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VOICES: A Sacred Sisterscape”: Poet aja monet & V on New Audio Play Centering Black Women’s Stories

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Democracy Now! speaks with the creators of a new arts campaign grounded in Black women’s stories. VOICES: a sacred sisterscape is an audio play directed by award-winning poet aja monet weaving together Black feminist poems and perspectives. “Art is an invitation to expand our participation in the world and the ways that we see the world,” says monet, who hopes the project inspires action beyond aesthetics. “Solidarity is about us being not just spectators, but actors in the reality of our lives.”

The project was created with V-Day, the global activist movement to end violence against all women, gender-expansive people, girls and the Earth. “Rather than looking at Black women, we needed to put our headphones on and our masks … and do embodied listening,” says V, playwright of The Vagina Monologues and founder of V-Day. “Through that, we begin to understand where we all connect, where we are all aligned.”

VOICES: a sacred sisterscape will be available for streaming June 11.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, I’m Amy Goodman.

We end today back here in New York City, where on Wednesday the Empire State Building was lit up in red and gold to mark the 90th anniversary of the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem. Well, the Apollo Stages at The Victoria next door just hosted the launch of a new project and campaign by V-Day that’s grounded in Black women’s stories. V-Day is the global activist movement to end violence against all women and girls. The project is called VOICES: a sacred sisterscape. This is part of the introduction to the audio play.

MUMBI KAIGWA: You are the sun. “Where are you running to?” mother asked, deeply concerned as we darted to hide under the shade. “A shield from the sun? The cracks on our skin,” she said, “are a celebration of life.” She could never understand the pride garnered from polished clay-pot faces. In her heydays, every mark told a story. Laughter and tears amongst her sisters, a household feared and frowned upon when men came to pick wives, laughing behind grandmother’s back, tattooing their arms and legs with memories. “The sweetest fruits have spots,” she’d say. Let the sun burn. Run in the wild. Dance with the bees. Pet the cubs. Fight the hyenas. Be a girl of the savanna. Drink with the elephants. Swim with the hippos. Bathe with the flamingos. Be a girl of the Sahara.

AMY GOODMAN: The voice of Mumbi Kaigwa, reading a piece by Ursula Nyaboke Gisemba called “You Are the Sun” in the opening of the audio play from V-Day called VOICES: a sacred sisterscape. And this is another part of the play. This part was written by Frieda Ndeutala Mukufa and read by Tyshawna Maddox. It’s called “My Rapist.”

TYSHAWNA MADDOX: Why do we say “my rapist”? Like, does he belong to me? What part of him belongs to me? What part of him resides within me? What part of his is left with me? Why is he mine? I say “my rapist” like I’m proud to call him mine. I am forced to say “my rapist” because it’s double rape now. It identifies who I am. He makes up my identity, someone I never asked to own, someone I never wanted to own. Why is he always accompanied by my anger? Why does he fuel how I feel? Why is it that he is attached to my memories? Why is he mine?

AMY GOODMAN: Another excerpt from VOICES: a sacred sisterscape.

For more, we’re joined by the project’s director, aja monet, the Grammy-nominated poet and artistic creative director of V-Day’s Voices campaign. And also with us, V, formerly known as Eve Ensler, founder of V-Day and One Billion Rising. Her Obie Award-winning play The Vagina Monologues has been translated into 48 languages. Her memoir is Reckoning.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! aja, let’s begin with you. I was privileged to be in the Apollo Stages last Friday. It was actually right before a whole group, about a thousand people, shut down the Brooklyn Museum around Palestine and the issue of divestment. But if you can talk about what you’re doing with his project, considered a continuation of Vagina Monologues, to be performed all over the world, or at least to be heard by many?

aja monet: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.

First, I think, in a time of extreme environmental violence, racial violence and gender violence, I think it’s a result of a lack of political imagination. And we know that art is an invitation to expand our participation in the world and the ways that we see the world. So we want this project to be in the legacy of projects like The Vagina Monologues, For Colored Girls, and the many ways that art has mobilized people to really go inward and then to examine their convictions about the ways that they show up in the world. And so, that’s really the impetus of this project, is to be an exploration of the interior landscape and how that manifests in the decisions we make towards each other.

AMY GOODMAN: And if you can talk about centering Black women’s voices, when this project came into being?

aja monet: Yeah. So, we began this project with an invitation by V to myself to be a part of V-Day, which is a global movement to end violence against women and girls. The Vagina Monologues, as you mentioned, it has an incredible legacy and tradition of using art to mobilize communities around all the many issues that we face, you know, in terms of sexual violence, assault, environmental violence, racial violence.

