CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - "Our Mothers, Our Daughters, Ourselves: Black Women in the Age of Lincoln and Beyond," an original production premiering Sept. 6-7 at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Illinois, provides a fresh and critical perspective on Abraham Lincoln's legacy and its influence on African-American women. Blending historical accounts, the performers' personal reflections, scholarly research and the perspectives of young black women in the community, the production examines historical and contemporary issues such as slavery, emancipation, injustice, and black women's experiences of mothering.
Amira Davis, a poet, activist and percussionist, developed the production's first act, titled "Emancipatory Acts." Based in part upon Davis' graduate research into the abolition of the international slave trade and the resulting effects on the productive and reproductive labor of African-American women, the performance intends to "reclaim the sacred human right of mothering" and the resources to help women be effective and loving mothers, said Davis, herself a mother and grandmother.
"I see that the historical trajectory of black women's mothering in the U.S. is always tied to the political economy," Davis said. "Our mothering has never been a sacred, solo act. We have always had strings attached here in the U.S."
Through poetry, song, African dance, and images, the first act explores themes such as media representations of black women, and historical and present-day symbols of lynching. The nine-person cast includes two of Davis' daughters, ages 18 and 11.
In Act 2, "Orations of Resistance," Adeyinka Alasade, a poet and student in the Center for African Studies, will critique the veracity of Lincoln's legacy as the Great Emancipator and "the contemporary hijacking of democratic processes" in a reading of her original poems.
"As a poet, my job is to argue the world," Alasade said. "As an African American I'm interested in intervening on the dominant discourses and meta-narratives that impose stereotypes of backwardness on black people's humanity. My poems are written to tackle supremacist mythologies in terms of religion, race and gender. Our forebearers left for us a legacy of resistance and alternative ways of knowing and being."
Faculty member Ruth Nicole Brown, who holds appointments in educational policy studies, women's studies and theater, wrote Act 3, "The Rhythm, the Rhyme and The Reason" with graduate students Candy Taaffe and Chamara Kwakye. The work is based upon their research into the lives of contemporary young black women and girls through the Saving Our Lives Hear Our Truths initiative, and the researchers' reflections on it through poetry, dance, and photography. The work and SOLHOT advocate social justice by affirming the self worth of girls of color, allowing their voices to be heard without judgment and reclaiming the traditions in black women's activism.
Brown, Taaffe and Kwakye performed a preliminary version of their production at the National Women's Studies Association meeting in Cincinnati in June, and have enriched that work with music, images and sound for the Krannert performances.
"The audience was moved; they got it," Brown said. "It merged the academic and the arts in the best way possible. It made people think differently, and it made people feel the love we have for each other and the work we are doing in SOLHOT."
"Our Mothers, Our Daughters, Ourselves" is sponsored by "Lincoln Then, Lincoln Now," a commemoration of the Lincoln Bicentennial sponsored by the Office of the Chancellor and coordinated by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Public Engagement, Krannert Center, the department of theatre, the Center for African Studies, the department of educational policy studies, and the Gender and Women's Studies Program.
Although Krannert added additional seating to the Studio Theatre to accommodate the demand for tickets, the seats sold quickly and both performances are again sold out.