EARTH
BODIES


SARAH MAY TAYLOR & D’BI. YOUNG ANITAFRIKA


INTRODUCTION:


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.


SARAH TAYLOR:

I saw the theme of your PhD process “We cannot live without our lives, an auto ethnography of trauma and recovery in Black women's theatre.” How did you decide on that very specific focus, and what are you learning from your research?
d’bi: 

It's being refined all the time, but I'm so proud of it. Right now, it’s an auto ethnography of trauma and transformation in Black women's theatre” being “carried out through a three-part nationwide inquiry, beginning with an in depth survey, followed by structured interviews and culminating in a series of workshops.

Firstly, it investigates Black women's exposure to toxic stress in the form of anti-Black racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, and xenophobia throughout our student and professional careers in Canadian theatre, and the impact of these intersecting oppressions on our personal and professional lives. Secondly, it explores how we metabolize experiences of generational child and adulthood trauma through our theatre practice, and how that metabolization contributes to our formulations of personhood, practice, and pedagogy. Finally, in an attempt to address the dearth of trauma-informed decolonizing pedagogies, it seeks to investigate the application of the Anitafrika method as a feminist, psychosomatic intervention and Black Indigenous devising praxis that centres Black women's wellbeing and creativity, providing a body-mind framework through which Black women can reembody, creatively express, and affect lasting change within the larger Canadian theatre ecology.

I'm excited about it because it took me a long time to realize that I could give myself permission to expand from the intimate into the expansive, and I think some of my own fears were preventing me from realizing my vision was myopic. We've not had a Canada wide study of Black women in theatre and that's what needs to happen. After that, we take them through the method so they can create their own work. In that way, we're testing our own models on ourselves. The PhD, as an auto ethnography, will allow me to talk about my own journey as a maker and the relationship between the work and the trauma, and how I've used the Anitafrika Method as a way to navigate through that process. It’s what I love about auto ethnography, that we are the ethnographers, doing the work on ourselves from an insider's perspective. 

The Black women theatre makers who are creating their own methods, but haven't given their processes, a language, a name—they have a right to do that. The PhD gives me space to support them through that, identifying their own methodologies, the things that they may take for granted as a part of what they do. They are practicing, as it was with the women who taught me, without naming anything; but they are furthering knowledge and it should be named as such. I have the opportunity to name what I do and distil what I've learned. These women deserve that opportunity too, so they may pass it on to whomever is coming afterwards. That's how we've survived. We do that over and over again, without naming it. It’s an old tradition of human beings.

SARAH TAYLOR:

Especially women. Especially Black women.

d’bi:

Yes, absolutely.

SARAH TAYLOR:

I love that it's a framework for survival and healing through this process that protects collectively. That is so beautiful. You're talking specifically about theatre, but I can't help thinking this is such practical work, so who is the method for?

d’bi:

The method is for everyone. I tweak the definition depending on who I'm sending it to, in the same way I’ve adjusted to saying practitioners instead of performers; but ultimately, it's a people's method.

Which is why anybody can come to my residency. People have always assumed because I'm unapologetic about being Black, queer, and feminist, that d’bi only teaches Black, queer, feminists, which has never been true. My spaces have always been a reflection of Toronto, in all its magnificence. But for people who aren't actually in my space, they have all these narratives about what I do and who I do it with. I think that's because at the nucleus the work is talking about liberation; and my speaking from a very particular place, being Black and queer, and a feminist.


SARAH TAYLOR:

I think about you leaving Canada to work on this process that you're in right now. You have an international lens on your work, but I don't think it is always present. I feel like maybe Canada is catching up a little bit now. I wonder how you feel about that.

d’bi: 

It is wild. That international lens comes directly out of Pan-Africanism. In Jamaica, when I was growing up with my mom and her friends, those folks were always having conversations about liberation on an international level.

Anybody who studies the history of revolution, immediately sees that revolution is not confined to one set of people. Look at these protests happening globally; that is not new. Revolution has always been all the people. Depending on what the movement is, usually led by the people who are most impacted, as it should be, but these narratives around purity are colonial approaches to change. The internal conversations are important and necessary, but participation in justice movements has always involved people across the spectrum.

The invention of racism was because the bourgeoisie (let's just call them ‘the wealth’), recognized that there was class solidarity amongst Black and Indigenous peoples and poor white folks. In those very early days of enslavement there were those who were stolen but also those who were poor, like the Irish. If you look into European history, you will see that they’ve been traumatizing each other for centuries. They're applying their hierarchical theories using racism as a codification to destroy solidarity between peoples experiencing similar violence and degradation.

They tell the poorer Europeans we'll give you some land and recognize you as white to ‘elevate’ you above the Black and Indigenous communities and as a result, rupture the possibilities of naturally occurring allyships. These legacies that we've inherited are lots and lots of illusions. It's so crucial that as we find ourselves, we understand what has gone on before. So, we can recognize when it's repeating itself and call it out, but also that we can push back against their schemes of domination, when they try to tell us who we can be a part of, who we can be with, and who our families are.

And while we're having these very difficult conversations and actions around real systemic racism, we must also remember our collective humanity—it cannot be one or the other. That's not about liberation. It cannot be that if you remember our collective humanity, that it makes you not pure enough to fight certain revolutionary struggles or to buy into these models of hierarchy.

I'm not saying that the entire wealth class entertains ideas of domination and supremacy. However, whomever they are across colour lines, I think it is a responsibility for them to consider the impact of their massive accruing of resources on the rest of the planet. If I were wealthy, I would be thinking about that. The narrative that the meaning of life is to pursue wealth is fuckery. To steal people's beingness from them, to rob each of us of our beingness, and replace that with this narrative that the point of living is to hoard wealth is an atrocity and an assault on our humanity. It's very difficult, it is such a seductive narrative. It's very difficult for us to come back into ourselves to understand a sense of value when we're leading economically humble lives. People feel like they're failures because they lead economically humble lives because this is the madness of Western supremacy.

Oh my god, I tell you, it's so thick, so thick, so thick.

SARAH TAYLOR:

I agree. But it's necessary learning and unlearning and constant repositioning. We're talking so much about women, what does your mother think about all of this work that you're doing? And what is her opinion of her continued legacy via your work?

d’bi:

My mom has always been there for me, even when she doesn't agree, and that's a big deal. She still shows up. She gave me the rent money for my first theatre. I was pregnant. I told her “I want to start a theatre”. She said, “What are you talking about? You're pregnant and you don't have a job, you just left Soulpepper. What are you talking about? You just resigned and you're pregnant. Okay, here's the money”. Fully gave me the $1,000 so I could walk in, off the street, to this beautiful space in Liberty village. Then it was “What are you doing? You're pregnant and you don't even have money? You can only give me one month's rent. Why am I renting to you?” I told her what I wanted to do and she said, “Oh, God, okay.”

SARAH TAYLOR:

“I'll do it.”

d’bi:

Two weeks before I'm supposed to start at University of Toronto for my undergrad I tell her, “I don't want to be in Toronto anymore. I'm 19 I want to move to Montreal”, she said, “What are you talking about? You don't know anybody in Montreal? It's two weeks? Okay, I'll give you the money.”  She gives me the rent money, my dad drives me to Montreal, to sign up at McGill. I called her from Corsica. I've dropped out of school, to go and move to Corsica with my girlfriend, and I call her—broke. That call has happened many times because I've lived all over the world. I've called my mom broke, and said “I don't have any money. Can you wire me some money?” Yeah, my mom's been there in that way. She's been there for the art and she's been there for the economics. She's been there for the crying at night. The, “Mom, I'm feeling suicidal” midnight call. In all context, she's been there, but our relationship has not been easy.

During the pandemic she called me one day and said, “I want to take your method.” And I said, “You want to what now?” She said “I want to take your method. You've been telling me that you're running a three-month method free online. And I want to be one of the people who takes it.” I had designed and offered an online drop-in residency at the beginning of the pandemic so people could just drop in randomly, but then that led to something more structured, where attendees could agree to come for six weeks (which turned into three months) to receive a scholarship. Before it started, my mom asked to be one of the scholarship recipients and she participated in the whole program.

So my mom's in the classes where I'm teaching the work that's based on her work, and she says to me, “I want to be a student. You have to refer to me as one of your students, not ‘Mommy’. I want to be an artist in the class.” When she finished the program, she said to me, “You just saved my life, I was dying, and you saved my life.” I wept. She changed her eating 360 degrees. She changed her sleeping patterns. She changed her whole mental and emotional state. Everything changed. I said, “Mom, did you ever think that what you were writing on Dub in theatre school could ever come to this?” She said, “No way”, but if you read the dedication in her paper, it says “to Trudy-Ann,”—which is what my mom named me—“who needs to understand.” This  led to her telling me, “You now understand, you've gotten it. Not only have you gotten it, but you've surpassed it.” Now my mom and I, our relationship is complete. Our relationship is what it was when I was growing up in Jamaica. It's that in a mature, adult way.

