Friday, June 1, 2012

THREE FURIES - The project begins

Click to go to Three Furies Blog
When I was commissioned by UK Arts International and the British Council to create a Spoken Word piece with Dutch MC Clara Opoku and South African poet Mbali Vilakazi, I was concerned about Travelling Light because I was raw from coming out of three serious family situations - a bad patch with my Mum (we hadn't spoken for months),  my Grandpa had passed at the ripe old age of 96, and my Grandma had fallen seriously ill and had been in hospital for about 2 months. It couldn't be any worse for the development of an autobiographical show about 3 generations of women.  It was not a time for questions about their past lives when they were just managing to hold on to the present ones.

As I held it together, I realised that I was angry about a lot of things - that I had been neglecting to exercise and exorcise my feelings about my fraught mother/daughter relationship and about not having the time I wanted to spend with my newly found family, especially my Grandma, due to a hectic and demanding freelance artist workload. I had also not had any time to reflect on my new identity as Niece to my Aunts and Uncles and Auntie to my nieces and nephews now that I had found them. My head hurt getting frustrated about it.

The  story of the Three Furies or the Erinnyes (The Kindly Ones) is an enlightening dramatic inquiry of Ancient Greek mythology into Justice, Humanity and Transformation as these daemons/Goddesses are summoned to unleash retribution  for abuses, murder and injustice done to  family. 
"Tisiphone (tis-if-oh-nee) is the "blood avenger," the punisher of murder and crimes against family. Alecto's name means "unceasing anger." Megaera (mah-ger-ah) is called the "jealous one," is especially peeved about adultery." - [source] 

Once they are summoned the matter is taken from your hands because it is they who decided what the punishment will be
for the perpetrator. It is they who provide the yard stick to measure how far from humanity society has travelled. It is they who bring about a change in societal attitude and acceptance of heinous wrong doings to the foundations of humanity - those done to the Family. The challenge for me was deciding whether I thought society and the justice system had become too lenient on abusers of women, children and those who threatened a secure family environment. Is this the case?

The Three Furies are always depicted as horrific in appearance.

"These Erinnyes are crones with snakes for hair, dogs' heads, coal-black bodies, bats' wings, and bloodshot eyes. In their hands they carry brass-studded scourges and their victims die in torment." -[source]

Contemporary images presently portray them as sexy vamps with bad tempers, liable to make you spontaneously combust with their titillating torment. I asked why do they have to look so freakish, as terrifying hags and now, as sexual seductress fantasies to be tamed? Why is women's anger portrayed as ugly, snarling and irrational or sexy because it's fiery? When will attitudes towards women's anger grow up and be taken seriously? People, women, are dying because their fury is toyed with rather than acknowledged and engaged with.

I then had to question: amongst all the Greek and Eurocentric appropriations of women's fury, where were there representations of it in cultures of brown skinned people? Where were the myths and stories representing African and Caribbean women? I discovered the Spirit of Yemanja - daugther of Obatala and mother of Ogun, two heavy weights in the Brazilian religion of Condombl√© rooted in the amalgamation of the ancient tradition of West African Orisha worship and Catholicism.  She is Mother of the Ocean, of  Life as all life sprung from the sea. Yemanja has the capacity to switch when she is riled enough and it is her fury that interested me greatly because Yemanja is rounded. She is life and she can bring death.

"From mother, provider, teacher, in possession of secrets of the depths of the Ocean to an incredibly forceful destructiveness personified by Hurricanes, it is one of the foundational energies of Ifa." - [source]
More on this later.

Then came the analysis of the perception of black women and their anger. There are too many stereotypical images of neck-swivelling, finger snapping, sassy mouthed women of colour spoken of with equal disdain within the African-Caribbean community itself. We are seen as difficult and high maintenance.

Sometimes, there are no words when all the appropriate buttons that ignite your full fury have been pushed and having been an angry young black woman who has railed at the sun, the moon and the stars when no-one else was listening, cursing the universe for destining me into existence, I am curious how I did process some of that anger unknowingly. I was holding tension in my body, suffering severe back pain for years, getting sore throats from non-vocalisation of my needs, and  I had no real outlet except the gym to vent but gyms were full of other peoples aggression. Not for me. Yoga was not going to cut it because this process wasn't about placating the anger, it was about channeling it.
My mouth has turned the air red and blue with profanities when my anger did combust from the pressure of  past hurts and I've beaten myself up for not assimilating 'correctly' till I was a cardboard cut out of my Self. I writhed in this murky crystal casing cast from history books of what a woman of African descent was supposed to be: not here. It would be easier, wouldn't it? If I were not here. That's what it felt like... and I am not alone with these harrowing thoughts. I had not realised that the closeness I had got to taking my own life was due to deep depression from suppressed anger.  

"Stop this beating heart." - a poem, Zena Edwards

The Myth of the Three Furies and the power of Yemanja speaks to a part of me that validates my  stance that a Woman's anger is an underrated, marginalised and berated energy which needs to be hailed as a driver for change. It is not always a hysterical, over-emotional raving. It doesn't warrant "that crazy bitch" name-calling the moment a woman does stand up and speak out.

As soon as the process began, I realised that, although I did not have a full grip on a vocabulary to express my frustration, Transformation is afoot. Rather than forgo expressing my needs just for a peaceful life when, internally, it was war-time, there are pathways to release and flourishing. But I needed to be clear and specific in the questions I asked of this phenomena if this project was going to be honest.

The Three Furies feeds nicely into the concept of Travelling Light because it  embraces a compelling part of my journey into mature womanhood - The Fury. The Rage. The Anger. The Aggression. And with phrases like "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned", I felt this would be a good opportunity to unpack this subject through art.

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