Love Thyself

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This is going to sound really weird, but I love black people. I love us because our arts and culture are so incredibly rich. The way we move is art, the way we speak, the way we dance and sing. I love art, specifically performance art, and I just realized why I think it's so special.

Januarie York performed alongside Tony Styxx and Theon Lee Jones at the Art & Soul 2014 spoken word show. - MALINA SIMONE
  • Malina Simone
  • Januarie York performed alongside Tony Styxx and Theon Lee Jones at the Art & Soul 2014 spoken word show.

This month I've had the opportunity to work with the Arts Council of Indianapolis to book artists for Art & Soul 2014. An annual celebration of art and artists in Indy, Art & Soul 2014 takes place at the Indianapolis Artsgarden located inside Circle Centre Mall, above the intersection of Washington and Illinois streets downtown. I've loved this project for years. Not only is it a fantastic opportunity for Indy-based artists to show their talent but its public performance art. Thousands of people walk in and out of the glass dome that is the Artsgarden, but during this event, they'll hear snippets of songs, poetry and dance. They'll happen upon free art in a public space, and what's cool about that is that they may not even recognize it as art. This isn't a museum space. No one paid to get in. So, suddenly art is not exclusive. It's not something you needed to have studied. It's just something you stumbled upon at the mall.

One of the acts I lined up for the monthlong Black History Month celebration is a spoken word show by artists Tony Styxx, Januarie York and Theon Lee Jones. These three are honestly some of Indy's top poets. They've been on the spoken word scene for a long while now and have helped to create an actual poetry culture in the city. The three had 20 minutes each to speak last Friday, for a large lunchtime crowd in the Artsgarden.

Januarie York went first. The environment was as a somber as a funeral, as her first piece covered a murder in a parking lot. She walked to the stage holding a bouquet of yellow flowers, and as she spoke, a violin played softly. The crowd sat quietly and attentive as York ended her set with an uplifting message about reclaiming our youth, our neighborhoods and our city. "Where you at queen, please readjust your crown" was my favorite line from one of her pieces.

Tony Styxx went next and announced the death of his sibling just one week prior. He pushed through the pain and delivered a profound show like only he can. Then Theon Lee Jones ended the 90-minute performance with a more joyous tune. He still spoke about life and its worries, but he added music and the rhythm of a live guitar.

What I love about this work is that it's passionate. Artists are giving their hearts to us, and for them, that's a hard and quite vulnerable task. I also love that they are black -- as awkward as that sounds. It seems like they are presenting this ball of history; that their performance is a culmination of hurt, pain, tears, work, death and the strength of one body of people. When I hear them recite their words I can hear the voices of many people of all backgrounds and experiences and races -- with the same struggles and vulnerability. I hear love, I hear resilience, I hear patience and hope. I love the many forms artistic expression can take on, and I love that we have so many willing vessels in Indy.

Art & Soul 2014 runs through the beginning of March with all performances free and in the Artsgarden during lunch hours. Other local artists scheduled to perform include Freetown Village, the Matt Wilson Band, Bashiri Asad and more. Detailed information can be found at www.indyarts.org.

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