I am she who forgives and forgets
I am she who forgives and forgets
I am generosity turned into suicide,
I am a martyr on the altar of your bed,
and Aztec pyramid
giving blood for rain.
I am she who forgives and forgets.
Never well enough to stop the hemorrhage of generosity.
Touch the ground Buddha, the ghosts are not real.
I’m a woman with the right to be here
I have the right to be here
Touch the ground and stop the bleeding.
Elizabeth Boubion, MFA 2011
From the Dance Theater production: Maclovia’s Birds: Inspirados por el Arte de Mi Abuelita.
During my MFA in Interdisciplinary Art at CIIS, I created 2 public altars. La Diosa Emerge at El Dia de los Muertos Festival in the Fruitvale district of Oakland and the Healing Garden for the Purple Moon Project, in front of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. La Diosa Emerge was created after NASA bombed the Moon on October 9th 2009. With the support of Oakland’s Crisis Support Services, the altar was in “re-memberance” of women who suffered from mental illness, suicide, depression or dementia before their death. The interactive installation allowed people to write down the names of loved ones and attach them to a web of names sewn above the dedicated altar. Aspects of Mesoamerican moon Goddesses as well as my 4’x5’ canvas painted reinterpretation of La Virgen de Guadalupe standing over the earth in 2nd position supported this dedicated installation. I also invoked the Mayan Goddess “Ix Chel” –depicted as the weaver, the healer and the fruit bearer to support the dismembered Aztec Goddess “Coyolxauhqui”- who was chopped up into pieces by her brother(the Sun), Huitzilopochtli when he was born.
The second altar was for Jill Togawa’s, Purple Moon Dance Project. It was placed in front of the Grace Cathedral in San Francisco in 2010 as part of a community dance to celebrate the women of Casa de Maria and other half-way houses in the outreach program for women in recovery. As a dance educator and facilitator of the Tamalpa Life/Art process, I was part of their faculty during that time. Before deciding upon my major at California Institute of Integral Studies, I had the difficult choice about what program to take on, the path of the artist or the path of the therapist? I eventually settled on the track of “Master of Fine Art in Creative Inquiry and Interdisciplinary Art ” as opposed to a “Marriage and Family Therapist” track because I realized that as a dancer, if I don’t continue to develop my own arts practice, I will soon end up an antepasado on somebody’s altar myself.
For 15 years, I had been facilitating others to awaken their creative power, to welcome the demons in their inner “guest house”(Rumi), connect with the “soft animal”(Mary Oliver) of their body and “save the only life they can truly save”(Mary Oliver) while intermittently and steadily appearing in front of small, intimate audiences to express my own psycho-spiritual journey using performance as a venue to mark my life’s initiations and unfolding processes. Looking back on the journey I took since leaving the nest of my undergrad at CSU Long Beach in 1993, the journey resembled a bottomless rabbit hole of change and misperceptions, an endless weeping song of La Llorona crying at the river of my lost inner children (Reference described by Cherrie Moraga in Loving in the War Years) and a complicated Rompe Cabeza (Like the Puzzles my Grandmother Maclovia used to make). I have been attempting to figure out how to live and love as a queer woman and mother in the dysfunctional modern world we have inherited while sorting out my identity as the youngest of 7 children to my Mexican Father and Canadian Mother.
Life gives us rich material to work with, but I wonder, how much pain can an artist endure in life before her art begins to take a blow? How much pain can the earth or a culture endure before its true expression becomes obscured? I have always found myself to merge with the reality of things rather than take leadership over them…At this juncture; I am determined to release myself from this martyred position as an artistic vessel in a world in desperate need of an alternate reality. I don’t have to be a vessel for pain. I can open this vessel to that which nourishes me. After all, my ancestors already suffered for my freedom, what then, do I do with this freedom? How can I create holistic and certified organic art that isn’t rushed by a production schedule, pre-packaged with a sensationalized political agenda, expensive both monetarily and environmentally or tainted by patriarchy and colonization? There are more green theaters popping up now with LED lighting and solar generated power but what about the sustainable body? The Spirit? The Community? Can I create art that isn’t reactionary, but rather empowered by energy that is not polluted, genetically modified, confused, raped, molested, dismembered or beaten? It’s hard to get to the pure essence of life while also excepting personal responsibility in this montage of dark and light. These are questions of sustainability as an artist: How much dark? How much light? In the laboratory of rehearsal, we weigh and balance, measure and assess how much to challenge the audience with the hard truths and how much to weave a blanket of love, heal the open wounds, and bear the succulent fruits of our labors as professionals in the field of aesthetics. The value of beauty itself, has always been a healing balm on the senses.
