her where she gets her courage.
“I don’t know how to answer that,” Sirleaf said, pausing.
A woman from the audience then bellowed: “Because she’s a woman!”
Atwood and Sirleaf laughed, the audience cheered and Sirleaf, waiting
for the applause to die down, finally said: “I think she said it all.”
Catherine Vonleh, of Brooklyn Center, was among the roughly 5,000 who
snagged a ticket to the event.
Her green, traditional African wrap and top had a populist touch to it
with a photo of Sirleaf plastered on the front, surrounded by the words
“First African Woman President. Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.”
“I’m wearing it with pride and dignity,” said Vonleh, who is originally
from Liberia and has been living in the United States since 1986.
A longtime fan of Sirleaf’s, she said this was the first time she’s
ever seen her speak in person and the experience was overwhelming at
times. “I cried in there today!” she said.
A group of students from St. Cloud State University were among those
who traveled to listen to Sirleaf.
“I’ve never seen a lady that powerful,” said Una Ankrah, 21, whose
parents are from Liberia. “She’s Liberian and she’s a woman. It’s
touching for me to see that. It’s very motivational.”
Added her friend, Helmie Teketay, 23: “I’m Ethiopian. She’s not just a
role model for Liberians. She’s a role model for the whole of Africa.”
Allie Shah * 612-673-4488