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Barbara T. Smith Joins I CAN WE CAN

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Barbara T. Smith outside SPARC after her opening ceremony performance.

It was a great honor and wonderful experience working on the I CAN project for A Window Between Worlds with Nina Jun and Cathy Salser.

I have witnessed firsthand the work that A Window Between Worlds does, having been teamed with their incredible staff and volunteers. It is wonderful how they all work together with the greatest of joy and affirmative energy. It is truly inspiring.


This collaboration has been extremely significant to me. This work comes from trauma – something artists have long grappled with – to process, take hold of, make meaning, and grow from our experiences. For me, art has always been a practice of moving from the place of paralysis into the place of power. I know this process intimately from my own rape experience and art. As one of my theologian friends made me see, the initial trauma becomes a GIFT of depth out of which we create art, heal others and ourselves.

During the I CAN: Requiem for I Can’t performance piece, I dragged behind me symbolic objects that represented the body, home and our children: classic sites of trauma. I also lead a group of 12 participants who dragged bags filled with shredded "I Can’t" statements from survivors of domestic violence staying in Los Angeles shelters. The statements from the survivors documented the fears and blockages in their lives and were ritually scattered on Nina’s flaming burial mound. I hope that the performance of I CAN: Requiem for I Can’t helps to allow all of us to drop our major obstacles and move on to new vistas where we can achieve our dreams.

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Barbara T. Smith dragging symbolic objects that represent the body, home, and our children that she later released as part of the ceremony.

It was at this point that I too transformed an ending into a beginning. This was a perfect vehicle to pass on my performance art practice to Cathy Salser. She represents a new generation in which performance goes beyond the focus on the body of the artist into activism in the larger community. I did not want to simply let my work dwindle off and die but rather give it to Cathy for a living art. The energy of taking action and going where the issue resides now has an ongoing future.

The group then adorned Nina’s mound of flowering possibility with their written statements of what we CAN do. Then we celebrated! We hope you, too, will celebrate with us and share your I CANs.


Click here for a full write-up of Barbara T. Smith's performance and tips on how to create your own version. View the video of Barbara's performance here.

Join us to help end domestic and sexual violence. Together WE CAN!

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