In the therapy of expressive arts, we emphasize all of the things that hinder us in order to break our stuck patterns and this is a crucial process to personal freedom. As artists we also, help the audience identify social/environmental ills and injustices in order to create change and generate awareness in the world at large. I used to turn my nose up at “movement for movement’s sake” arguing that as artists we have the responsibility to educate and illuminate the audience in our spot light. I wanted the content and context for the beautiful pure movement that I saw in abstracted dances as “lacking depth”. Beauty alone seemed to be a luxury the world cannot afford. Now, after years of dancing the struggle in life and art, I am have been “taking back the night”, so to speak, by paying homage to pleasure , experimentation and play, in my art form choosing only that which feels good in my body, because it is the body that knows how to heal itself. When you are deep in the depths of your healing journey, love those tears for they are the medicine and the release, but also, find something that feels joyful in your body at other times of the day. For me, it was nature, circle singing and contact improv that provided the new tissue that was being formed. Is it not an act of liberation for the female figure to dance no matter the content? To cultivate the expressive and knowing body in relation to space and time provides a dichotomous sense of personal power to have both control and liberation. To be able to say this body is all mine… and I choose to share with you what I know. To dance is as revolutionary, as it is to love.
My intentions in life are becoming more mine than the rest of world’s and my art is reflecting this as step over the threshold from dark to light. My body still takes a beating with bruises and floorburns, sore muscles etc… but what I am dancing for has become fulfillment and a love for the artform more than any other cause. It is the artform that has saved me so many times over. Beauty, harmony, ceremony and pure physicality is shaping my perception into one that is sustainable psychologically, physically, emotionally and spiritually. These are the things that inspire an audience and lower our already off-the-charts anxiety levels. In the therapeutic setting, it resembles Peter Levine’s “Somatic Experiencing”, or Ron Kurtz’s Hakomi Method… by creating felt-sensory experiences of pleasure to re-pattern our fight and flight responses. I laugh inside with this new relationship I have with the word “safe”. Not such a bad thing coming from a mother of a 10 year old boy, coming from a survivor of rape by an audience member. Finding physical and emotional risk within a safe or somewhat controlled context is the kind of therapy-to-stage process I am interested in. Like the “slow food” movement, I am proposing a “slow art movement”. One that requires more time for the process of generating personal material from individual dancers in a group container and knowing how to shift to the sometimes impersonal choices of editing and shaping the work for universal appeal. I have found these two worlds of the stage production and the therapy of art making to be my life’s work and also a great challenge to combine. The artists that get to do what they love, are one-pointed toward that art form and all else comes second. I have kept one foot on stage while the rest of me has been tied up in the riddle of life, motherhood, and relationships, attempting to find the love I have been lacking in myself. With the exception of motherhood, (because I only see this as a blessing in my life), how do I uproot the martyr archetype of the artist and saint, as a recovering Catholic, spiritually-orphaned queer, with an ever evolving, culturally obscure, half-Mexican identity?
“My Body is the Holy Land”… was a song I wrote, while in a relationship with a woman who didn’t connect “body” and “sacred” at the time. I dedicated it to survivors of sexual abuse. “Hold onto me” was another song I wrote while I was in a relationship with a woman that I couldn’t hold on to. “Good enough” was a dance I did- trying to convince myself that I was a good enough mother (and dancer). “Yellow Shirt” was a dance I did in Germany about post-traumatic stress syndrome and voice retrieval-- while recovering from a painful relationship overseas. “Dancing through the storm” was a dance dedicated to survivors of Hurricane Katrina- and while I was at it, a divorce I was going through. Has my creativity depended on my suffering? Hopefully, you are following me by now. I am shifting the paradigm from pain and agony to include playful curiosity and the power of intention. I want my art to be a step ahead of myself… not reacting or in recovery from my life…and not in denial either.
