Women and female bodies have undergone a lot of scrutiny as of late. As higher institutions of law and culture fail to understand basic human rights and necessities, women and transfolk are required to see their own bodies through the woefully unfair standards of modern society.
In the previous year, I had participated in this project as an artist. Through this process, I discovered that I had only started developing an awareness for my own body and my identity as a woman. As a writer, it can be challenging getting out of your head and in-tune with your body, much like say, a dancer. Now as a facilitator, I sought out an understanding for the physical relationship we have with identity and how a more physical artist might express this.
Hasyimah Harith’s initial concept, Daging, was a project that would explore how the conditions of her society frame her body as livestock, a piece of meat if you will. As a pregnant woman, what external forces challenge the changing female body? Through movement and her own folk dance practice, she would unravel her relationships to these forces and wrest control from the higher powers that devalue bodies like her own.
But then the highest power came. Death is in the stars for everyone, but the timing is always unpredictable. When my co-facilitator Andrei and I met with Hasyimah, we had no idea what was to come next. With great courage and grace, Hasyimah had decided to continue on with the project, it was just a matter of figuring out what it was. As facilitators, we attempted to absorb and respond to her ideas, not so much giving notes or dictation but asking questions and responding to what we personally found interesting. We mapped out our cultures of childbirth and loss, noting the intersecting habits and rituals common to our Southeast Asian heritage. We discussed how performance and ritual have similar purposes in the way that they serve a given audience. The most rewarding part of the facilitation process was simply to watch Hasyimah grapple with her grief and transform it into something new altogether.
In one of our final meetings, Hasyimah was putting forth the newest iteration of her project when I found myself fighting back tears. Roe v. Wade had just been overturned in the United States and on this particular day I was also feeling hyperconscious about the relationship I had with my own body. As Hasyimah described the actions she wanted to perform, touching her own belly post-partum, comforting her body after a great loss, I discovered the grief and anger for the way I’ve been taught to not like my body. How our bodily rights have been proven to be nonexistent in the eyes of world governments. How, in some way, we are going to have to count on these rituals and social gestures to find some agency in our own skin.
While we encouraged Hasyimah to observe simple tasks like meditating or being present in the moment, I think the most comforting ritual is meeting with other people. We learn to create spaces of comfort and conversation even between entire oceans. We demonstrate over and over again that, by gesture of appointment and performance, we always have the agency to present and listen to ourselves, our bodies, and each other.
--- Gabbi Campomanes