d’bi. and her new toronto school for artists, the WATAH school featured on byblacks.com

Rethinking Art and Community; d'bi young Opens New Space for ArtistsWade Hudson

Entering d’bi young’s Toronto home on a cold winter’s day;

I am immediately in a place and time of transition. It is warm here, warmth that cannot be attributed to heating or insulation… but love. There is instant respect in this space, in this room that resonates with a quiet ancestral energy with open spaces, wooden floors, wooden features, earth tones and sun-glowing walls. The city, the complaints of winter, the boots, the coats and the noise of ‘where is spring’ has been quieted.

To the right of the entrance, my eyes are set upon a ‘classroom’, in white chalk on blackboard, it reads, the Watah School, yet, rather than being anchored by desks, chairs, signs and charts; this learning wall is supported by open space. The freedom to explore the self and that which impacts the self is the struggle of the artist. How are you different from the artists that came before you? What will you contribute? What legacy will you leave behind? It seems the bane of the artist is finding a way to stand out and stake claim to artistic space. In “allowing myself to experience the natural inquisitive nature of myself”, d’bi young has created a new artistic space, free of restrictions, enclosures and lines.

“I opened a new school in Toronto for artists because I want to learn from artists.”

d’bi young’s teaching principles did not begin with her, by her own admission, they began with her mother, dub poet pioneer anita stewart. Stewart, while studying at the Edna Manley College for the Performing Arts explored dub poetry as a theatre form in her final thesis. d’bi’s work is undoubtedly the continuous layering of her mother’s work, leading to the creation of ‘the sorplusi method’. Rooted in eight guiding principles (self-knowledge, orality, rhythm, political content and context, language, urgency, sacredness and integrity), the sorplusi method is lived learning; challenging the artist or practitioner to name self, embrace the ‘inquisitive nature of being’, while engaging with each other.

It is not surprising that d’bi young’s teaching pedagogy would be rooted in mentorship, sharing, community and accountability. In describing her artistic journey, young begins with the community— the home (her mother), the teachers, the neighbours, aunts and uncles, the artistic community and the political community. “My mentorship is what I have experienced. I am doing what has been done for me,” is the response she gives when asked how she came to be in this moment.

“Sorplusi is a healing practice because art heals… art is a part of the community. I am not doing anything special; this is how it has always been done… this is the legacy left by Africa, by our ancestors. This art is not mine to keep.”

The Watah School is only one of the ways to experience d’bi’s community learning method. She is currently designing the inaugural Stephen Lewis Foundation arts and AIDS academy using the sorplusi method. Art, theatrical practice and performance are a part of the community-led response to the AIDS pandemic in Africa. The academy will bring nine community arts activists to Toronto to participate in ground-breaking workshops led by d’bi. “The Arts Academy will be a mutual space of teaching, healing and learning.”

d’bi young unquestionably believes in the global community.  Seven years ago, she founded Yemoyaa 3 week international artist residency hosted biannually in a different country. In that time d’bi has mentored over 50 artists globally.

Jamaican-Canadian photographer, Wade Hudson, who is also a close friend, experienced the Yemoya residency in Jamaica while shooting an editorial for UK-based Wired Magazine. This experience gave birth to ‘The Faces of Yemoya’, a photo-book to showcase the alumni artists of the program. There is currently an indiegogo campaign to raise funds for the publication of this celebration of the artistic community. You can pledge your support here.

d’bi young is gearing up for her next residency in Hawaii in August 2014. Yemoya is for all artists- from the emerging to the experienced. The application can be found here.

Teneile Warren

Teneile Warren is a Playwright, Reluctant Poet, and an Occasional Short Story Writer. She has read at a number of reading series across the city including the Speakeasy Reading Series, Pride Literary Series, the Write On Series and the Open Minds Reading Series. She is currently exploring her play writing as a part of Obsidian Theatre’s Playwright’s Unit. “The world began with a sentence; make of that what you will.”

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