‘We need to dance our asses off’: artist and activist Patrisse Cullors on the joys of Black resistance

The DJ Young Wavy Fox at Patrisse Cullors's Fuck White Supremacy, Lets Get Free at Frieze Projects © David Owens

The Los Angeles-based activist, artist and writer Patrisse Cullors is an influential figure in social justice movements tied to imprisonment, mental health and violence against Black and other marginalised communities. She co-founded Black Lives Matter in 2013 shortly after the acquittal of 17-year-old Trayvon Martins murderer, and she is the founder of Dignity and Power Now. Cullors is also the co-author, with Asha Bandele, of When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir.

At Frieze Los Angeles, Cullors will offer up an iterative and participatory project in the Paramount backlot, Fuck White Supremacy, Lets Get Free. The performance, organised with the support of LTD Gallery, which specifically represents women and people of colour, was first conceived in the wake of the detainment and forced separation of child asylum seekers at the US-Mexican border.

We spoke with Cullors in Los Angeles about her upbringing, her involvement with numerous movements and how a line dance—the Electric Slide—can become a method for collective healing and fellowship.

Patrisse Cullors, who co-founded Black Lives Matter following the 2013 acquittal of Trayvon Martins murderer photo: Giovanni Solis; courtesy of the artist and LTD Los Angeles

The Art Newspaper: When I speak with Black artists, I like to get a sense of how their ancestors moved through this country. Where are your people from and when did they come to Los Angeles?

Patrisse Cullors: I love this question. I dont think any journalist has ever asked me this. On my moms side, her mom is from Des Moines, Iowa. My grandmothers father was from Cuba and her mother was also from Iowa. My great-grandmother on my moms dads side is from Arkansas and Oklahoma, and migrated to California in the 1940s. Then, on my dads side, both of his parents are from Louisiana: a small town called Eunice.

Since your family has been here for multiple generations, and Los Angeles is so embedded in your work and activism, can you tell me more about when you started working in performance?

I grew up dancing. My great-grandmother Jennie Endsley, whos from Arkansas, planted a seed—“You know you really should be in dance classes”—and I didnt know that was a thing. I ended up going to a performing arts middle school in Sherman Oaks, California that really transformed my understanding of expression and creativity. I finally found a place where so much of my childhood antics became a thing that could be professionalised. From there, I put myself in a dance studio. When the Yellow Pages still existed, I looked through all the dance schools in my neighbourhood and cold-called them, and asked for scholarships because I knew my mom couldnt pay for it. A studio in Northridge actually accepted and I convinced my father to take me down there; I danced with that company for four years. By then, as I was becoming politicised, my dancing kind of shifted into performance.

We are in this moment where there are many artists who aim to blur the lines between art-making and having a social or radical practice. How do you feel about this idea that art can change the world?

If we look at the history of social movements, theres always been a deep element of artistic and creative practice that is in conjunction with those movements. We look at the Black Arts Movement and I feel like I am a part of that legacy of taking these really political concepts and expressing creativity around them.

A big part of the Black Arts Movement was imagining a new freedom for us. The way in which we understand art has so much to do with the canon. For Black people, art is not necessarily about the gallery or museum: it is literally how we live our lives. Theres no way we could have survived—slavery, Jim Crow, the Black Code, incarceration—if we didnt have a creative practice and expression. There are all these ways in which weve been violated and yet theres a resilience in us. I dont want to paint us as a magical negro, or this archetype character, but theres something really profound about a people who have been able to continue to be present for themselves and their communities and recreate expression.

Fuck White Supremacy, Lets Get Free was developed in response to the detainment of children at the US-Mexican border Photo:Read More – Source