Manifesto 2.3 (2015)

Post Natyam Collective Manifesto 2.3

In honor of the collective’s 11th anniversary, we have revised our manifesto in dialogue with our newest member, Meena Murugesan.

Yes to process.

Yes to complexity.
Yes to hybridity.
Yes to being rooted in the local and rocking the global.
Yes to challenging aesthetic hegemonies.
Yes to interrogating our legacies.
Yes to praxis.
Yes to sustainability.
Yes to resisting market ideology.
Yes to combating exoticism orientalism colonialism racism sexism classism casteism communalism.
No to identity politics.
SHY: Wait a minute! What do we mean by identity politics? I have made work in the past about my identity and certainly don’t wish to erase acknowledging my identity in future work.
ANJ: Much like Shy, I feel I have grappled with this in past work and that we often incorporate the autobiographical into our own work.
SHY: I just hope we’re not saying no to identification at all?
CYN: Well, my discomfort with identity politics is how it often requires a flattening of our complexities — to be only Taiwanese, or only a feminist, or only a kathak dancer – in order to achieve solidarity.
MEENA: I definitely need to complicate identity because we are never one thing. I also think this is possible within identity politics, which helps me honor people’s lived experiences and grounds me in my positionality and privilege. Powerful activism is mobilized through shared and intersectional identities, and in thinking about allyship, it is important to be aware of one’s privilege in not belonging to an identity category.
CYN and BABLI: What brings us together is not primarily a shared identity but a shared interest in critically and creatively expanding South Asian performance tradition.
MEENA: Yet we share an identity as people of color, which is one of the reasons I’m here.
CYN: I also think our collective’s work has historically been women-centered and deeply engaged with postcolonial feminisms of color: our work is affected by our lived experiences of being assigned female, though not all of us identify solely as women 100% of the time.  
BABLI: I don’t think it’s about not acknowledging (our) identities and those of others. It is about acknowledging while also avoiding and critiquing exclusionary and separatist versions of identity politics. So, broken down it might be: we don’t say NO to identity, autobiography, and community – but we say YES to going beyond the politics of self-interest groups and enforcing borders around identitarian constructions.
Yes to working through our own privilege and positionality.
Yes to coalition.[1]
Yes to queering.
BABLI and CYN: Yes to queering as a verb, rather than queer as an adjective or noun.
BABLI: I think of the German word quer, which means oblique: quer can dissect, traverse, and go against the grain of everything – hence in that context, queer as referring only to sexuality narrows the word’s etymology.
SHY: For me, queer is more about sexuality and gender nonconforming identities. As an ally I do not feel I have the right to expand the usage of the word, but I do wish to support others in how they choose to explore it.
MEENA: Like Shyamala, I prefer to use the word “queering” to talk about sexuality and nonconforming gender identities. Within the North American context, queer people have fought, lived, and died to claim the word queer as an empowering term that integrates non-hetero sexualities and the radical worldviews that grow out of these lived experiences.
CYN: “Queer” — even as adjective or noun — is situational, contextual, and time-bound. In the context of Indian classical dance, we perform idealized character types, not personal identity…so for me, queering our performance traditions has more to do with shifting dominant scripts for gender and sexuality than declaring a lived reality or experience.
BABLI: Queering one’s life can also me involve integrity and commitment to those aspects of one’s (gendered/sexual) self, one’s choices and preferences that go against the norm – personal and with a political stance (which might be different from having an explicitly political goal).
CYN: Queering fucks with norms
Queering holds a middle finger up to the system
while imagining possibilities outside of the system
Queering is hopeful
Queering is generative
“Queerness is not yet here.”[2]
CYN and MEENA: Queer/ing is politically radical…
MEENA: …but I would rather say ‘subverting’ than queering when referring to radical interventions that do not address sexuality and gender.
BABLI: Queering can be poetic as well as political — a continuous going against the grain rather than individual acts of subversion as overturning a system.
Yes to radical dis/agreement.
Yes to meaningful exchange.
Yes to consensual collaboration.
CYN: Be generous. Be a thief. Encourage each other to borrow, steal, appropriate, translate. Do so fearlessly rather than tiptoeing on eggshells. Trust each other as artists and human beings.