Before that happened, I had been thinking, d’bi, you need to let go of this, waiting for the ultimate approval. You need to let that shit go because I don't think it’s coming and that ties you. So, I let it go; I accepted what we are and what we have as good enough, then out of nowhere that circle just came all the way around.


SARAH TAYLOR:

That is one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard. I wonder now when you look, because there is this fallacy of women who are superhuman and can do all these things, how has this affected you and your boys?

d’bi:

The boys were with her for two years while I did my masters and prepped for the PhD so they only came here in September. She took them for two years so that I could pursue postgraduate studies when I felt like it, and it was hard for her because my boys aren’t easy.



SARAH TAYLOR:

When you name them Moon and Phoenix, I'm sure...

d’bi:

This idea that the romantic means easy or the romantic means pure valleys, it's not that— it’s hard. I cannot even stress that enough. It is so difficult. That's how I learned, and the learning doesn't make it any easier.

The other circle that made me go, “Nah, there must be something going on in the ether,” is I got a call from Weyni Mengesha, a good friend I went to Soulpepper with. She’s now their artistic director, and she called me and said, “Can you come and be? Can you be the principal of the new Academy?” I don’t believe it. So here I am the Director of Curriculum design and pedagogy at the new Soulpepper Academy. And what is the pedagogical framework? The Anitafrika Method. People think that I'm lying if I tell them this.


SARAH TAYLOR:


It's your own life saving recovery method from the damage that was originally caused by these same spaces? Okay!

d’bi:

On Monday, I start teaching. We've been planning since September of last year. And on Monday, I start teaching the method to the incoming cohort of Soulpepper. And the entire structure of the Academy is founded in the method.

SARAH TAYLOR:


It’s going to be a book, right? You're going to write, and this is going to be a book?

d’bi:


Madness right now. I'm just trying to get through this PhD, but, yes, I think that's coming around. I feel whatever book I write will start with the method, and jump back to the past and maybe end with starting the academy? That's the arc. For sure.


SARAH TAYLOR:


You are an amazing lady, who are the women giving you life right now? Who inspires you? And what are you most hopeful about?

d’bi:


I just finished reading this book that had a profound impact on me, and how I'm conceptualizing the PhD, by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, called The Deepest Well. The work she does is around the Adverse Childhood Experiences and toxic Stress (ACES) study, and for that knowing to be finally corroborated by scientific study means that we can continue this incredibly important conversation. I also just finished The Body Is Not An Apology, by Sonya Renee Taylor, that one is still ringing in my ear. Much of the reading I'm doing is for the PhD, but as the PhD is about my life, and the lives of Black women practitioners, it's changing me and it's changing the method. I feel it's focusing the method in ways that only research and looking at other people's perspectives can. I just finished reading My Grandmother's Hands by Resmaa Menakem again. Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery also rocked my world. I like to go into the forest where I live, put on my headphones, and listen to the audiobook versions as well. I still use hard copies for referencing but I like being able to experience the work in this way.


SARAH TAYLOR:


I do this too! I like to let the author read it to me.

d’bi:


It spoils you, doesn't it? I go on these epic two to three hour walks every single day for the last month, through the forest where I live and I listen. It helps me to process the material because it’s so challenging and triggering. I find that when I walk in the forest, and I'm amongst the trees, there's a psychosomatic healing that's happening and I can process the material. So that's what I've been doing.


There are some other authors as well, like Bessel van der Kolk, who wrote The Body Keeps The Score, which is really crucial. Another author I like is Gabor Maté. His work, Scattered Minds, which I’d read previously, is about ADD. It’s helped me understand my own challenges with concentration and being able to tie those back to childhood experiences has allowed me to contextualize how I move through my day-to-day. I'm also completing his Compassionate Inquiry course, as another part of understanding trauma. Most of the research right now is focused on understanding how trauma works in the body, and honing in on how it works in my body. Using that, I'm going to interview the practitioners and talk with them about how they’ve experienced trauma and transformation in their bodies.


LINKS

D’bi. Young Anitafrika
︎  website
︎  instagram