In my repertoire, there have been dozens of expressions of art, poetry and dance, with socially responsible themes, heroic truth telling, environmental justice, challenging patriarchy and religious institutions and even moments of freedom from my “issues”… moments of beauty…moments of stillness. There were times when I was no longer consumed by the flames of love, devoured by sexual predators, controlled by possession and anger, crippled by ignorance and bigotry but rather, I was held by the power of ART, freed in the wings of pure physicality, cleansed by the vibration of song. I wouldn’t take back any one of those Alice in Wonderland-La Llorona-Rompe Cabezas though… each one of them were homeopathic remedies of art for my life; Applying small doses of grief with grief, anger with anger, longing with longing, etc... the freedom of expression traverses the edges of the psyche while staving off repression. To be a survivor I’ve been ushered in by animal allies, backed by my ancestors, flanked by gods, goddesses and freedom fighters like Ix Chel, Coyolxauqui, Innana, Artemis, Sophia, Mary Magdalen, Buddha, Jesus, Anaiis Nin and Cherrie Moraga. When do we know if the homeopathic remedy we give through our art is too strong for our lives?
At age 23, I did an improvised piece titled “Auntie Pilar’s Memory Bank”… a site specific dance in an actual abandoned bank in Pomona, Ca. The city I was born in. My father’s sister, Auntie Pilar was an energetic Catholic nun and elementary school teacher prior to the Alzheimer’s disease that she lived with for 20 years before her death. The dance reflected a frenzy of mental decay, confusion and memory loss as I danced with each of her scarves from her suitcase that I was given. Each scarf symbolized an aspect of a fragmented identity. That was the same year after I was raped by an audience member after a performance and was in the midst of my own psycho-spiritual fragmentation of selves. It was also the year I read “Uncursing the Dark” by Betty De Shong Meador. The book gave a Jungian feminist perspective on the truth of psychosis, explaining that in cases of repressed persons, an unraveling identity is a necessary passage through the dark and into true Selfhood. The book includes Judy Grahn’s satirical modernized version of the Sumerian Queen Inanna whose descent myth becomes a woman’s journey into a lesbian club scene transforming her life forever. I had been out for 5 years by then, but I was still claiming bisexuality. Obscurity was safer and more familiar for me then and it would take another decade for me to claim lesbianism and allow myself to have an actual sexual preference in partnership.
But after a piece like Auntie Pilar’s Memory Bank, I couldn’t just read a book, dance with scarves, go home, light some sage and be done with her. She was still alive… And so was I…still fragmenting a generation later- perhaps suffering from post-colonial memory loss and sexual repression in a different way than my auntie Pilar. The descent of undo-ing Selfhood has been treacherous, both on and off the stage, navigating uneven ground in the darkness. I had a few more steps and tunnels to travel in the underworld since then, to arrive to the anecdotal “dance of mental clarity, healing and wholeness” that I have been reaching for. I was present when Auntie Pilar took her last breath at my parent’s house in Southern California, 2004. I had been dancing by her bedside for a week, bringing lavender, rose and rosemary to her nose. When she finally released her body, I immediately moved to another room in the house to dance her spirit through and out of me. I allowed the breath and energy to move through my body and proceeded to the backyard placing my hands in the fallen wet leaves sending whatever part of her I was holding, back into the earth and wept. I wondered what it was she had to forget? Memory loss, one of our biggest defense mechanisms.
How strong is the medicine I appropriate for my madness? My own emotional descent? My unconscious shadows and secrets? As a woman, I suffer the madness of the dis-membered Aztec Goddess, “Coyolxauqui” who got chopped into pieces by her brother and turned into the moon. The same moon that was bombed by NASA. I walked the 7-layered descent to the underworld with the Sumerian Goddess, “Innana” who forgets who she is, gets killed, eaten and given birth to by her sister Erishkigal. I confronted the demonizing feminine Mexican folk tale of “Lechuza” the owl who becomes a witch flying in the night driving people off the road. I channeled Sister Pilar’s dance of many veils. This is all powerful medicine from the other side…
My final MFA thesis project “Maclovia’s Birds”, is a self-produced dance theater production inspired by my grandmother, Maclovia Lujan Duran Boubion who began to draw and write poetry the last 15 years of her life. With her drawings and poetry, I am turning to her as my patron saint, interceding with my connection to the divine and allowing her work to collaborate with mine—Maclovia’s Birds shines a light on “un anciana desconocido” (an unknown old person) as she sometimes signed her work. She is blood- and I trust this is medicine I can process. As I connect with roots to tether my soul…she is much closer than an ancient myth… more wild than mass on Sunday… and offers love that will never die. The martyr is much more pervasive in my life and needs a final ceremony. I am uprooting the martyr archetype by joyfully doing what I love to do. Through this process of laying an altar down in the theater, that is, putting my faith in my art; I am homeopathically treating the love from my family and of birds with love received… the freedom of choice with the freedom of dance and the generosity with giving all I have to this performance. I have journeyed far crossing borders in my psyche, from bound to free, over and over again, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically as it manifests interpersonally, financially or culturally. Using the privilege I have as an MFA student to delve deeper and longer into the questions of faith, love, and identity and into the language of the body is worth the long term ‘expenditure’. (I have never used that word before). I consider myself lucky to privilege the use of a student loan for my MFA degree. My grandmother could not have borrowed U.S. money. They could use my grandfather’s back to pave the streets of L.A. but without speaking English the two of them were at a disadvantage. They had to depend on welfare and their own children as they all grew up following the paths offered to them here… two of the five girls went to the Convent for an education, my father went to the seminary which was a gift he is deeply grateful for –and all of four of the boys served in the military to get the Cal grant for college. I come from a family of educators, even my Auntie Pilar had a MA in social science before she became ill with Alzheimer Disease. Something in the prayers mi Abuelita was offering and in the love she held her family together with, allowed her children to rise out of hunger and poverty and provide for my generation in Aztlan.
