The Politics of Space! (or Ruptures in De-centering Whiteness)

ARTICLE BY DIPANKAR MUKHERJEE

 From Pangea's production of  5 Weeks

From Pangea's production of 5 Weeks

Dipankar and his wife, Meena, are the co-founders of Pangea World Theatre, and very strong advocates of equality and rights for all in this world.  In this article, he addresses the need to recognize the inequalities which often exist in our world of theater and how they may be rectified as well as bringing in a sense of some of the philosophical differences between Western and Eastern Theater. Very thought provoking. - Mike Wangen

 

“But I feel bound by my love for high art…we cannot consciously make extinct Opera and Shakespeare,” expressed someone last week, when I was part of a diverse group wrestling with the conversation of inequity of funding in the arts.

The meeting was done by the time this statement landed on me and made me realize:

... the chasm that exists between the intention of the discussion and the selective hearing of someone who was threatened by the content.

… the chasm between participation with community to build a movement to correct a past that has been historically skewed and unjust and the system that houses the tools, blueprints, infrastructure, and strategic processes that has been consciously and unconsciously constructed to maintain the primacy of a dominant narrative.

…the space that gets morphined into silence between artists of color engaged with advocating for equity and the powers that be that keep the large homes of  “high art” nurtured to sustain themselves, regardless of the economic situation.

I realized that when progressive minds articulate the injustice of inequity and make clear the need and timing for equity of the field, it poses a threat to the stewards of “high art”.  In a conversation where we presented the statistics of inequity of philanthropy, critiqued the status quo, pointed out how the sustenance and growth of “preeminent organizations” has happened deliberately, and how there has been a conscious diminishment of artistic spaces led by people of color, it provoked the proverbial, “We don’t want classical art to become extinct”!

“I never said that,” I wanted to say.

The politics of centrality surfaces here. In simple terms, inside the minds of those who fear change, a sense of threat seems to engulf even the most rational person. The dialogue gets stemmed because the minds that created the chess board, the sculptors that crafted the look and color of the chess pieces and masterminded the process of the chess game, are shocked to see that in the boards of justice there are moves far beyond and nuanced past the declamation of “checkmate”.

This lack of equity perpetuates the dominance of hierarchical languaging which demarcates: a “mainstage” and a less resourced “black –box”; center and margin; majority and minority art (hence under-resourced or stipended); ‘high art’ and indigenous cultural practices; pre-eminent organizational caverns and organizations led by and for people of color. The list is endless.

Eastern dramaturgy comes to theaid, and nullifies this idea of end of game and cessation. As time is seen as circular and an end never arrives, a birth occurs and organizations led by people of color are coming together with a new nomenclature of SHARING SPACE and OWNING SPACE.

When conversation of shifting centrality and dominance is practiced, the elasticity of the space provides ample opportunities of co-existence. The presence of literature from ancient cultures and writers of color who are crafting scripts like Sabra Falling by Arab-American writer Ismail Khalidi, 5 Weeks by Asian American writer Meena Natarajan, Isla Tuliro, by Marlina Gonzalez, The Water Story by Ojibwe writer Sharon Day only adds to the dynamism of the theater field. Something tells me that the patriarchs of the dominant culture ( least of all, the all engulfing SHAKESPEARE) is not threatened in the least. There is no voice that is ever stating that any cannon of literature, any OPERA that has existed be “made obsolete”.

The advocacy and the imperative need that is being articulated is that, like the movement of our planetary cosmology, we shift spaces and keep on sharing space in the cosmic path with our individual signatures. We erase borders and obliterate margins, break down walls in established patriarchal processes experienced by organizations and artists of color.

As the call arises with deafening clarity for equity, a time has come now with the shifting demographics of North America, to obliterate binaries - when race conversations may not be limited to ONLY black and white articulation - but in recognition of collaborative politics and movements like Black-Lives matter, #metoo movement, Pipeline resistance, Global social forums addressing eco-systems etc.

The call is for a new nomenclature that not only makes obsolete the benign articulation of “diversity, inclusion, multicultural” as a way for dominant culture to maintain status quo in relation to organizations of color, but to move toward kinesthetic action, to build a collaborative politics of SHARING SPACE in the making of dynamic cultural skein of the TWIN CITIES!