There is an essay I find myself revisiting whenever I reflect on my role as an artist, a piece called “Filipinas ‘Living in a Time of War’” by Neferti Tadiar. I can sit on these sentences for what feels like hours: “The task of feminist writers and artists and critics is therefore to reinvent experiential strategies for recreating the realities we inherit and take as ‘givens.’ We can reinvent if we recognize the dimensions of our experiential practices that are not already subsumed by capitalist structures... If we look at art less in terms of representation than as practices of mediation, we can recognize the ways in which specific works might begin to alter our habitual forms of regard and release other possibilities.”
Tadiar generates a series of questions essential to any artist, Filipina or not. Which of our experiential practices subvert commodification and co-optation by existing structures? How can we name the “realities we inherit and take as 'givens,’” demystify and destabilize them by (re)staging these unlocatable practices? How can we strategize, agitate, and recreate, transform current practices of thinking, of looking, that shape and populate creative environments? How can we unsettle, reverse the gaze and look back at the theater industry itself?
Amidst an industry keen on representation and its merits, merely existing becomes taxing when the identities you claim have been historically captured, caricatured, and capitalized off of. Still, I remain steadfast in the responsibility tasked of artists, as culture workers, to demand and enact change, to “make revolution irresistible” in the words of Toni Cade Bambara. Guided by desires for humanization and care, my art unravels the ideologies which have enabled popular representations of historically oppressed bodies on U.S. stages and demands that we as a theater community imagine more for ourselves and our world. In its fluidity and form, my art aims to transform the theatrical landscape, “alter our habitual forms of regard and release other possibilities.”
As an artist I know, firsthand, that to be so moved by art can be an incredibly freeing, cathartic experience. However, I also know that to allow oneself to be moved—to be encouraged and empowered and vulnerable enough to feel—is unfortunately rare and often frightening. It is too intimate, too real, too raw. And once we are there, in this fleeting moment of catharsis, it is often lonely, too. It is isolating to feel, to come to terms with the body’s longing to be moved under a system which negates the value and necessity of it. How do we continue to generate movement, despite the odds? How do we reach outward, inspire movement in others, build alongside each other? If I am grounding myself and my art in my desire for our collective humanization, how can I position myself in relation to others? In short, the question I find myself continuously asking: how can I reach you?
This question, “how can I reach you?” flows through all the stories I am guided by, all the threads I seek to weave together, all the existing relationalities I wish to make visible. It is an enduring undercurrent which now finds itself in my own work, interspersed within and motivating the steady beat of my show, Performing Filipina. I remain hopeful about the affective work of performance, and I insist on believing in theater. My art is my stubborn, persistent hope in action: it is community building, institution dismantling, fire and fight. It is the stage, it is the rehearsal room, the classroom, the coffee shop; it is solidarity and intersectionality at all levels of the creative process. My art is humanizing work, burning with love.
- Lianah Sta. Ana, 2023