Earth Bodies


Sarah May Taylor and d’bi.young anitafrika


DECOLONIAL SCHOLAR d’bi.young anitafrika

The Anitafrika Method

The Anitafrika Method is an integrative, critically-reflexive, trauma-informed, decolonial framework used to support the growth and development of artists, educators, innovators and leaders. It is a practitioner-centred arts-based intervention that nurtures self-transformation, creative expression & community embodiment.
Created by d’bi.young anitafrika from the Dub theory of her mother—pioneer Dub poet Anita Stewart—the Anitafrika Method is grounded in nine fundamental principles: Self-Knowledge, Orality, Language, Politics, Rhythm, Urgency, Sacredness, Integrity and Experience, explored through the Physical, Emotional, Mental, Creative, Exchange, Spiritual, Community, Energy, and Earth Bodies.

In Conversation

I completed my undergrad thesis this summer and I cited you heavily.

I’d love to read it! I might even quote it because I'm looking for Black female practitioners to use in my work. We gotta put our work out there.


How is today going for you? 
Today feels... multiplicitous. I'm feeling many things, including weariness, excitement, nostalgia, a deep connection to my imagination and the way it brings me hope. At the same time, I feel a grounded sense of connection to my research with the knowledge that I am exactly where I am, even though that feels uncomfortable at times.

Can you tell us about your experiences coming up in Jamaica, and also in Toronto, and when art became so connected to ideas of survival for you?

Everything is always changing. The work I’m doing in the UK is allowing me to reframe how I see the past and challenge me to query my own coloniality and how that shaped what has happened to me in my life. There is so much unlearning.

I say that with a sense of deep breath and a bit of weariness. The storyteller controls the narrative so I grew up being informed by my mother and her communities in Jamaica. This is not a new concept. I can see how I have accepted certain narratives that were told to me specifically around our sense of hopeless and helplessness.

My reframing tells me that who I am now is grounded in those, at times challenging, experiences from Jamaica. I am really in love with who I am now, someone navigating the impact of embodied joy and pain every single day. It makes me choose to reflect through many more layered lenses from this perspective.

I grew up working class in Jamaica, with a brilliant storyteller mother, who had me at 15. My grandmother was a domestic laborer. And my aunts were women who also had children early. So I grew up with my cousins. And that provided a very joyous, playful, timeless, magical upbringing, in a world of poetry, music, theater, activism. Jamaica is as colorful as every color that exists.

I also grew up at the edge of all forms of violence- psychological, physical, emotional- from the time I was in the womb. My experience was very complex and I'm grateful for that. I'm still understanding what the hell that means for my art practice or the way I choose to love people or how I show up in my daily life, and for this method that I've created, which essentially comes out of wanting to understand what the hell happened in childhood.

I feel like people would watch you on stage or people who might be a student of yours assume that you have it all figured out. So it’s a beautiful thing to have this be a part of your work. You're laughing, but really, I guess that's also you being a master storyteller as well, too. A performer, and a survivor.
Yeah. Yeah, I came to do this PhD because I want and need to study what it means to be a storyteller. This curiosity is not going anywhere. I'm 43. Yet I feel like a child because I'm only now understanding that child freakin’ saved my life. This relationship is at the core of my survival and thrival. This relationship with this young person within me who refuses to accept the fucked up narratives that are still embodied in me somewhere.

A lot of us are thinking and rethinking what it means to participate in the decolonization of our own methodologies, practices, and hopefully, our lives. How have the conceptions of those ideas shifted for you in this last year?

There are two people I identified with most that everybody identified with: Debbie Allen and Leroy. Debbie Allen is the teacher I wanted to be. Leroy is the performer I wanted to be.

This space of performer, teacher and teacher, performer is something my mother modeled. This is not an original idea.

My mother is an arts teacher, poet, and playwright. At five years old, I saw her in a German monodrama called Request Concert for the first time. It’s imprinted upon my DNA. It's a silent piece about this woman living alone. The audience is stationed in her apartment and watches her deal with her solitude which culminates in her killing herself. Imagine this. I saw the performance at five. My mother played this role and all that it triggered: The performance, the embodiment, the loneliness, the madness. I can feel my young self in that space and all the other selves throughout the years, trying to understand the magnitude of what we witnessed; it never left me.

