TBA:17

It’s like a Death Dance: An interview with Demian DinéYazhi´

Death Dance honors indigenous and brown punk energy during TBA on Sept. 16

Death gives way to life, to regrowth, and to rebirth, but there is a certain nuance to the dying that has much to tell us about the times, observable in the particular ethos of destructionbe it environmental, social, or political. For Demian DinéYazhi´, a Portland-based indigenous queer artist born to the clans Naasht’ézhí Tábąąhá (Zuni Clan Water’s Edge) and Tódích’íí’nii (Bitter Water), ideas surrounding a death have become the lynchpin of an evening he has curated to honor “the labor and intelligence of indigenous and brown punk energy.” Set to take place Sept. 16 and happening as part of Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Time-Based Arts Festival, it will be a Death Dance.

Rebecca Jones, lead singer of WEEDRAT

A person of many practices, including poetry, visual art, curation, and organizing through R.I.S.E.: Radical Indigenous Survivance & Empowerment (of which he is founder and director), DinéYazhi´ is no stranger to culling a variety of mediums into one compelling happening. However, the name of the event was originated by another indigenous artist from the region, Sara Siestreem (Hanis Coos and American) in a pivotal conversation with DinéYazhi´ after the 2016 national election. “This is a conversation that I was having numerous times with primarily indigenous and activist-based friends,” DinéYazhi´ explained, noting their pervasive sense of being overwhelmed by the burgeoning of white supremacist momentum in the United States and its perpetuation by the government.

Through these conversations, DinéYazhi´ was seeking clarity. “Of course this makes sense,” he reflected. “These people will be out of power. They stole this country. They will be out of power in a few generations, and this is just one of the last attempts to maintain and assert that power, and really just f*ck people over as a way to hang on to this archaic heteropatriarchal, settler colonial mentality.” DinéYazhi´ was discussing this mode of thinking with Siestreem during a visit to her studio, when Siestreem made the connection: it’s like a death dance, like the morbid movements that salmon do as they are in the process of dying—the final throes.

When invited to curate an evening of performance for TBA, DinéYazhi´ explained, “I was just really interested in continuing this idea of the Death Dance, but while also trying to support indigenous and brown artists, indigenous and brown communities, that continue to be largely underrepresented within the Portland contemporary art scene, the Portland music scene, but also the theoretical and critically engaged communities who are really trying to dissect race politics, you know, death and survival politics. All these communities are, I still feel like, ignoring indigenous and brown bodies.”

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cvllejerx talks SUPER TANTRUM

TBA resident artists bring together fashion, performance, and poetry "as a form of resistance"

“Is it…‘civil-jerks’?” I posed this question to cvllejerx, aka. artists angélica maria millán lozano and maximiliano, on a three-way call last week. I could hear millán chuckle in response to my attempt to pronounce the name of their collaboration, which is in residence with the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Time-Based Arts Festival. Merging “fashion, performance, and poetry as a form of resistance,” cvllejerx will be presenting an event on Wednesday, Sept. 13, as part of TBA called SUPER TANTRUM—a title that gestures to the name of their collaborative as well as the ethos of their work.

“We’ve gotten that a lot from different people, which is actually kind of cool I think,” millán said in response to my mispronunciation. maximiliano added that a funny unplanned aside to the project has been “this ongoing thing about how people pronounce the name, all the different ways it’s been pronounced.”

In fact, “cvllejerx” is a version of the Spanish word “callejero,” which, as millán described, could mean something like “hooligan.” She continued, “you’re like a callejero when you hang out in the street, at least, in Colombia that’s how people use it. That’s kind of the attitude we want to have, and so the ‘x’ is just de-gendering the word.”

cvllejerx emerged from millán and maximiliano’s experiences of multicultural inbetweenness. “I’m Mexican and black, so I feel like and that’s kind of like where that speaks to for me, and all of these ideas and influences coming together” said maximiliano, who is also part of the Portland-based Nat Turner Project. “There’s this very specific space that is in-between, you know, being from two different places,” added Millán, “…this kind of in-between space that we always operate in that is very rich.”

The artists have specifically named the white supremacist roots of Portland, which is the birthplace of and current homebase of cvllejerx. millán described her experience of moving to the city: “I’m Colombian and I came to the U.S. at about 12, and moving to Portland has been a huge sort of change, almost like culture shock, too, because I’ve never been surrounded by so many white people,” she said. “It almost felt kind of like when I first moved to the United States…like, this is a very strange place, (I) don’t feel totally welcome.”

Photo by Lani Milton

cvllejerx practice and celebrations entail a form of resistance, all which will erupt during SUPER TANTRUM on Wednesday night. “For me is this righteous like burst of energy, whether that’s either kind of irrational, or happy, or whatever. I like this idea that we’re celebrating that, especially, in this moment, obviously, having Donald Trump as our President,” said Millán, “This idea that we have the right to cry out about it, and we have the right to also bring attention to ourselves, and celebrate ourselves, and be unapologetic about it.”

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