And so, post, I guess it would be, the uprisings of 2020, even though we know that the Movement for Black Lives had started long before that moment, but after George Floyd, I think it really encouraged the sort of invitation for people to look and examine themselves and the ways that they’re showing up more deeply. And V had already been thinking about how to move The Vagina Monologues a little bit further from the center of the movement for V-Day. And so, this moment sort of sparked, I think, the initiation of that urgent call to action to make something else the center of our work. And especially knowing that Black women are often at the forefront of our movements, our social movements, and Black feminism and what it has done for our movements, I think it just seemed appropriate for the time.

AMY GOODMAN: And, V, if you can take it from there? In fact, that night — that day — it was afternoon, though it seemed like night in the very dimly lit room, where people had headphones on and were putting eye masks on to sit back and absorb the voices from around the world. You were sitting next to the great playwright Anna Deavere Smith, who read this amazing transcript, if you will — I should say performed it, embodied it — of Mike Wallace interviewing the great playwright Lorraine Hansberry. But talk about what this, really, moment, where you and aja monet have put out this piece that’s going to be released around the world, and how it’s going to be released.

V: Well, first of all, I want to say thank you for having us on.

And I’m so proud of aja and her whole team of amazing women who have created this piece out of — you know, there were 900 submissions of Black women around the world, and they have woven this into this stunning, stunning piece with Lafemmebear, who created the music, and made a offering in a moment where we are seeing books and histories being censored, where we’re shutting down discourse. And it’s so critical at this moment to tell our stories, to hear deeply.

I loved aja’s whole vision of this piece, which is, rather than looking at Black women, we needed to put our headphones on and our masks, and we needed to go into our minds and go into our beings and do embodied listening, where we heard stories, where we heard dreams, where we heard terrors, where we heard experiences we might not know. And through that, we begin to understand where we all connect, where we are all aligned.

I think when we can hear each other’s stories, when we can do deep, deep listening, that’s when hate dissolves. That’s when divisions dissolve. And I think, you know, just being in that room up at the Apollo and seeing all those people lying on couches and lying on mats and really being with each other deeply in the listening to the stories and to the dreams and to the visions of Black women was such a powerful experience for so many people, and will be as this piece begins to spread out into the world.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s play another clip from VOICES. This is called “Prison.”

ROSLYN SMITH: My name is Roslyn Smith. And I thought I would die in prison. The day I got the decision from the parole board saying that I was going to be released was one of the happiest days in my life. While in prison, I had all these hopes and dreams about what my freedom would look like. I was going to get a job, find a place for me and my daughter to live, travel, enjoy all the things that I missed while I was incarcerated. But to my surprise, none of those dreams panned out the way I thought. Prison didn’t prepare me for reentry. I was incarcerated in 1979 and came home 39 years later, in 2018. I was stuck in a time warp. Tokens were Metro cards. Phones were cellular. Letters were emails. I returned to a world that I was foreign to. And the world that I was in didn’t give me any kind of skills to carry forth. I was trying to establish myself in a new community, and I was at the age of people retiring, preparing for retirement at least. I was freed from prison, but not from the struggles or stigma of a formerly incarcerated woman.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the voice of Roslyn Smith from the piece “Prison,” which is part of this medley, this mosaic, this collage of voices from around the world, part of VOICES: a sisterscape. aja monet, how and when is this being released?

aja monet: Thank you for asking. Well, it’s going to be released on June 11th across the globe on all streaming platforms. Something we want to also illustrate or to demonstrate for people is that while this is an audio play or an audio experience, it has been a campaign. So, before it first launches on June 11th, we also premiered a launch in Ghana in — I think it was December 22nd, 2022. It was with Angela Davis. And it was an effort for us to not just be about the aesthetic phenomenon about art, but real life, you know, to transform us from being — solidarity is about us being not just spectators, but actors in the reality of our lives.

And so, this is — the way we’ve launched this and the way that we’ve campaigned the project is to also be in process with one another as Black women, that we’re so diverse across our identities and across the ways that we culturally express ourselves. And I think that that’s something that I hope people take away with, that it’s not just about what we have endured and our oppression and the things that we’ve experienced, but also who we’ve become in spite and because of those things, and what ways we’ve fostered relationships and community and movements because of the perspectives and sort of the interior examination that those issues, troubles, tribulations have spawned in us.

And so, it will be launched on June 11th, with the support of Blackstone, and it will be on all streaming platforms. And we hope people will take the piece into their communities and organize their own listening exhibitions and community-centered sort of, you know, spaces with one another to really engage in embodied listening.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. The date is June 11th that VOICES will be released around the world on every streaming platform. I want to thank aja monet, the artistic creative director of V-Day’s Voices campaign — it’s called VOICES: a sisterscape — and also V, formerly called Eve Ensler, founder of V-Day and One Billion Rising.

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! is produced with Mike Burke, Renée Feltz, Deena Guzder, Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud, Hana Elias. Our executive director, Julie Crosby. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

Up Next

V-Day: Poet Aja Monet & V (Eve Ensler) on the Movement to End Violence Against Women & Girls

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