Yes to trust.
Yes to honesty.
Yes to respect.
Yes to process without product.
Yes to an online collective process from which we each craft individual products.
CYN: From our collective dialogue, ideas manifest multiply as dance films, scholarly writing, live performance, artbooks, lecture-demonstrations, installations, workshops…
Yes to creative recycling and reusing.
Yes to open-source.
BABLI: But wait, exactly what are we saying yes to? Do we understand the implications of it? And will we really be ok with anyone just taking our work and remixing it without telling us?
SHY: I meant open-source methodology, not open-source choreography.
CYN: You know, I think we’re open-source within the collective, but not necessarily with the outside world. The term connotes creative commons, decentralization of authorship, invitation for re-appropriation, and crowd-sourcing – which do resonate with our creative process.
BABLI: We do make our choreographic assignments, process, and in-progress drafts available online publicly.
CYN: It’s like they have access to the source code and blueprints…
BABLI: …but not always the final products (if there even are any).
Yes to giving credit.
Yes to asking for credit.
Yes to supportive feedback.
Yes to reciprocity.
Yes to multiple voices, multiple aesthetics, multiple authors.
Yes to multiplying energy.
ANJ: A creative toss of ideas. Listening, processing, filtering, feeding, and vocalizing in constant dialogue to sustain and feed our sense of community.
Yes to collectively building infrastructure.
Yes to intelligent divisions of administrative labor.
BABLI: Sharing responsibility instead of multiplying work. Freeing up time and energy for creativity.
Yes to responsibility.
Yes to accountability.
Yes to healthy, balanced lives.
Yes to shared decision making. Yes to moving forward.
SHY: If you aren’t present, you can’t be heard. If you don’t communicate or contribute, you can’t expect to be included.
No to divas.
Seriously, no to divas.
ANJ: But when the shit hits the fan, we can all turn into divas. There is one living in each of us…she comes out under pressure. I’ve seen her.
MEENA: My diva is often not gendered as she!
Yes to the widest possible definition of dance.
Yes to “natyam” as a multiple-faceted performing art.[3]
BABLI and CYN: We are committed to “natyam” as a performative concept.
Yet the verbal association of “natyam” with Bharatanatyam runs the risk of privileging a particular classical form, when we are trained in, committed to, and engage with multiple forms including Kathak, Kuchipudi and Odissi.
Yes to “post.”
CYN: I do resonate with postmodern dance’s valuing of the pedestrian body, of the interdisciplinary, of art-as-everyday-life…as well as its critique of the mainstream.
BABLI: To me “post” resonates in the first place with post-colonialities. I do draw from post-structuralist thinkers. I do not really resonate with postmodern dance as a “genre” (though I like to play with some of the aspects you mentioned, Cynthia).
SHY: From our out-”posts,” we “post” our process on our blog, multiplying, layering and creating dialogue through art, and art through dialogue.
ANJ: Post is engaging in the present informed by what has come before
BABLI: We all have different associations with “post” and don’t need to agree on them.
MEENA: No to the “post” that stands for dominant notions of white postmodern dance. It is not the only place for experimentation.
Yes to experimental possibilities already embedded within non-white and non-Eurocentric genres of dance, including classical South Asian dance.
Yes to dismantling notions of “purity” and single source revisionist histories associated with classical South Asian forms.
Yes to subverting and countering hegemonic experimental dance culture.
Yes to radical imagination.
Yes to asking different questions of South Asian dance forms.
Yes to honoring, challenging, and extending our multiple traditions.
Yes to honoring and challenging each other.
Yes to Post Natyam.
© 2015
[1] In “Cartographies of Struggle: Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism,” Chandra Talpade Mohanty utilizes Benedict Anderson’s notion of an “imagined community” to think of communities of women apart from essentialized notions of race, class and gender, but as “political links we choose to make among and between struggles” (Mohanty 2003, 46). Mohanty emphasizes a coalition between women of color in the following way: a “viable oppositional alliance is a common context of struggle rather than color or racial identifications” (49).
[2] José Estebán Muñoz (2009), Cruising Utopia, 1.
[3] “Natya” or “natyam” is a Sanskrit word that refers to the inseparable conjunction of drama, dance, and music in Indian performance tradition. In contemporary times, this concept could also include film and multimedia.