Artist Rachael Young in conversation with producer Anjali Prashar-Savoie
Rachael Young’s socially engaged and award-winning work spans live art, theatre and interactive installations. Working to uncover hidden narratives and to render visible communities that are under-represented in the arts, Rachael Young’s upcoming performance NIGHTCLUBBING embraces Afrofuturist themes and the socio-political landscape of a London Nightclub. Her participatory and collaborative work has received critical acclaim, with OUT winning the South East Dance ‘A Space to Dance’ Brighton Fringe Award and gaining a nomination for the ‘Total Theatre & The Place Award for Dance’ at Edinburgh Fringe. Young’s full length shows The Way I Wear My Hair, I, Myself & Me and OUT, have all successfully toured the UK and her interactive installation Crowns of Confidence was recently at Women of the World Festival 2017 (Southbank Centre).
In this interview, producer Anjali Prashar-Savoie talks to Rachael Young about her upcoming performance NIGHTCLUBBING, ‘making space’ for women and people of colour, Afrofuturism and Grace Jones.
Anjali: During your talk at the symposium Love, Pain & Intimacy in Live Art (Queen Mary University of London, February 2018), you spoke about the power and strength you derive from Grace Jones who also inspires your recent work NIGHTCLUBBING. However, in NIGHTCLUBBING we also read about super-humans, time-travel, intergalactic visions and a London nightclub. How do these different elements come together and can you elaborate on the role Grace Jones plays in your work?
Rachael: The show’s title, NIGHTCLUBBING, is a kind of tribute to Grace Jones’ 1981 album with the same name. It was an influential album, way ahead of its time, and incredibly eclectic – it mixed reggae, electronica, funk, soul, tango and post punk, and incorporated lots of remixes.In 2015 a story hit the news about a group of women who were refused entry to a London nightclub on account of their skin tone and their weight. As a dark skinned black woman I was totally astonished. The fact that the world fails to see and value our beauty is a constant source of disbelief and anger.I made a connection between these two moments in history and became interested in exploring what a figure like Grace Jones could offer us as we fight for a better future. Grace Jones is a dark skinned, androgynous, proud Jamaican woman, who became an international superstar and who has remained up there for decades, despite or perhaps because of her completely uncompromising approach to everything she does.In the same vein, nightclubs should be places where we can let go and allow our unbridled selves to be free, they should be spaces of liberation and revolution, not spaces of oppression.
Anjali: You also briefly mentioned ‘escaping’ normative doctrines that some of us grow up with – with NIGHTCLUBBING’s references to galaxies, intergalactic visions and solar systems, is escapism something you seek to use, mobilise or explore? In this respect, what role does Afrofuturism play in your work?
Rachael: I’m interested in avoiding normative ways of being in order to find ways to live out my own truth. Black and POC people often have expectations on how we should “be”, which are passed on by our families. These ideologies probably don’t fit with who we are, so it is about navigating the relationship between family, society and so on.It is a matter of being in touch with our selves without feeling that in doing so, we risk breaching our connection with our communities. There is no single way of being black, and my work is about carving out a space for an alternative black narrative. For NIGHTCLUBBING, Afrofuturism has been the lens through which we created the work. It is apparent within the show’s design and it is also what drives the narrative. It allows us to harness the power of sci-fi and the existence of black people within the genre so that we might imagine melanin as super power. Afrofuturism is what gives this work its hopeful outlook.
Anjali: I’m thinking about the two dates that you mentioned with regards to NIGHTCLUBBING – 1981, when Grace Jones releases her album ‘Nightclubbing’ and 2015, when three women are refused entry to a nightclub in London. Is this an attempt from your part to revisit and perhaps rewrite history? Do you think that rewriting is a strategy often employed by queer people of colour?
Rachael: The focus on NIGHTCLUBBING is less about rewriting history and more about imagining a future. Of course, it’s important to remember the past but not in such a way that it stops you from moving forward. 34 years separate Jones’ album release and those women being refused entry to that club. In some ways, things have not really moved forward at all, particularly when it comes to beauty standards for black women. I think the big game changer has been the internet. It gives POC’s and other marginalised groups the opportunity to create our own content, to see images that inspire us and depict us in all our glory.
Anjali: In what ways would you like different kinds of audiences to connect with NIGHTCLUBBING?
Rachael: First and foremost, I hope that NIGHTCLUBBING will provide some relief in a way that’s entertaining and which opens a space for escapism and hope. NIGHTCLUBBING can be thought of as a ‘mirror image’ – some people might see themselves represented, others might find something else that resonates with them. I’m trying to create an inclusive space, where people can recharge and then go out ready to be fierce and face the world.
Anjali: Your previous performance OUT was about challenging homophobia and transphobia in Caribbean communities. Alongside this, you also created a very interesting podcast series collecting conversations about being a queer person of colour in the UK, and have emphasised ‘making space’ for women and people of colour as something you do in your art. What does this mean to you and why is it important to make these experiences visible?
Rachael: There are certain structures in place within society which means that some people are simply not visible. My work has a focus on making the space for those voices to be heard. I think it is important that marginalised people are given the opportunity to tell their own stories. Sometimes the things that we have to say are uncomfortable for both the person telling the story and the audience that may come to see the work, but despite the discomfort, representation matters. It’s a simple, yet very important concept, that is often overlooked. The effect of seeing yourself and being visible is so powerful; it is a reminder that you, and people like you, matter.You can see this when looking at black children watching the recently released superhero film Black Panther – the astonishment and joy in their faces shows you the significance of representation.
Anjali: In London, there are many new collectives and artists that are creating club nights for and by people of colour. In light of your ongoing research and work exploring queerness and blackness, can you elaborate on how movement, music and dance can be employed as tools to empower people and reclaim spaces?
Rachael: I think everybody has the right to be in a space where who they are is celebrated and where they feel safe. These spaces should be away from the white gaze, so that our bodies won’t be fetishized or be made to feel undesirable. It’s really important that we have spaces in which we can let go. Music and dance give us an opportunity to express ourselves with a tiny bit of liberation in an otherwise bleak existence. I feel like we also need to be employing technology and science towards writing and media. These are all ways through which we can develop a better future.
NIGHTCLUBBING will premiere in London at Camden People’s Theatre on 8 May, and will be on till 12 May. Tickets on sale (£10/12) at the link https://www.cptheatre.co.uk/production/nightclubbing/
More touring dates and information: http://www.rachaelyoung.net/projects/nightclubbing/
All images © Marcus Hessenberg