Negotiating home and the legacy of loss

Posted on July 13, 2017

Reflections on Loss by APL founder Diane Roberts

Over the past few weeks I've been struggling to articulate an appropriate response to the unrelenting violence in thought word and deed directed towards us as African descended peoples. I have never been enslaved beaten nor imprisoned. Nor have I been in a life threatening altercation with a police officer. Despite this, as I watch the videos online and listen to the reports of yet another impossible to understand attack, I feel my body absorb the anger, the fear, the frustration and rage of my brothers and sisters south of the border.

I am haunted by De-Anna Reynolds, the four-year-old who was forced to comfort her mother in the backseat of a police car after witnessing the senseless death of her mother's fiancé Philando Castille. Her sweet voice, surreal amidst the terror, reminding her Mother that she's there with her and that everything's going to be ok. In one simple instinctual gesture, she echoed a Grandmother's love for a disquieted child. And I too want to believe that's it's all going to be ok.

I am bolstered by the strong voice of protest that has reverberated through the grassroots movements such as Black Lives Matter and Idle No More and I see and feel the need to stand up and scream NO MORE!

Yet there is a deeper wound that cannot be addressed through protest alone. I observe the gestures of protest, fists raised high and I can't help but notice exposed side ribs, hearts and guts. When our arms come down and we are called to speak I hear strained voices pushing to express (in the limited time given) a manifesto justifying our right to survive.

In times like these, I can't help but lament the loss of our stories, rituals, and ceremonies and wonder what we need to reclaim in order to ground ourselves in our inherited truth and power.

As an artist, I've searched for an authentic voice/body in my research and practice. It has not always been easy amidst the pressure to conform to a recognizable aesthetic or a more easily understood process.

The Arrivals Personal Legacy Process was born out of a personal longing to belong. The context for the work is, has been and will continue to be the colonized body. My motivation for doing this work comes from many years of witnessing the profound disconnect that so many artists with colonised histories in Canada experience. Separated from ourselves, our environment, and our cultural histories, we cannot discount as a contributing factor, the lingering effects of colonisation, migration, and other forces of assimilation.

The Arrivals Legacy project has answered a yearning within me to learn more about what has been lost. It releases me from the anxiety of not knowing and gives me a way of valuing the journey over the destination. This state of ‘unknowing’ is a place of strength and is what drives me forward.

When I practice the APL work, I trust my body and my spirit to guide me. Inside the work, I’m larger than life, my feet are more deeply rooted and I know that this is where I'm meant to be. I feel connected to the here and now and the there and then and the stories pour out like water.

I first discovered the Personal Legacy work when I was teaching an introduction to acting course and an African Aesthetics course at Concordia University in 2003. I was also studying African dance, drum, rhythm and voice as part of the inaugural PEFABDA program led by Zab Maboungou at Nyata-Nyata Dance.
Although I was only partially aware of it at the time, I had just embarked on what has become a rest-of-my-life-long journey to discover my voice as an interdisciplinary artist, director, and teacher rooted in my own cultural ancestry.

I invited my students, who came from diverse cultural backgrounds, to embody an ancestor at least three generations away. They were tasked to research this ancestor, as they would a character in a play, using archival and anecdotal research methods. They would then embody a compelling moment in their ancestor’s life using only 3 words and 3 resonant objects. This deceptively simple assignment seemed to reach down deep into the core of each student causing a rippling vibration through their family. It seemed that a creative core had been awakened giving them a firmer (and common) ground from which to learn their craft.
My foot on vincy soilSix years later, I found myself standing on my paternal ancestral land in St. Vincent, West Indies. I was working with a group of local artists, demonstrating the power of what I had, by then, begun to call the Personal Legacy Process. In one of my opening exercises, I asked them to imagine the little mouths on the bottom of their feet breathing and kissing the earth below and to imagine their ancestors breathing and kissing the bottoms of their feet from under the earth.

Yes? Here I was, on the earth that my ancestors walked on, and for the first time, in that moment, I began to experience what I had only imagined several times before. Home.
Although I begin from a very specific personal context, the Personal Legacy process, in its development, has revealed its universal application. I have been blessed to conduct workshops and artistic residencies across Canada and throughout the world yet I believe I've only scratched the surface in mining the potential for the APL's  reverberating impact on individuals and communities.

Evolving from its original context of performance creation, applications of the process now include community development, cultural revival, intergenerational healing, and intercultural dialogue.
There is no bypassing loss...
My story is just beginning. As I embark on this journey to discover more about my family legacy, I feel the stories pouring out: betrayal, loss, heroism, love and endurance. These stories will lead me home.

A Blog Post by Diane Roberts.

I wrote this missive to dig deeper into the origins of the APL process. I'm interested to know what others have experienced where your journeys have taken you.


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