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Barbara T. Smith Performance Guide


To ritually heal the trauma of violence and transform limitations on what WE CAN do to end domestic violence personally and communally. To move beyond powerlessness and silence to a place of strength and empowerment. To perform a ritual for oneself, with a small group, or as a performance for others, joining in solidarity to end violence.


Structure of original performance ceremony:

I CAN: Requiem for I Can’t Performance March 31, 2012 at SPARC: view on YouTube by clicking here.


Installation elements by installation/video artist Nina Jun:
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    Burning Shreds on the "I Can't" Mound

    “I Can’t” Mound - This mound was covered with the white paper shreds of “I Can’ts” gathered from community members and survivors of domestic violence who had participated in AWBW art workshops at Los Angeles shelters. The mound appeared to be on fire (overhead video projection) and the “I Can’ts” were symbolically burned.


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    I CAN Mound with floating boats

    I CAN Mound - This mound was covered with I CAN statements which had been written on strips of colored paper that had also been collected from community members and survivors of domestic violence. The mound had a video monitor set into the top in which a projection of colorful paper I CAN boats appeared floating gently in a pond.

The artists, performers and guests:

"I Can't"

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Procession to Fuare's Requiem led by Barbara T. Smith
  • Barbara T. Smith, Nina Jun, Cathy Salser and 12 members of the community as performers gathered at the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) in Venice, CA to perform the opening ceremony of I CAN: Requiem for I Can’t.

  • A procession to Fuare's Requiem was led by Barbara T. Smith, who was wearing a harness and dragging objects behind her that represented her personal and communal “I Can’ts”: a doll’s house, a boy and girl doll and 20 pounds of raw meat (symbolizing home, children and the body) that were released during the ceremony. The twelve performers followed behind Barbara in the procession. Each performer was dragging or carrying a white bag filled with written and shredded “I Can'ts” collected from community members and survivors of domestic violence who had participated in the workshop. The guests attending the ceremony followed the procession from outside of the SPARC building to the interior of the gallery space.



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Procession and guests surrounding the
"I Can't" Mound

  • Cathy and Nina greeted the procession and led the guests to the “I Can’t” mound where they were invited to assemble around it.

  • Cathy assisted Barbara in removing her harness with attached burdens and hung it on a hook on the gallery wall.

  • Smith sat in the jail cell that is part of the SPARC gallery and wrote a personal “I Can’t” on a piece of paper, which she then shredded and walked to the “I Can’t” mound while saying her “I Can’t” aloud and scattered the shreds onto the “burning” mound.

  • The 12 performers were invited to add the shreds from the bags they had been carrying to the mound while verbally stating their personal “I Can’ts.”

  • Guests were invited to join in the process – adding their own shredded “I Can’ts.”


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    I CAN Statement
    Cathy invited Barbara to sit again in the cell, which became a site of transformation to write her personal I CAN on a strip of colored paper. While she wrote, the guests were also invited to think of and write their I CANs on distributed strips of colored paper. The Fuare music continued to play.
  • Barbara and Cathy walked to the I CAN mound and the music dropped to silence and then transitioned to beautiful I CAN music: Leo Delibes’ Flower Duet.
  • Barbara and Cathy approached the I CAN mound and Barbara spoke her I CAN aloud and placed it on the grid that was mounted on the gallery wall, which was also covered with I CANs from the shelter participants. The 12 performers did the same. The guests were invited to place their I CANs on the wall or I CAN mound and were given small paper-folded boats (like the boats floating on water in the video atop the mound) to be taken outside and tied with a ribbon to a tree in a symbolic celebration.


Suggestion for your own I CAN ceremony:

  • Collaborate with a friend or a small group of community members and talk about your personal “I Can’ts” and I CANs in relation to releasing the “I Can’ts” from your life and embracing the I CANs. This discussion can be based on personal, community or global issues to ending violence.
  • Looking at the original structure of the March 2012 ceremony, pull doable elements or invent your own ceremony/performance to recreate a two part ritual that moves your “I Can’ts” to I CANs.
  • When performing the ceremony alone or with friends, choose a space where you are able to talk and share stories and perform your ceremony
"I Can't"


Each participant writes their “I Can’t” list on a piece of writing paper and, one by one, each participant is invited to read his or her list aloud, if they wish. After this is done, each participant shreds or tears their “I Can’ts” and saves the shredded paper.



Each person chooses from an array of art materials, i.e.: construction paper, markers, paint and paintbrushes, glue, glitter. The “I Can’ts” shreds are then incorporated into a personal work of art by each of the participants. Encourage each participant to think about how they would like to bury or destroy their “I Can’ts”. Creativity is the key. Allow each participant to discuss how it felt to bury/destroy his or her list of “I Can’ts”.


Post-performance ceremony evolution

As the project has carried forward from the SPARC exhibit and broadened to survivors and community members nationwide, it has become I CAN WE CAN. We welcome you to become part of I CAN WE CAN, be a visible part of this circle of voices saying "no" to violence, and stay in touch as your own, personal I CAN commitment unfolds over time. We want to hear from you and we welcome your voice. By participating in this project, you are part of a collective community voice of many individuals claiming what they CAN do to end the violence.

How to participate:
The I CAN WE CAN website offers an easy way to create an I CAN WE CAN work of art to be a part of an online exhibition. You can create an I CAN Pledge Hand, individually or with others, and upload an image of your Pledge Hand to our I CAN WE CAN online exhibition and stand united to end the violence.

Suggested Materials: Face paint/non-toxic body paint to use on your hands, construction paper (assorted colors), scissors, glue sticks, glitter or glitter paint, paints and brushes, markers.

Click here to view a sampling of I CAN Pledge Hands in the Community Gallery.

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

Your information will only be used by A Window Between Worlds and will not be shared.

Thank you for joining I CAN WE CAN.

Click here to learn more.