“Urban Curandisma,” is a meditation on the thematics of myth, ritual, and culture. Through the collection and usage of spiritual objects and artifacts, I sought to create a sacred space that speaks to both the impermanent nature of contemporary subjectivity, and the transcendental soul. On display was an amalgamation of fiction, stereotype, and authenticity.
The inspiration for this piece came from a research trip to both New Mexico and West Texas, where I reconnected with my indigenous heritage and examined the Atzlan region's literature, history and landscape.
For the performance, I conducted an interpretation of a Limpia with the use of eggs and sage. In traditional practices across indigenous societies, eggs are utilized to absorb negative energy in the body and spirit. The egg is run over the entire body of the person being cleansed, while the practitioner and active patient both focus on visualizing these energies as being absorbed into the egg.
I chose to reinterpret the traditional Limpia because I saw the performance as an opportunity to invite others to join me in rediscovering and redefining “superstition.” As most superstitions in modern society are regarded as the ideation of the uneducated, the misinformed, or, at worst, the heretical --today, the expansionist ire towards the traditions of indigenous people in hegemonic society is deferred to the pedagogical West’s supposed preference for “realism.” This is a realism that is informed by scientific facts, scholarly discourse, and the dominant culture—never-mind that major scientific revelations continue to be debunked, and discourse disputed. This obsession with absolute realism is what pushed me to go beyond mere demonstrative reenactment, and to choose to instead occupy a space of living fiction. I am not an authority on curandisma and did not wish to be seen as such. I would not, and did not, replicate what you might see on a reservation, the border, or elsewhere.
I performed the ritual on my friend "X." After that was finished, I further cleansed the energies surrounding her with the use of smoking sage. So, the egg cleansed internally, and the sage cleansed externally. To reiterate: this was one interpretation and adaption of an incredibly broad spectrum of cultural practice.
When we were finished, I held X's hands and informed her that we were done. She was crying. X told me she felt that she was indeed “able to let go of a lot of negative emotions.” For me, the nature of performance as both cathartic and the ability for fiction to transform into lived reality was felt vividly in this moment.
It is important to note that there were many odd happenstances the day of the performance. My statue of the Virgin broke when I was preparing my set, and a dove died a few feet away from it once it was complete. These “coincidences,” in isolation, are not remarkable. But in the context of my work, they require further interpretation. It is evident to me that there is powerful spiritual energy in this piece, and that it will require more reserve, carefulness, and privacy. There-fore the project will continue in private, amongst myself and possibly a trusted few others, and I will reflect in writing the effects of ritual in theatre on my cosmic psyche. The continuation of this performance is a great opportunity for me to reconnect to my ancestral traditions and to learn different healing practices. I am one of many second generation, mixed race children who has lost the cultural substance of their ancestral heritage. My body is therefore not unlike the Rio Grande.
Only through the ethnographic study of my own family have I been able to hear stories of brujeria, curanderisma and midwifery. The stories are magnetic.
My favorite stories, the one’s my grandfather told me, were shared in the dining room of his suburban home, one of many almost just like it, which are all situated within a new subdivision that has popped up on the outskirts of San Antonio due to urban sprawl. The colonization of the Americas lays precedent to today's systemic gentrification. My native neighborhood, the East End, in Houston, has been undergoing this process as a result of my University’s expansion, amongst other reasons. Today, the conversation surrounding these practices of displacement focuses primarily on the subjects of land and the body. But what of the spirit? During the colonization of the New World, mendicant friars and Jesuits forced and coerced native peoples to convert to Christianity. Today, penal public school systems require students pledge allegiance to The United States, “one nation, under God.” By reviving and reinventing practices inspired by indigenous peoples amongst urban communities in art/fiction, my ultimate hope is to achieve a sort of spiritual de-gentrification. If for no one else, then for myself. By reinvesting time and energy in intuitive knowledge, dreams, ritual, personal prayer, and meditation, I denounce today’s demands of worker/consumer productivity. And by viewing these subjects from an artist’s standpoint, I free myself from the restrictions imposed on and by “real” believers, while still doing my utmost to respect the lived spiritual realities of indigenous people the world over. As I have stated before, as an artist, I must have room for fallibility. I must have room for interpretation, exploration and adaptation. The cognitive relationship between art and the spirit is for me interchangeable.