What is black? What does it mean to be a black Jamaican American man with the power of the Holy Spirit in me? What is at stake?
One of the driving forces that tugs at my soul is the understanding of myself through my family, my people and the world in which we live. To fight for the oppressed, against injustice and to break the yokes in high/low places is a part of the reason I am here.
I wrestle with these questions and beliefs — that is how I have been negotiating myself through this world. And I am grappling with the same questions as a performer in Nora Chipaumire’s “portrait of myself as my father,” which we will perform this weekend at The Light Box in Wynwood.
Through the process of this work, I’ve come to understand more and more the subtle differences in the world of blackness: Zimbabwean vs. Senegalese vs. Jamaican vs. African American, as opposed to the flattening of cultures, experiences, of humanity in thinking all black is the same.
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This work forced me to look deep into myself, through examination of father, mother, brothers, culture and belief. We’re all tied to our first institution: family. Many fathers like my own fled from their families, which sends a ripple effect of dysfunction. I never really understood this flight, and that turned into resentment. But in my journey and through this work, I am more able to understand pressures and responsibilities that black fathers/men face in this world. I’m more capable of forgiving and am empathetic to my father, and that fuels me to reshape, recreate and redefine myself as a black man.
This work, “portrait of myself as my father,” also allowed for a deep inquiry and a deep re-imagining of the black body — the free body, the body that has a right to be called human, has a right to human dignity; a body not bound to the systems of this world, not bound to death. We are all tethered together. There is struggle: a white struggle, a black struggle, but the core of all these struggles is the struggle for our souls. Chipaumire presents an idea of what these struggles look like and how they are negotiated.
This work has helped me put on my gloves and fight, and it has also given our fathers a fighting chance in a world that seeks to annihilate the Black man. Where there is life there is hope, and I shall fight and be all that I can be in all of His Glory as a black Jamaican American man.
I was born in Kingston, Jamaica and raised in Port Antonio and Miami, and it was when I was taking dance technique classes at Miami Dade College, under the direction of Michelle Grant Murray, that I took a workshop/residency activity and met MDC Live Arts visiting artist Chipaumire.
I believe anything is possible, but I could never have imagined that I would be coming back to Miami as a professional artist with this world-renowned choreographer.
I’m happy to be sharing my art with Chipaumire in Miami, my hometown. It’s a humbling truth and proof that life is circular and leads you to where you need to be.
Shamar Watts will be performing in the South Florida premiere of Nora Chipaumire’s “portrait of myself as my father” at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Miami Light Project, 404 NW 26th St. in Miami. It is being co-presented by MDC Live Arts.