Performance artist coming to George Brown for Black History Month
D’bi Young Anitafrika has been a playwright, performer, arts director, and a mentor to young artists with a career that spans nearly 30 years.
The multi-faceted artist, who said her work aims to help individuals to develop her self-esteem, will perform at George Brown on Feb. 22, in the Kings Lounge.
Based in Toronto, Anitafrika said she felt at home in her body, yet the spiritual life she held dear didn’t shield her from witnessing racism and violence at a young age.
At 15, she immigrated to Canada, from Jamaica, and experienced discrimination first hand in the form of anti-Jamaican media.
“At the time, there was talk about Jamaican gangs, illegal immigrants, which really reflects the climate now with Trump’s administration,” said Anitafrika.
Growing up as a young, black, queer woman in Kingston, Jamaica, Anitafrika said life was complicated.
“Jamaica is a place with a lot of secrecy, and queerness at the same time,” she croaked, holding back laughter.
Anitafrika said she had ample opportunities to experiment with her identity. It is the resilience of Jamaicans who shaped her to believe that people always resist oppression while they also oppress.
Anitafrika said she was raised by a community of mentors consisting of artists, activists, academics and people of colour, which was instrumental in her launching of the Watah Theatre, in the distillery district.
Founded in 2008, the Watah Theatre was established to give black and diverse artists a positive space to express and to develop their art. The theatre faces a funding crisis, and has set up a Go Fund Me page.
The company often gets $10–$20 community donations and has obtained grants from the Ontario Arts Council. Several other funding bodies, have turned her down, which Anitafrika believes is a symptom of the greed and racial discrimination that pervades this country.
Anitafrika said that the theatre has been turned down repeatedly by grant organizations for funding, “that would have taken care of us for five more years.”
At one point, Anitafrika said she considered quitting.
“I get tired, and I think to myself what if I just stopped suffering, and not give back,” she said.
She then explained that it is the path paved by her African ancestors, and the youth whom she mentors, that inspire her to keep going.
“They ground me whenever my perspective get’s skewed, and I ask myself what is sacred to me,” said Anitafrika.
Eight pillars guide her mentorship program: self-knowledge, morality, rhythm, politics, language, urgency, sacredness, and integrity.
Anitafrika urged emerging artists to invest in getting to know who they are, and to understand how they impact the world.
Anitafrika said she sees Black History Month as an opportunity to zoom in and participate in a ritual offering to her ancestors. It’s a time to reflect on how they were hurt, and how they survived to make the choices so that she can be here now.
“Ritual plays in that role of recognizing African heritage and liberation month, and I try to write pieces that allow me to focus on the history of what has been done,” she reflected.
Her performance at George Brown, loosely called Who are you, how are you, what is your purpose? will engage audiences on topics such as systems of oppression, identity and politics.