Known for the invention of Starbucks, its deep nostalgia for grunge, and a Silicon Valley appeal, Seattle also has a rich Black heritage. As the city becomes increasingly expensive – and historical Black neighborhoods become white – Black artist collectives are using their platforms to address gentrification, historical erasure and ways of existing outside of those structures. Mia Harrison interviewed Ganesha from Cura Club and Saira Barbaric from Playthey and Scumtrust, three collectives that focus on the ways Blackness can be explored outside of the perpetuation of trauma narratives – through actions that heal.
Mia Harrison: How did your respective collectives come into being?
Ganesha (Cura Club): Cura Club emerged during a queer-led indigenous ceremony in 2017. Young indigenous people, many of them with roots in the global South, had come together and were desperately seeking a space for shared prayer, altar cultivation, and ancestral medicine. A generation mostly devoid of direct connection to ancestral wisdom, we sought to erase that decades-old dynamic of colonial assimilation by forging lifelong connections to the indigenous elders of Mexico as new initiates of the healing art and healthcare system of Curanderismo.
Saira Barbaric (Playthey/ ScumTrust): Both collectives I’ve imagined and co-founded were formed out of my desire to create spaces for artists and workers who’ve been marginalized by the state. I needed a space to feel held and to grow in my understanding of art, sex, and organizing. Playthey is creating access-centered nightlife, working on sustainable structures that focus on disabled and trans artists. The ultimate goal being to create a global network that enables touring, collaboration, and growth for the directors and members. Scumtrust is creating BIPoC and trans centered porn, ritual, storytelling, and sex-positive events. Because sexuality and sensual exploration have societal barriers for queer and trans people, Black and indigenous folk and disabled people.
MH: What does the word sanctuary mean to you?
G: Spaces that exist solely for the purpose of supporting communal reintegration, healing, decompression, and security for those marginalized communities too busy being on the run from systems of oppression to afford those privileges for themselves.
SB: A space of freedom, where expression isn’t curtailed by weight of systemic expectation. Black sanctuary is integral to the empowerment of newness, as innovation is our consistent response to oppression.
MH: How do you define the Black arts scene in Seattle?
G: Underground, but loud. Rare, but expansive. Fragmented, but intensely self-aware. Expensive, and ever worthy. While I don’t have the best references for Black art scenes outside of Seattle – as they’ve been scarce wherever I’ve lived around the country – the experiences that I do have tell me that the local scene here has a very specific focus on safeguarding the culture – being surrounded by the “great white North”. In this way, the Black vision is concentrated, and ready to blow.
SB: The Black arts scene in Seattle has roots that are often hidden by the mainstream. The impact of white supremacy in the city is the repeated erasure of its Black history. Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute is 40 years old, and yet, folks often will say that there are no Black people making art. Indeed, many Black artists here have been working in their own lanes. But it seems that more and more often they’re engaging with one another.
MH: Has collaboration helped in creating Black sanctuaries?
G: Public, private, and innovative methods of collaboration between marginalized minds are key in the suffocating absence of wealth and resource redistribution.
SB: The structural lie of so many artistic endeavors is that one ‘genius’ made it all happen. Even the greats have apprentices, assistants, and supporters who give them inspiration, time, and labor. Creatives and space makers marginalized by the state get empowerment from collaborative space.
MH: Where exactly do you see the intersection between nightlife, art, and the work your collectives do?
G: The multiple collectives that I am a part of all rely on the seductive and deeply interactive communally adhesive elements of nightlife and the primal social instincts its jungle of connective possibilities offers to the QTBI communities. Our ancestral wisdom guides us to these spaces of energetic mingling in new and exciting ways, and innovation is at the heart of progress for multiple marginalized peoples.
SB: The work of my collectives is entirely focused on the way art and nightlife bring healing. I believe in the night specifically as an access point to ancestral connection. I believe in movement and music as meditation.
MH: How do you support each other in your visions?
G: With Cura Club, we each find time to host gatherings at our individual homes, communal spaces and organizations we have access to in order to gather and elevate our medicine practices with one another. We try to uplift the community through that medicine, and we celebrate the gift of life together. We also regularly fundraise as a collective to offer financial aid to the most at-risk in our group. And we travel to Mexico to deepen our learning, healing, and skill sharing.
SB: In Scumtrust, we develop projects based on the stories and the desires of the collective’s artists. They share their visions of fun, sex, magic, and fantasy and from there we meet, discuss, and create agreements on a courses of action. In Playthey, we’ve paused heavy project production to focus on making a structure that will support our labor and time getting compensated. A lot of the collective vision there is about forging ongoing relationships that will pay artists and creatives.
MH: Are there other groups carving out space for Black healing that inspire you?
G: Big shout out to Mystic Melanin Meetup for its continually evolving work and holding of a spiritual and magical space for the healing of Black and Brown communities in the Pacific Northwest. Second shout out to Ghetto Heaven for providing a space and an industrious vision for Black queer healing and organizing under the alluring guise of chic art-focused parties and fantastic live community functions.
SB: Shout out to Earth Pearl Collective for their work in the city and connecting their work with the Black queer internationally. Shout out to CD Forum and Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute for working to support all types of Black artists. Third shout out to Ghetto Heaven for really organizing to connect nightlife and healing in interesting ways.
MH: What’s next for both of you?
G: I see this work reaching and directly contributing to the next. I see this work and this medicine weaving in and out of timelines, into ancestral and cosmic bodies as well as capitalist and colonial structures until they collapse under the pressure and take on new form as agents of balance with the Earth and our celestial relatives and neighbors.
SB: I see the work growing and enabling all other artists behind it to travel, teach, and grow their networks. I imagine both collectives as vessels to fight puritanical, transphobic, and ableist notions in society. I dream of recreating the intersection of art and capitalism with the goal of destroying capitalist rule and forging new ways of commerce and survival. I believe in the power of joy and pleasure to power the imagination, and I believe in artists as the blood to revive a broken world.
Mia Imani Harrison is an artist and writer currently based in Berlin.
This text was commissioned within the framework of the project “Show me your Shelves”, which is funded by and is part of the yearlong campaign “Wunderbar Together (“Deutschlandjahr USA”/The Year of German-American Friendship) by the German Foreign Office. It was first published on contemporaryand.com at November 21, 2019, www.contemporaryand.com/magazines/radical-collectivity/