Artists Among Us: Seattle performer’s photo project reflects isolation, self-discovery
Victoria Tangata’s eyes are bright, large and smoky. They either want to tell you a secret or take in all of the secrets your ancestors ever held. She is a proud African woman from Kenya; she moved to the United States at the age of 8. She believes in God. The more I talk with her, the more I walk and relax in my own relationship with God.
We adjust our computers, making sure the sound and lights are of perfection. She is sitting in her kitchen at her north Seattle home. Her black curly hair is pulled back into a ponytail; she is wearing a black short mini shirt/dress with embroidery along the lapel. This is neither my first nor my second time talking with Vic and every single time we talk, her passion for life takes over. I have not come across anyone in a long time who is so passionate about the well-being of other humans.
It was this passion and some self reflection that sparked her latest project “Dancing With Myself (A Personal Journey of Self Love During Covid-19).” She describes it as a photo-essay book that was created during isolation — and also a period when she ended a relationship with her partner. She also found herself further isolated because her roommate had a two-month extended stay in a hospital. But she acknowledges that during times of great despair and suffering is when she creates her work.
“‘Dancing with Myself’ came to be at the start of the lockdown,” she says. “During that time I was seeing someone and we decided not to see each other because it started to become a world of codependency.”
Alone with only her thoughts and feelings, she flashbacked to being a child and the discomfort she felt. Tangata was moving through thoughts of childhood isolation when something came to her. It hit her that the world was having this collective experience. With the help of a friend and her creativity in bloom, she began to take self-portraits. She wanted to investigate what it would actually feel like to be in a relationship with oneself.
She titled the book “Dancing With Myself” because of her love of dance. She doesn't call herself a professional dancer. “When I dance with myself, there are no wrong counts. I am not offending anyone. There are no wrong emotions when dancing with myself.”
In the series of photos there are images of Tangata in relationship with herself. In the center spread of the book she is getting ready for a night on the town. As she prepares to go out on the town, one image of her is sitting on a bathroom counter in a blue/ gray bathrobe with a smile on her face. She is in conversation with herself; this self is wearing a floral sundress and checking her hair in the mirror. The women in these photos are in admiration of each other. She also began writing short essays to accompany the photos in the book.
After releasing a few images online, she received great feedback. She realized: “Not only can I be in a collective grief, I can be in a collective healing.”
Part of that collective healing came in a short film she created. “In Case You Were Wondering” is a reflection on the lessons she has learned in life that have placed her on a path toward love, self-healing and joy. In the film you see her walking through a park near her home. This seems to be a reflection on her childhood. Tangata talks about a time of poverty before moving to this country. She talks about a time of feeling alone in school because English was not her first language. These moments in her childhood helped define her artistic practice.
This film is a reminder that Black women often cannot sit with their thoughts. It is a reminder that many Black women have little time or space to just pause and breathe. And if they do have the time, what does that cost them? She dedicates this short film to Black and Brown women.
Dance is Tangata’s first love; it is about moving freely and exploring storytelling. But she also wants to use the power of photography, poetry and film to open people's minds about how Black women/African women move through this world.
The result is work that will move you, helping to release self-doubt and self-loathing and bringing you to a better understanding of collective healing and love.
This story is part of the Artists Among Us series of profiles highlighting creatives around the region who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color. Dani Tirrell is a Black, Queer choreographer, dancer and movement guide and the curator for the 2019-20 season of Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas.