What kind of art do you practice?
I am a musician, spoken word artist, writer ... interdisciplinary is probably the best way to put it, but my art practice started in music.
What led you to become an artist?
I grew up in a family of artists and activists. My mom is a musician and my dad is a visual artist. In many ways, it was my environment that built the connection for me. I started playing violin when I was 5 years old, and my music was something that my parents were insistent that I keep. I immigrated from Mexico when I was eight years old and I always say that I think my music saved me. That’s also when I started writing, as a way to process what I was living, the pain that I was experiencing, and this huge transition in my life. I think that my identity as an artist has evolved since I was a child, but art has been a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember.
Art has saved many of our lives. Those of us who are people of color, women of color, or immigrants that are trying to tell our stories through our art hold this inherently political task. I have always seen this decision to tell stories that are true and authentic as a really sacred task. I think that there are stories that grandmothers, and mothers, and aunties have not been able to tell for a variety of reasons. Now, here we have artists who are trying to tell those stories, and it can be a very difficult thing to do - not just to honor these stories in the way they deserve to be honored, but also to protect yourself and care for yourself in that process. As a queer woman of color, as an immigrant who was displaced at a young age, in the body that I have, I see art-making as a sacred act; an act that has allowed me the agency to claim who I am in a world that is trying to tell me who I should be. I say this because in my community, I think that art is an uncovering of stories and a recovering of power. These things are important and undeniable. And, regardless of the art form, it is an act of reclamation and a restoration of self.
How do you engage community in your practice?
I am both an artist and a community organizer, so in a very literal way, I am a youth worker that is invested in using art as a tool to restore power among youth of color. In terms of my artistic practice, I see collaboration and spaces for building with other artists - artists who challenge me, and who have different kinds of consciousness and have been politicized in different ways than I have - as opportunities to bring more complexity to my work. Building community through art is such a powerful thing to do because it goes back to the knowledge of our ancestors who always centered creativity and held art at the core of community. When we are able to come together as artists and community members to share our stories, the connection that is made possible through art is unparalleled.
What has been your greatest joy as an artist?
I love performing and seeing someone connecting to my work. You can feel the energy in the room when you're sharing work and you touch someone. When it is able to create new conversations, especially when it’s someone who has a completely different cultural background than my own, it's a very powerful thing. I think it opens doors and creates necessary dialogue that oftentimes isn’t going to happen organically. As a performer, that is one of the things that is really moving for me.
On a personal level, I see my art as a connection to my own process of healing. Through my writing and through my music I am continuously healing and opening things that I need to address in my own past that are weighing me down. Through the process of writing them down and being witness to these stories I am also able to heal, so I feel intimately connected to my work because I can see my process of growth through my processes of writing and music-making.
What is the biggest adversity you have faced as an artist?
The reality is that art spaces continue to be very white washed. There is privilege in who has access to funds and spaces. In the same way we talk about equity in any other part of society, we have to talk about equity in the arts. There continues to be this disparity in access for artists of color.
“Building community through art is such a powerful thing to do because it goes back to the knowledge of our ancestors who always centered creativity and held art at the core of community.”
What inspires your work?
My work is deeply rooted in my own spiritual work of honoring those who came before me, particularly women. It is very clear to me that there are women in my bloodline who have made tremendous sacrifices, and if it wasn’t for them I simply would not be here. In many ways I am trying to recover those stories, and tell them in a way that gives them the dignity and power they deserve. I am very committed to sharing stories of the ways that women have survived, found joy and laughter, and created despite everything they were going through. I am trying to tell these stories in a way that doesn’t victimize women who are survivors and fighters. I am inspired by these people and I want to do right by them.
How has Intermedia Arts been a part of your story?I have a lot of love for Intermedia. Before I started really claiming my voice as a writer, I remember going to Intermedia shows and seeing what it could look like to have spaces that were dedicated to centering the voices and perspectives of folks of color. Right when I started claiming my voice as a writer, I had the opportunity to participate in the VERVE grant program, and that was a turning point for me, as an artist, a writer, and a performer. The mentorship and community that came out of that program defined my direction and my capacity to really take myself seriously and respect my own voice. The mentorship of J. Otis Powell‽ was something that shifted a lot for me, because I learned to give myself permission to grow and claim my identity as a writer. It was an extremely validating experience that taught me a lot about what it means to hold space for artists of color wrestling with difficult questions.
Anaïs is a Minneapolis based interdisciplinary artist and community organizer who sees music and storytelling as key in building power with communities of color. With roots across the U.S.-Mexico border, her writing looks at identity, displacement, trauma, and healing. She is the founder of Border Voices, which uses storytelling and performance to create spaces for dialogue that centers immigrant and refugee voices of people of color. Anaïs is a member of Palabristas: Latin@ Wordslingers a recipient of the 2014 VERVE Grant for Spoken Word artists, and winner of the 2015 Loft Mentor Series in Poetry. She has performed at the Loft Literary Center, Dakota Jazz Club, Pangaea World Theater, and the Black Dog Café. Her essay, “Our Silence Won’t Save Us:Recovering the Medicine in Our Stories,” is forthcoming publication in “How Dare We! Write,” an anthology of writers of color on the writing life and process.