ALYSSA MCCLENAGHAN: You mentioned yesterday, that this piece originally took shape as a live performance that you later turned it into a film installation. How does the seeming permanence of film, or the ability to have the performance viewed over and over again change the work for you?
TAJA LINDLEY: It doesn’t really. I still get emotional watching it (and performing it) because, unfortunately, it is still relevant. But what I appreciate about the medium of film is my ability to share this work with people any and everywhere. What is changing for me is the number of people I now have the capacity to reach and inspire.
AM: You said that you shot the film in one day in the generously donated space, Five Myles Gallery in Crown Heights. We spoke briefly about your ability to find the safe space in your performance of the piece. I thought performing such a heavy piece would be emotionally draining, especially in a one day shoot. Could you talk a little bit about that ability to create a space between your work and the weight it carries?
TL: My performance practice is rooted in ritual and self-directed spirituality. So when I enter, perform, and exit this work I do so with intention and care. I pray. Perform Reiki on myself and the space. I ask the universe for guidance and protection – to allow me to be an open vessel to carry this work while simultaneously not losing myself in the process. Do I get emotionally overwhelmed sometimes? Sure. But through daily ritual, I am able to create a space where I can authentically perform the work and stay grounded at the same time. And the fact of the matter is – Black people carry this weight all of the time. The constant barrage of videos of violence enacted on people in our community, and the flood of information about another life stolen makes the air thick. What I create and channel through performance is part of my reality as a Black queer woman living in America.
But even though this work requires/d a lot from me, it is also healing. I created the live performance during a time of nationwide outrage and protest when the police officers responsible for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner were not indicted for their crimes. I created this work because creativity is my medicine, it is my balm, it is how I get through, it is my protest. What I love about this “This Ain’t A Eulogy” is that it not only illuminates the tragedy of Black death, but it also features The Bag Lady who demonstrates what we need to do to heal – to transform our fury, our rage, our pain, our grief and shape it into a kind of life, into a world where our lives are valued while simultaneously honoring our ancestors through memory.
AM: The garbage bag becomes such a symbol in the work, and I think it has a multitude of layers and meanings that can be associated with it. Can you talk a bit about this choice and what layers it holds for you?
TL: I’m drawing parallels between discarded materials and the violent treatment of Black people in the United States. Trash bags are an easily identifiable symbol of garbage, and that’s exactly how Black folks have been and continue to be treated. The constant barrage of information about Black death and their murderers not facing any consequences is a bold statement from the United States that Black life is not valued. But what I love about the Bag Lady is that she makes trash her treasure. In the film she not only commands the material and makes it come alive, she has also fashioned a headdress – a symbol of divine/goddess power, and a collection of her people (memory). Every black bag represents a Black life to me. So when I decorate them ornately through costume and installation, this is my way of honoring the dead. This remix, this re-purposing is alchemy, and Black folks have had to do that for centuries under conditions and circumstances of oppression. The remix of language, food and religion is a Black cultural practice and, and it is also a hip hop technology. The Bag Lady is the latest manifestation of that legacy.
AM: There have been some major political shifts since the work first debuted in 2015, how does this change the work for you?
TL: This work began as a way for me to process the incessant and growing number of unarmed Black people killed by the police. As I perform and develop this body of work, I’ve come to discover how applicable it is to other folks too. Incarceration rates, immigration policy and health disparities are just a few examples that demonstrate the de-valuing of Black lives, and the lives of other people of color. So while this work begins with unarmed Black people killed by the police, it does not end there.
AM: And lastly, could you talk a bit about out your new show “The Bag Lady Manifesta”.
TL: The Bag Lady Manifesta is a collection of performance rituals (including “This Ain’t A Eulogy”) that fashion an immersive and intimate one-woman show. The audience gets to experience and learn from/about The Bag Lady – a living Sankofa, a Goddess-like figure who is preaching an urgent theology of memory. The show will debut at Dixon Place in September 2017.
To view more works by Taja Lindley online click here.
This Ain’t A Eulogy: A Ritual For Re-Membering is on view at SPRING/BREAK Art Show, Room 2249, through March 6th, 11-6pm.
Alyssa McClenaghan is an artist and writer currently splitting her time between Brooklyn and Upstate New York. She maintains a studio practice out of Troy, NY.