Based on Taja Lindley’s solo healing performance ritual that debuted at La Mama’s SQUIRTS in 2015, “This Ain’t A Eulogy” is drawing parallels between discarded materials and the violent treatment of Black people in the United States. People in the African Diaspora have a long history of repurposing, remixing, and transforming oppressive systems into valuable cultural practices. In this post-Ferguson moment, Lindley is calling on this legacy to imagine how we can recycle the energy of protest, rage, and grief into creating a world where, indeed, Black Lives Matter. “This Ain’t A Eulogy” is the origin story of The Bag Lady, and serves as a preamble to Lindley’s one woman show “The Bag Lady Manifesta” which debuted at Dixon Place on September 9th.
Below is my review of The Bag Lady Manifesta:
dream where every black person is standing by the ocean
& we say to her
what have you done with our kin you swallowed?
& she says
that was ages ago, you’ve drunk them by now
& we don’t understand
& then one woman, skin dark as all of us
walks to the water’s lip, shouts Emmett, spits
&, surely, a boy begins
crawling his way to the shore
by Danez Smith
from Don’t Call Us Dead: Poems
Last week, I read this poem from Danez Smith and I was reminded of it again when watching Taja Lindley debut her The Bag Lady Manifesta on the night of September 9th at Dixon Place.
One question I left with was: what is our responsibility to remember, especially remembering a past still struggling to speak? Is remembering like being Lot’s wife who had the audacity to look back when the world was ending and in ruins? And like salt can be healing, Lindley’s Bag Lady Manifesta was a ritual performance in search of healing — healing that involved giving reverence to people, pasts and even parts of ourselves that we can so easily throw away. Because as Lindley had put up on one of the walls — “letting go is a lie,” we always carry them with us.
Before the performance began, we, the audience, were given black plastic bags with pieces of paper inside. Not knowing what to expect, we entered a ritual altar space before entering the main performance space. Inside this dark space, we could see the names of people were killed by police violence, tributes to Lindley’s ancestors and open books. On the ceiling played a video of Lindley walking around a junk yard dressed in her Bag Lady costume made from black plastic bags.
From there we entered the performance space and opened our bags. Within them were a scrap of paper with a question on it and another scrap with a pencil to answer them. Mine was “what is something you want to forget? Why?” I’ll be honest: I wrote I wanted to forget the feelings I’ve had in the past that I didn’t belong anywhere and that I was worthy of having what I desired because those two things kept me from going after what I wanted in life. Those questions we answered would later be a part of an interactive portion of the show.
Lindley began the show with a dance number on the upper level of the space. Dressed in white costume, which looked like it was made from white plastic bags, she danced to V. Bozeman’s “Race Jones,” slowly stripping away the costume of whiteness till she was almost nude. And then like the descent of a goddess, she entered the lower level to sit amongst the crowd, and we watched and waited. In that process of waiting, Lindley slowly began to stir to life with the tick tock sound in the background. We watched as she struggled to move, to be in the space. We watched as she found pieces of her black garbage bag costume around the stage and tucked in in areas around the audience, and placed them on her body.
In Lindley’s performance we could see how life was a process of being, a struggle to keep moving, a costuming and re-costuming of self over time, even as one can be resistant to all of it at the same time. We watched as she struggled to speak, forcing sounds out until she could finally get out the words, “it’s in my blood…it’s here…the past…it’s here…and I’m reminded of my history anytime someone calls my name.” And then we went through that history — she digged through the past of absent father, black men who caused pain, the silencing of black women, the times she hurt people she loved and times when she felt hurt. As she told us these stories, she stuffed her costume and herself (putting them in her mouth) with black plastics bags. Because living is to remember all of those memories, to learn from all those memories, to create out of those memories, and to forget all those memories only so you can be loved or seen as perfect is not living.
From there, Lindley turned to us, asking us to reveal our dirt — our regrets, things we wish we could forget, things we avoid. She asked us to wear those bags we brought into the space. To take up space. To take with us those lessons that came with the wait/weight. Because that is where our alchemy, where our strength lies, in exploring those memories. After these revelations, Lindley asked us to chant, “We grow gardens out of graves,” over and over again as we opened to rest of the bags around us with names and pictures of people killed by police violence and with phrases like “we can’t run from time,” “remembering is the responsibility of the living,” and “it is disrespectful to forget.” We said their names and these words over and over again as Lindley added on more bags to her costume, becoming a large black mass moving throughout the space — the past becomes a living, breathing thing. As the space darkened and we saw the screen behind her come on showing the large black mass moving throughout space, it echoed in our ears that the dead won’t be forgotten and to forget is to believe in fiction.
Taja Lindley’s The Bag Lady Manifesta is about remembering. Re-membering. That our reality is made real when we remember the dead, remember the past, let them haunt us, when we bring them back to life in a new form, when we learn the lessons that they taught us and move forward with them into the future.