Vp Issue 7: “'What’s YOUR Platform?' To be a performance artist"

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Vp Issue 7: “'What’s YOUR Platform?' To be a performance artist"

their internal experience of self.

The moving and often funny performance, which Henry quite fittingly refers as “an ode to butchness,” chronicles the lives of three black, masculine, female-bodied people as they delve into memory and powerfully expose the audience to the diversity of their identities. Henry, who plays all three characters, morphs alternately from the confident bravado of Keith, to the beleaguered LaShawnda, to his proud and assertive self, each time struggling to be more fully seen and understood. While not all of the characters find their happy endings as they endeavor to name and accept themselves in a world that doesn’t always reach out with open arms, the message is made clear that life can be full of strength, beauty, and hope.

Having completed B4T during his first of a two-year stint as artist-in-residence at the Brooklyn Art Exchange (BAX), Henry has since performed it before sold-out audiences across the country, gaining much deserved praise and a place at the forefront of cutting-edge queer theater. The experience of touring, and the warm welcome he has received for his work, allied him further to his already fervent belief in the value of community.

“People are isolated. I’m isolated and I live in New York!” he says. And yet he has seen people mobilize and organize to bring him to their campuses and communities, so that this previously silenced voice can be shared. In return, he readily offers his support to local efforts, be it an anti-war rally or advocating for better working or living conditions. After all, he argues, “These concerns are all interconnected.” His goal, in performance as well as in the activist work he does with agencies ranging from the International Action Center to Rainbow Flags for Mumia, is about breaching the divide, envisioning and realizing solidarity for collective action.

Now in his final months with BAX, Henry is putting the finishing touches on a new piece, Living in the Light, which again stresses the value and power of community. Giving voice to another aspect of Henry’s identity, this time his Afro-Caribbean heritage, Living in the Light will likely prove itself as profound and accessible as his previous works. Speaking of the largely Caribbean, immigrant community of East Flatbush, Brooklyn, that served as inspiration, Henry emphatically exclaims, “I love my neighborhood. I can be depressed in my littlehouse and come outside and say, okay, life is okay.”

Since discovering this new and comfortable space to call home, he has endeavored to better understand the experience of his arrival, not only for himself but also for the generations that came before and will follow. One of the intentions of Living in the Light is to facilitate our reflection on the legacy of slavery. In speaking of the performance’s development, Henry says he repeatedly asked, “To get to this end of the world, we were forced here…so what does that mean in the present day, right here?” Again using multiple layers of character and experience, he contemplates this question, traveling from a slave ship off Africa, to the cane fields of the Caribbean, to the sights, smells, and sounds of the bustling streets of East Flatbush. In these times of far too much “reality” and not enough truth, Imani Henry’s engaging portrayals of true human experience as it fits into our broader global community is a welcomed treasure. Without a doubt, Henry will continue to push the bounds of performance art, just as he pushes the bounds of his own identity.

For more information on Imani Henry and his upcoming performances: www.geocities.com/imani_henry.