Artists Reach Out: Brinda Guha - Gibney
Week of July 7, 2020
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Artists Reach Out: Brinda Guha

Indian woman hugging her body and looking at the camera.

ARTISTS REACH OUT: REFLECTIONS IN A TIME OF ISOLATION

Senior Curatorial Director Eva Yaa Asantewaa dreamed this series of interviews, Artists Reach Out: reflections in a time of isolation, out of grief for her work both as a documenting arts writer and curator of live performance.

“In this time of social distancing, we are called to responsibly do all we can to safeguard ourselves and our neighbors. It is, literally, a matter of life and death.

But there’s no distancing around what we still can share with one another—our experiences, thoughts, wisdom, humor, hearts and spirit. In some ways, there are more opportunities to do so as we pull back from everyday busyness out in the world and have time to honor the call of our inner lives.

So, let me introduce you to some artists I find interesting. I’m glad they’re part of our beautiful community, and I’m eager to engage with them again (or for the first time) in years to come.” – Eva Yaa Asantewaa, Senior Curatorial Director

This interview features  Brinda Guha, dancer, choreographer, and Gibney artist.


Brinda Guha is a trained Indian Classical Kathak dancer for over 20 years and has traveled throughout USA and to India, England, and Spain to perform. During training and performing for years in classical Indian dance, as well as Flamenco and Contemporary Fusion styles, she opened Kalamandir Dance Company in 2010 and founded the rich movement coined as #ContemporaryIndian. Since then, Brinda choreographed for the North American Bengali Conference at Madison Square Garden and self-produced and choreographed her original dance production entitled one to(o) many colors. Now, she is represented by CESD Talent Agency and is pursuing artistic direction and arts education. She spent most of 2015/16 collaborating with NYC-based interdisciplinary artists. Brinda also dances with dynamic percussive trio Soles of Duende, featuring Flamenco (Arielle Rosales), Tap (Amanda Castro), and Kathak (Guha). Her ultimate dream of having art meet activism was realized when she created a seasonal benefit in 2017 for Planned Parenthood & survivors of domestic violence called WISE FRUIT. Wise Fruit NYC has implemented nine NYC live art installations and is expanding to a Nashville edition (“Wise Fruit 1.0: Plant the Seed” in 2020). For her day job, she works as an arts administrator for a dance service organization based in the values of justice, equity & inclusion: Dance/NYC.

Woman of color dancing in the sky.Photo by LVDF.

Do you have a current or planned project whose progress is affected by the pandemic?

I think about how this industry wasn’t designed to take care of us, truly—because there wasn’t a contingency plan in place for us to consider what we deserved before we needed it. We wake up one morning, and our two-year project plan is shot?

Thank goodness for institutions that still support the artists financially during this kind of cancellation, but sheesh, what about the work? Why does our industry settle with the uncertainty of it all?

Rise and shine, your income is on hold until further notice, and here’s the link to go help yourself. If you get sick…good thing you’re in shape—your chances are pretty good! WHAT?! No, thanks. I’m merely mortal: I’d like some more reassurance than that.

Briefly, tell me about how you got involved in the arts and in your particular practice.

I am a classical and contemporary Indian dancer rooted in the vocabulary and aesthetics of Kathak dance. I have training in various additional practices, including Manipuri, Flamenco, Contemporary, and Urban movement.

My practice has evolved with me over the years. I find myself returning “home” with time. As of now, I am more in a space of celebrating the #femininedivine in movement, art and activism. Understanding how and where we can return to the world led by women or the feminine spirit that exists in us all (because it is where we came from) is important to me. I began my professional practice in New York City fresh out of undergraduate studies at New York University, but I have discovered new spaces of artistic expression over the last nine years. During this time, I’ve worked consistently in arts administration, education, performance, collaboration, curation, and freelance practices.

In a more specific way, what are you practicing? And what are you envisioning?

In the arts, I envision a future of compassion and empathy fostered for communities unseen, unheard and misunderstood. I envision a resilience so deep that we are able to decolonize ourselves. It starts with self, and so movement is a beautiful way to try.

Woman of color dressed in black on stage, kneeling on the floor.Photo courtesy of Corey Rives.

How does your practice and your visioning align with what you most care about?

Today, I only have the love of movement, the love of my partner, the love of food and cooking, the gratitude for a part-time job that serves, and my vivid memories and reflections of what I was told about me vs. my truths (overlap included). I only have time to fester about it because the type-A personality I was told I had can’t find any short-term and immediate solutions, so my anxiety goes into full-throttle mode while she waits for an answer. I think about all my regrets and all my hopes at the same time but in a weird cycle that makes no chronological sense. Rinse and repeat.

Nevertheless, the ultimate irony is that movement is how we return home to check in, to see what’s working and what isn’t. It is how we journal. We were called to this work, to this practice, to this riyaaz, to this kind of meditation and creativity, for better or worse. It’s how we process this confusion. It’s how we arrive at the ultimate conclusion that all we have to do is to give into this moment so that we can be born again.

In times of isolation, I feel fear, anxiety, compassion, and so much [abundant] love—love for what I already have, and love for what I so clearly want moving forward.

How does your practice function within the world we have now?

As far as Indian dance goes—what am I supposed to do?! I’m always conflicted these days. So much of India is in shambles. It has become a political space of division and violence under the guise of secular superiority. It feels almost silly to pursue “Indian” dance or dive deeper into the origins of Hindu mythology when Hinduism is being used to kill each and every day in my parents’ motherland.

But then I return to the #femininedivine in this practice:

  • Ma Kali had dark skin and a fearless tongue.
  • Ma Durga held the weight of the world in ten arms.
  • Hajar never forgot about what’s best for her son.
  • surat al Nisa, the chapter on Women–the Qur’an’s largest chapter–weaves together vignettes of feminine resilience.

When we return home to the #femininedivine, our practice makes sense again. It’s important to me now, in context of our political sphere, to consider my practice a part of the broader South Asian experience, and not the “Indian” experience. At least not right now. The unity and understanding among my fellow brown-skinned folks is far more important to me now than any religious connotations or personal familial anecdotes or political justifications.

In times of isolation, I reflect on my roots, and my longing for effective communication. How many of us women of color have been told who we are already? Part of it is true, so it’s all quite confusing. “Your brother was this type, you were more this type”. Actually, I wish I said, I was a few different things and so was he. But maybe it didn’t fit into the box that made sense for you. Maybe the scope was too large to grasp, so we simplified it. Maybe in a white world that keeps telling you that you’re a visitor, we held onto those labels to merely have something to hold onto: as women, as brown, as queer, as an artist, as a musician, as displaced, as “eclectic,” as “exotic,” as “cultural,” as…uh oh, the labels are back….

 

To read all of Eva Yaa Asantewaa’s Artists Reach Out interviews, visit infinitebody.blogspot.com.

 

Top photo by Brian Thomas.