My dream came true being invited to the most prestigious theatre school in the country, Soulpepper in 2005. I noticed the microaggressions, the homophobia, the racism, the classism, the misogyny during my time there. My experience there was multifold because on one hand, I was having the experience of being with a company of people who worshiped storytelling and took their craft seriously. I was learning.

On the other hand, I was also in a space that slowly, like a fucking eraser over a drawing, erased over my identities. I'm being prepped to become something in Canada. I'm being prepped to occupy this rare space of Black, tokenistic excellence. And a part of me wants that so I don't feel outside the system. I want to be celebrated and blah, blah, blah.

The other part of me is my critical, political, feminist, queer self, that was raised by my mother and Black women. She kepts asking, what the fuck is going on? I couldn't just suck we say back home. I resigned and went into a serious depression. I lost so much.

I gained a lot too. I started thinking about what I have been my mother, by my aunties. This impulse to teach always returns to me. So in the midst of this depression, I began teaching young people at the ArtStarts Dubbing Theater program. It was within that program that I started to build the framework for the method through popular theatre techniques I was taught by my mother, by Audrey, by Janet.

This was around 2007. I distilled much of what I had learned through my mother's thesis, from oppression workshops to the joy program, and began to document the oral and transmit that knowledge to young people.

You get a chance to expand on whatever you're developing when facilitating with brilliant people in the room. It creates this third space, this meeting of ideas and experiences. I didn’t even have the language to articulate the experience and what was occurring in teaching the ArtStarts folks so I created a book for this. This led to the development Anitafrika Dub Theatre, this colonial feminist queer framework was unfolding organically through the circle.

This happens organically because of Indigenous knowledge systems that are embedded within us, and that we practice day to day but that seem intangible because they're not being named in language. These psychosomatic therapeutic tools that we continue to codify and describe up until the present moment. We're talking 1000s of hours.

And hundreds of artists…
And hundreds of artists from all around the world. This is what I’ve been doing since leaving Soulpepper.

You come from this long heritage of orality and spoken word. How is it that things become imagined and real when you speak them into power?
One of the most exciting things in my practice is to work with other artists and support them as they unfold their own magic. It's the deepest, most profound process to watch as another human being realizes that they are a unique expression of what it means to be human.

When they begin to realize that, these standardizations are like codifications that people have chosen to do in order to protect their own versions of reality. But when people begin to realize that actually, you, I, and whomever else exists, in our own uniqueness, that flowers blossom.

This is what I chose my purpose to be. To help myself not forget. I have to remember not to help us not be erased again.

When I think about your method, elements like self knowledge, politics, orality, language, rhythm, urgency, sacredness, integrity, and experience, it feels like practicality on a next level, and the way that we look at art is quite colonial and very classist and elitist. We sequester these special chosen people into this place where they are suddenly special. Meanwhile they actually have the ability to access what you've mentioned before, which is Indigenous knowledge.
Every body, literally every body is life. Whether that body comes with the limbs, that we think are the ones that shouldn't be there, or that body comes in tones, and skin colors that we feel are acceptable, or that body has roots into the ground and reaches up to the sun.

It is ridiculous the way we have succumbed to the myopic narratives of a few.

I am one expression, one unique expression of what it means to be human. I don't have to fight for space. I don't have to engage in a fight for space. I keep recentering myself from that knowledge as opposed to seeing myself from the centered place of whiteness where I fight for space.

I come back to, d’bi, you are one dot on this seven billion. You are entitled to that little fine space. That what decolonizing represents, for me, that kind of access.

Now, you mentioned speaking these realities. There is something that happens in the wind when you speak of these realities. Let us not forget that the way that we interpret all that we see, all that we consider to be this physical world is nothing but an interpretation. You and I may not actually exist like this.

Don't get too deep, now.
There's a bird's eye view and an embodied view. But it can't be just one or the other. In the embodied view, I am dealing with racism and yet, from the bird's eye, you see them people who existed on the face of the planet many years ago. Them dead. Their ancestors, them still dead.

We will join them in the ancestral room. That's a very humbling reality that I come back to. And I come back to the fact that what we understand to be human races is a complete mythology. We're getting so deep in colorism but let us also remember that we come from the one set of people who survived to become what we understand to be who we are right now. I don't believe in these domination, superiority theories because them no make no kind of sense.