My Nana waited her whole life to make art and write poetry. When my abuelito passed away, she was free enough to create, but not free from her oppression stemming from her subservient role embedded in Mexican culture and his unfortunate alcoholic abusive episodes. His absence didn’t relieve her sadness, confusion or her spiritual crisis. But her refuge for her loneliness and desolation approaching death became her artistic-expression, her religious devotion and her generosity. With whatever paper she had, markers, pen, pencil and liquid paper, she drew pictures and wrote poetry and prayers depicting personal memories, self-portraits, animals, birds, flowers, creatures , symbols of fear, loss, hope, some humor and hidden images within images she named “Rompe Cabeza”. Her creativity held her integration process and she left this gift to us. She longed for the Sonoran landscape, remembered los indigenistes and prayed to Catholic saints, La Virgen de Guadalupe and Jesus Cristo. She made beautiful birthday cards to each of her 9 children, their spouses and her 32 grandchildren. One of her drawings was titled “Mis Dies Regalos”, (my ten gifts). 9 birds were colored in and the 10th was in white… symbolizing “Arnulfo” her son who tragically died from diphtheria at age 3. Near the end of her life, she emerged out of her own Dark Night of the Soul- a metaphor used to describe a phase in a person's spiritual life, marked by a sense of suffering and doubt. It is referenced by spiritual traditions throughout the world, but in particular by Christianity. She could be a saint. She didn’t flee, she didn’t fight… she froze, prayed, and gave all that she had… in the cage she was in. In giving, she could receive.
By embracing both the “soft animal” and the fierce nature of birds, by taking on the nature of “production” with 8 collaborators, the process itself presents an exploration of birds on a tension wire. Will we fly? fight? freeze? in response to being seen, caught in a theater, forced to sing… and then enlist in the birthing process of something larger than ourselves? My work as the artistic director is to create a strong container for this opening. While writing this essay, we have 5 more weeks of rehearsals to confront what we have lost as individuals, as a people -and find what is left that we can hold onto or recognize what needs to be resurrected.
Thank you to my ancestors, who suffered for my freedom and to my parent’s generation who will be so greatly missed when they are gone. Thank you for my fullness of breath and the power of choice as we dance for strength, reaching into and out from the vulnerability with shoulders arms and hands that temporarily transform into wings to articulate something free, caught, and loving it.
Dancer: Liz Boubion
Photographer: Katherine Orloff
Video Excerpts: https://youtu.be/2xTXCY_wDa4
Maclovia’s Birds is a multi-media dance-theater production featuring dancers Liz Boubion, Dominique Nigro, Kathrine Orloff, Gina Shorten and musicians, Karla Avila(clarinet and grandmothers voice), T-Bird Luv(flute and voice), and Evelie Sales Delfino Posch(guitar, drum, vocals). It is based off the drawings and writing of Boubion's late Mexican grandmother Maclovia Lujan Duran Boubion (1895-1984) who immigrated from Sonora to Los Angeles, California in 1918 where she and her Sonoran husband, David Boubion, had 10 children. For her final MFA performance from the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), Liz explores her lineage and the roll of the arts in the face of oppression and trauma. With the power of song and the language of movement, the artists integrate the nature of birds as a symbol for freedom on a metaphorical tension wire. For more information see www.lizboubion.org