"Silence won't protect you," Shanique Scott quotes from Audre Lorde, "so I feel like I'm just gonna speak. Why not?" Shanique's words capture the essence of the fourteen-piece performance ensemble, the Herstories Project, made up of women ages 22 to 53 from diverse cultures and sexual orientations who seek to end the silencing of women -- beginning with themselves.
"We have spoken-word artists, dancers, comedians, musicians, storytellers, singers," explains founder Aryeh Shell. "This project brings those stories to the center. By using art, theater, and stories we can explore how we build community." Their first event will be a fund-raising party on Thursday (7 p.m. to midnight) at the Oakland Box (1928 Telegraph Ave.) -- a preview of the Herstories material alongside a Brazilian batucada band, musician Kelly Orphan, and DJ Betsy-La. There will also be an Asian dub ambient slide show, raffle, silent auction, plus New Orleans-style gumbo, chai, and other tasty bites from around the globe. The complete performances will play in March during Women's History Month. Beyond the stage show, they also hope to produce a documentary and expand into a workshop format to reach more women.
"I think one thing that's unique about this project is that we are counting the process as just as important as the product," Vika Teicher says. "Even in the process of trying to research these stories we create a story." This collaboration has been a revolutionary experience, changing the way artists relate to other women. Says Shanique, "I feel like I got to see beyond people's veils and got to see their truth. It gets rid of all prejudgments or whatever you may have when you first meet here."
"I think personally it's forced me to take seriously the construction of the history of my family," Jennifer Bennett says. "It's really forced me to get some answers." The omission of women's contributions comes to the surface for a lot of families looking back to their roots. But completing the circle of story, researching the fissures, and forming new attitudes makes each woman stronger, as the tale of her history evolves and she becomes something more what she was -- as Teicher learned through researching her Jewish ancestry in Europe: "[I] got a block because all that paperwork was destroyed and they didn't want to keep their names on file. There's a lot of missing evidence. Dealing with that and realizing the meaning of having your history cut off or being disinherited. ... It can be quite painful in the process of researching these stories and weaving them together, [but] in some way a story is being created right now. I think there's something about watching people get up there and be authentic and share their story that somehow has cleared the space for everybody to allow themselves to be in their own truth and maybe even more encouraged to accept themselves."
Local artist Blackstar also focuses on the positive influence the project has had on her life: "I think it's helped me to stand more in the place of an elder. My world has widened and I feel hope. I think it's going to be a healing process. Not only for the women who are sharing but for the people who come to see us." Suggested donation is $10-$25. Info: OaklandBox.com
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