This week, HowlRound presents #BLKARTS Presents: Black Womyn Going Dark!, a co-curated series that explores the ancestry and legacy of Black womyn in the arts featuring contemporary artists who create in multiple communities across the United States. Co-curators Erin Michelle Washington of Soul Center/ #BLKARTS, ATL and Deanna Downes of Deanna Downes Creative Consulting seek to engage a creative community of Black womyn around questions including: What new/old ways are we creating/exercising to reach new or intended audiences? How are we creating access to the research of ourselves and our ancestry? This series is the beginning of a project that aims to address these issues for, by, and with Black womyn artists. You will hear from artists across multiple disciplines using multimedia, writing, sound scores, visual arts, and other avenues in which we can expand our storytelling. These works and these womyn expand, define, and give framework for our contemporary experience of living in and through art.—Deanna Downes and Erin Michelle Washington

Afro-feminist creative collaborative Honey Pot Performance has been making work together for almost twenty years. We cultivate an approach to performance that integrates movement, theatre, and ethnographic narrative to examine the nuanced ways people negotiate identity, belonging, and difference in their lives and cultural memberships. Our multidisciplinary works forward the idea of art as a critical thinking and social justice tool and as a public forum. Our creative work comes from a decades-long collaboration in which we have honed our ways of working together: sharing conversations and writing, gathering stories and data, engaging community along the process of making for active input to shape the final work, and seeking other formats and ways to manifest our work to extend its impact and reach.

We have taken risks as well as pleasure and purpose in designing creative environments that allow each member to investigate their next potential as a performer, maker, and activator. In shared creative space, we navigate between language and embodied communication—breath, movement, song, proximity. We gather the stories of those we are sharing space with. We look for openings to dialogue when difference creates walls. As co-collaborators, we draw on each others’ strengths and assets to generate creativity. Each one of us carries the lessons and methods from our art-making together into the additional layers of our lives as educators, researchers, therapists, technicians, administrators, and creative community builders. Across these roles, we are always thinking about cultural lexicons and how we map, decipher, communicate, value, and transform with them. In this way, we are persistent advocates for performance and vernacular: everyday vocabularies as powerful sites of knowledge production and meaning-making in the world.

 Photo by Tonika Johnson / toni j photography.

Through our body of work, we have been (and continue to be) most concerned with human relationships and how we can enlist creativity as a tool to tell and show human stories—creating empathy, understanding, and holding space for difference. We urgently believe performance speaks to our lives in ways that matter: performance opens, performance questions, performance proposes and enacts alternative value systems and ways of gathering and being human together. We are also curious about the ways our creative works extend beyond the realm of performance. What are the extensions for our work as knowledge- and dialogue-convener? Dance, music, and stories live alongside maps, publications, and symposiums.

 Photo by Tonika Johnson / toni j photography.

Our newest work, ways of knowing, which will premiere in Spring 2018, is a meditation on the value and alchemy of a practice. HPP invites the public into a series of studio workshops mixing dialogue and pedagogy as we explore our hybrid ways of making. What is the craft of our creative process? What are our rituals, our come-back-to’s, our ways of sitting deep in our collective practice of making together? And how do we establish value for the kind of work we do and care about? HPP digs in to explore ideas of mastery, expertise, and value using the ensemble’s own evolving creative process as a center to build new work.

In reciprocal acts of knowledge exchange, ways of knowing asks the public to share their stories and skills of expertise with us as we share HPP’s methods of art making with them. We are inviting people from all walks of life to engage in discussion about the value of our respective tools and the skills we work to sharpen and refine through lived practice. The sharing sessions include three components:

  • Participants are invited to teach us how to do something they define as a valuable skill or practice.
  • HPP shares elements of our method/approach as we work to codify it.
  • Participants and HPP members share stories about how we know what we know and examine how our skills/knowledge are assigned value and worth.

Within these conversations and the larger work, we ask, “What defines the concepts of ‘mastery’ or ‘expertise’? How do we display power when even our discriminate usage of these terms reveals troublesome patterns, often leaving a surplus of valuable ‘other’ ways of knowing to the wayside?” And yet, mastery or expertise can also indicate the joy and magic of states of flow, of a meditative and intimate familiarity with a particular way of knowing. Labeling expertise can become an exercise in choosing sides, presiding definitions revealing conflicted notions within individuals as well as between groups. Which notions of mastery come to predominate the conversation and which are sidelined? On which criteria can we meet halfway? Which claims become our common ground?