Sometimes, Sarah, we have to just call bullshit, bullshit. This method is very much about helping the practitioner to recognize that what we speak out co-creates the world in which we live beyond what we see. It is magical. It is. I'm heavy on the magic.

Welcome to the truth, vulnerability, and endless pain of that experience. I can understand why a lot of people like to avoid it.

We're all going through this place of real change that is affecting us all. But we're also in the age of slacktivism, call out culture, virtue signaling, and all of that. How do you feel that affects social practice in art?
I am developing a real respect for people's choices. The pandemic has given me an opportunity to listen and observe. When I listen and observe, what I hear is everyone is making choices.

Sarah, everyone is making choices based on their interpretation of what they feel is necessary and how they choose to participate, what it is that they desire, and how they're positioning themselves in relation to other people.

Now, some people choose to participate in cancel culture, for their reasons. Some people choose to write theory, without practice, for their reasons. Some people choose to be a part of wide scale popular movements, putting their bodies on the line for social change, for their reasons. Some people choose to publish books, and give information that they've researched and that they can make money from, for their reasons. I am centered in the process of me, as opposed to self centered in relation to other people. I'm in my body. I'm experiencing this life from my lens and my perspective, and so are other people. Now, Sarah, I, d’bi, make my choices for my reasons. And those choices are the ones that I'm interested in understanding.

I am still curious about how you move with other, especially inexperienced artists, in helping them to access this place of love, and radical honesty.
Yeah, with a lot of compassion.

And it could come from a place of anger. It could come from a lot of other emotions. And for me, anger is very helpful as it moves. But I can see that so much of your work is actually grounded in love and radical honesty.
Yeah, I know, I love anger, too. I love me some anger, absolutely. But I guess what I am learning over the years is if I were to strip all the theoretical perspectives away, Sarah, what do you most want? If everything was stripped away, and it really was just you and a bunch of folks, what would you want?

Radical connection. Like embarrassing, unabashedly, naked connection, real connection. Yeah.
Yeah. So when I enter a space with another artist, that's the most important idea, philosophy, framework, lens, perspective that I carry. Regardless of where they say they’re at, I go into the room with that artist thinking, this artist, this human being, wants connection, understanding, love. And I facilitate from that perspective, why? Because that's what I want. The method is built around questions that will help the artists to uncover that.

You directed Jah in the Ever-Expanding Song, written by Kaie Kellough, featuring Ravyn Wngz. Can you talk about how this is timely, to this moment?
That project is, when I talk about magic, oh, my God, magic happens. There are projects that have just grown up out of the soil in the last few months that embody mad tingz, this circularity. Kaie, who wrote the piece, and I came of age in Montreal in the late 1990s, early 2000s. We're homies, have curated poetry shows together. True homies. We lost touch for years and years, like, two decades. Then I saw him out of the blue at a conference in Europe that we were both presenting at. A few months later, I got a call from Obsidian [Theatre] about the project. So already, I asked, what is this circularity? And I read what it was and I just thought, ancestors... ancestors, I don't even know what to feel right now.

The piece is founded in dub and the character is an activist dealing with the present moment, the mounting of a statue. It’s Ravyn, who is also my homie. So the four of us in the room is pure magic. Special. And so the content, the people, the timing, everything, made it such a soil for the method. And I use the method to work through the dramaturgical directorial process. And because it was grounded in dub, it allowed me to reach back into the works of those ancestors, who lay the foundation. So it ended up being this emotional, intellectual, psychological, professional project, which felt holistic in a way that I'd actually never experienced before because all the bodies were accounted for and healing was happening in all the bodies. And because the project was so well organized and supported by Obsidian Theatre and the communities around it. It gave us room to simply be practitioners in space. Oh, my, I had never experienced that much energy before.

That project was a first for me. It brought together new pieces around the method from a holistic entry point. I ended up writing a director's note that tied this history, activism, and art together. So you should check out the director's note.

It's beautiful. I can't imagine what it would be like if you were really in the room, I feel like it would be such an intense experience. It's like watching a dream. It's so beautiful. It's like a beautiful dream.
That's what we're going for. That's what we were going for, a dream. I wanted it to feel like a dream. The team was so big and it blew me away. Each person brings their own expertise and working collaboratively without the power hierarchies of colonization, but listening to each other and contributing is what resulted in what you see, magic. Like pure magic.

A natural process that’s uninterrupted.


d’bi.young anitafrika