With anxiety being the subject of writing, thought and of new vocabulary, let’s talk about epistemologies – yes, the plural is necessary, the question of latent individualism is uprooting little by little the understanding of struggle and community. There’s a song by Leonard Bernstein called Maria from a 1961 North American musical titled West Side Story.
Bernstein describes the happiness felt from saying the name of his new-love: Maria. In one verse, the words go: the most beautiful sound that I ever heard: Maria / All the beautifull sounds of the world in a single word: Maria. He learns, therefore, that based on what he’s feeling, the world changes.
An awareness of the vanquished
As in this film, I realize that joining a choir – putting together body and voice to be part of one project, with its potential and limitations – is a journey. We’re living in terrible times, of constant defeat for some and victories for others. Here, now, I’ve found in myself an awareness of the vanquished.
But, even vanquished, getting back to the film, I am not the person dying in the arms of her beloved surrounded by friends and enemies. I am the one who sees her love die, looks around and decides to stay, to go on and notice that solitude and pain are a mere construct. And that, despite being besieged, we have to go on: there’s a place for us, a time and place for us… That place exists and that time is now. Memory and action dwell in the present.
Art: more a laboratory than a vaccine
And art doesn’t save, nor does it leave us stronger; but it positions itself as a place of possibilities, a continuous endeavor of awareness and world experience, much more a laboratory than a vaccine. There’s a group of people who are not heard, whose expression is erased, their way of seeing the world minimalized, their way of thinking undocumented, their records non-validated and achievements deemed minimal, unimportant.
This group of people is a choir, a choir of voices singing in unison about what is happening. And there is no lack of applause for them. I am, and some of us are, in the choir, as Nina Simone would sing: you know how I feel. Stopping is not an option. I stand here for Maria: another, ordinary, amplifying epistemes and part of the choir.
Keyna Eleison is a curator, with a degree in Philosophy and a Masters in Art History. A narrator, singer, and ancestral chronicler, she is a specialist in art education, storytelling, knowledge harvesting – orally, Griot heritage and shamanic ritual. She also contributes regularly to the column “For eyes that can see” in Contemporary And (C&) América Latina.
Translated from Portuguese by Sara Hanaburgh.