By Venta Rutkauskas –
Definition of reprise
1[French, from Middle French]
a: a musical repetition:
(1): the repetition of the exposition preceding the development
In the fall of 2017, I wrote “The Role of Art in Precarious Times” for The Green Gazette, motivated by a turbulent and fiery year. I sought guidance from artists in the past who had made art as an act of courage, to speak truth to power and expose oppression. Tanya Tagaq, James Baldwin, Banksy, and Nina Simone drove the piece, fierce symbols of art as action in response to injustice. In this reprise, there is also a longing for reprisal, for the stultifying, egregious injustices we face as individuals and a world community.
As I write, the RCMP and the Province of British Columbia are using militarized force on the Wet’suwet’en land defenders, an Indigenous protest to oil and gas expansion in their traditional territory. This violent response attempts to bulldoze and erase unresolved Indigenous land claims and exposes government and industrial intentions regarding essential climate-emergency measures. So much needs change. I will disclose, I am a privileged white woman, and I have faced injustice and misogyny—but it is a drop in the bucket if I compare it to systemic oppression of my brown, black, or Indigenous relations.
Passion, anger, devotion, love—all of these snake around my body. They seek an exit, a vessel, and a voice. The pathway need not look or feel a certain way, need not fit into a box palatable for mass consumption. The pathway is ours to choose. Some of us create art as action, distilling the mash into beauty.
What power does beauty have in the face of oppression? Valid arguments can be made that beauty as a tactic is frivolous or inefficient; injustice needs more than art, and art need not achieve beauty. Yet, so many valuable human experiences revolve around beauty, stunning moments of awe that stop us in our tracks, like a jolt of reset-lightning pulsing through our beings saying, “This matters. Stop. Just be.” Beauty lets the inner life and inner voice speak up and through the din of society’s shoulds. In this pause, there is a chance for the dismantling and de-conditioning of centuries-old systems of oppression.
In June of 2018, I joined the crew of a film set on location in East Vancouver. The previous winter, the script landed in my inbox, and a story crawled up off the page into my psyche: a tale of underdogs who understood that below the surface of ‘art’ exists an unpredictable potential that can bring power to its knees. For eight days that June, I hustled and witnessed talent fuse mixed media together, dancers, lighting designers, word nerds, and more, piling in to build a vision around a script that told their story. A human web of mobilization for creation.
The film’s screenwriter and director, C.R. Avery, has penned protest poems and unsung hero ballads throughout his artistic mission, notably compassionate to the mis-represented residents of the Downtown East Side. For Avery, it’s like this: we’re not getting the real story from the evening news. “Chuck-D said hip-hop was black people’s CNN,” he explains. “News wasn’t being honest about what was really happening in their neighbourhoods. The music was the truth, the real story.” Avery isn’t always political, but his work is filled with acknowledgment of the unseemly people and places society often ignores. His version of art is what you do “when the radio is failing us with bubble gum.”
Victory on East Hastings, his first feature length film, reads like a billet-doux love letter dancing with a sly fox off Broadway. East Vancouver is more than a setting; it is a character, holding in its worn tattooed arms the guts and grace of racy burlesque and the heroine addicted Kind Man of Alexander Street. It might be a story from away, yet it resonates to the hum of acting for what you believe in, striking embers to ignite as we collectively evaluate the path forward. What matters? How will you show up?
Critical is this moment, this breath, the one that anchors you to your body, awareness vast and curious. De-colonize your mind and body. We are beholden to harmful pretenses until we mine our own belief systems and discover our wildness. Write a rebel song or a power poem, meditate on your cushion, choose to unplug, to question and choose to fight. For beauty. “Be dangerous with your talent,” writes Avery, from his poem Memo.
The film tour is making its BC premiere in Williams Lake on Wednesday, April 1 at the Gibraltar Room. Coupled with a troupe of musicians, Avery’s film debut resolves to meld the live music experience with his cinematic storytelling. This is more than a night at the movies. -GG
Venta Rutkauskas is the co-ordinator for the Community Arts Council of Williams Lake (CACWL). She is an advocate and lover of the arts and has taught drama and written plays for young children. She is also passionate about the healing arts. Visit www.williamslakecommunityartscouncil.com to learn more about CACWL and local artists.