It’s all about opening minds, starting conversations and having a lasting impression with Camille A Brown’s ink.
The arts are often talked about in the context of being a platform for dialogue, of creating a space where people – no matter their age, background or beliefs – can enjoy a shared experience that could lead to an open discussion.
When artists create and perform, they generate a wave of self-expression and emotion that they hope in turn will cause a ripple effect that leaves the audience reflecting on their work.
It’s exactly this that spurs Camille A Brown on to create her thought-provoking pieces. The award-winning American dancer and choreographer – whose accolades include several Princess Grace Awards, a Bessie Award and Guggenheim Fellowship – has made a name for herself for her work that addresses the cultural narrative of African American society throughout history as well as cultural appropriation. In essence, her work seeks to spark curiosity, prompt reflection and encourage open-mindedness.
Now Camille is bringing her latest piece, ink, to Abu Dhabi on 25th April as part of The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi’s performing arts season. Debuting in New York in February, the piece is the final work in her company, Camille A Brown & Dancers’, trilogy about culture, race and identity, and as with much of Camille’s work, aims to spread a message about “the humanity of Black people”.
“As I began to develop the concept for ink, I wanted the dancers to represent superheroes,” Camille tells us. “I couldn’t figure out why I had the urge to play with this idea until I read [transmedia art project] Question Bridge: Black Males in America. One of the men interviewed said, ‘I see Black people as comic book heroes because they always keep rising’. That was it! It is about showing that in our basic survival and natural attributes, we have superhuman powers, powers to shift, overcome, transform and persevere even within an often hostile environment.
“Also, I was immediately drawn to two albums that had a significant impact on me when I was growing up: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Lauryn Hill and Like Water for Chocolate by Common,” Camille continues. “I tasked myself with creating a movement language that embodied the same raw authenticity and vulnerability that fuels those lyrics and music.”
Vulnerability is a key concept of the arts and something Camille herself doesn’t shy away from, tapping into her personal experiences when creating her work. But the audience needs to be as open as the artists, she says: “It’s often uncomfortable when you see a work you don’t understand, especially if it’s culturally specific. Vulnerability is asking questions about things you don’t understand. When we don’t open ourselves up in this way, it leads to dismissal. We have to care enough to learn and feel challenged.”
At the end of the day, pieces like ink remind us of the importance of reflection, whether it’s about ourselves, our society or the world at large, and to feel emotions about topics we may normally shy away from.
“The arts have the power to touch the soul, heal the spirit and evoke thought about our political climate and everyday life experiences,” Camille says. “The arts have the ability to push through language barriers and connect communities all over the world. The arts tap into our most personal senses and give us hope.
“It’s a chance to experience many forms of thought and critique. The arts heal the world and, in many instances, save us from our darkest and scariest times.”
“If [ink] evokes a feeling, sparks a conversation or shifts someone’s mind
set, then we have done our job.”
Ink by Camille A Brown & Dancers shows on 25th April. AED 105 for adults, AED 52.50 for youth aged 13 to 22. The Red Theater, The Arts Center, NYU Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat Island. 8pm. Visit: nyuad-artscenter.org
WORDS Rachael Perrett