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Queer Art Workers Reflect: Eva Yaa Asantewaa Supports Dancers Speaking Out Against a Capitalist System

LGBTQ Pride month is now. Every day in June, we are celebrating the community by featuring one queer art worker and asking them to reflect on what this moment means to them.

Dance and performance curator Eva Yaa Asantewaa (all images courtesy Eva Yaa Asantewaa, unless otherwise stated)

The month of June is a time to celebrate LGBTQ communities. It’s a moment to reflect on the rich history and culture of the queer community, as well as more recent advances made in the realm of civil liberties. This year, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many queer individuals are navigating greater risks to their health, safety, and livelihoods.

Cognizant of the need to stay connected and elevate queer voices amid uncertainty, Hyperallergic is commemorating Pride Month by featuring one queer art worker per day on our website and asking them to reflect on what this time means to them. If you identify as a queer art worker, we’d love to hear from you. Click here to learn more about how to participate.

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What’s your name?

Eva Yaa Asantewaa

Where are you based currently?

Downtown Manhattan

Describe who you are and what you do.

I am the Senior Director of Artist Development and Curation at Gibney, as well as the Editorial Director. (Both are brand-new titles. I started out as Senior Curatorial Director in 2018, but my role recently expanded.) My writing about dance and other arts has been published since 1976. Since 2007, I have published the InfiniteBody dance blog.

Davalois Fearon (center) with cast of the skeleton architecture, or the future of our worlds, original evening of group improvisation at Danspace Project, Lost and Found Platform (2016) (photo by by Ian Douglas for Danspace Project)

Tell us about your greatest achievement or something you’ve done lately that you’re proud of.

I received a Bessie Award in 2017, for Outstanding Service to the Field of Dance, the same year that [Ensemble of Skeleton Architecture], 21 Black women and gender non-confirming artists from one of my curatorial projects for Danspace Project, also won a Bessie for Outstanding Performance.

Favorite ways to celebrate your queerness and community?

There’s no real separation between my arts community and my queer community. So, my favorite way to celebrate queerness is all bound up in the pleasure of working with and honoring the fantastic artists who make our communities, city and world so vibrant. It’s everyday, it’s ongoing. While I miss the in-person contact, the Internet has helped us to keep things going, keep ideas and resources going.

What’s been top of mind for you lately?

The devastating impact of the COVID-19 crisis on vulnerable communities of color and on the arts community, especially dance with its financial precarity even in “normal” times.

Eva Yaa Asantewaa after receiving a Bessie Award in 2017

Talk to us about your immediate queer community/support systems. (Feel free to shout out other folks or organizations you think are doing important work.)

The arts community is my queer community. So, I pretty much swim in it all the time. I’ll give a shout out to two organizations doing standout work: BAAD! (Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance), which serves largely BIPOC and LGBTQ communities and has done so with loving dedication for many years. The other is Queer|Art, specifically for its vibrant mentorship program. Queer|Art’s work is newer in my awareness, but they were kind to name one of their awards (for lesbian choreographers) after me!

How are you celebrating Pride Month this time around?

Likely, it will be through virtual events. I’ve just joined a committee at my organization, Gibney, to brainstorm what we could do to observe and celebrate Pride season even as our two Manhattan centers remain closed, and I’ll certainly be on the lookout for fun things that other organizations might present online.

Are there ways you think queer artists and art workers could be better supported?

Everybody is going to need higher levels of funding. We’ve gone too long doing a lot for very little, and now we’re all completely screwed. I’m in New York where the issue is not so much can a queer arts worker catch a break? It’s can a queer arts worker pay the rent? Can anybody? How can we make this life, in which we give so much of our hearts, truly sustainable? Artists are workers.

The cast of the skeleton architecture, or the future of our worlds returned to Danspace Project in 2018, left to right: Angie Pittman, Melanie Greene, Charmaine Warren and Jasmine Hearn (photo by Ian Douglas for Danspace Project)

In the communities that you’re part of, what are you hoping to see shift in the future?

Addressing the power imbalance that leaves dance/performance artists perpetually at a loss and in fear for their livelihoods. I’m heartened to witness these artists speaking out and speaking up for themselves more against a capitalist system stacked against them. I want to support that growing courage.

What’s the first thing you’re planning to do when it feels safer to physically gather again?

That depends. What month is it? Can I finally join the Feminist Birding Group that I’d hoped to join this spring? Can I, once again, take joy in seeing an audience gathering for a performance that I curated? Can I go see a show and sit with even a partially-filled audience and feel confident that we all can be safe? Can I hug my friends and colleagues from the dance and performance community — some of the huggiest people — going? Can my wife and I sit in one of our favorite restaurants for our regular Saturday dinner date outing?

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