Vocalist and musician Ashantiva is one of six 2017-18 Cedar Commissions artists. In her project “Book of L” debuting on February 10th (get tickets here) indie-pop and experimental electronic soundscapes open a door into the inner life of L, a young woman writer created by collaging pieces of Ashantiva’s journals with those of Sylvia Plath, Anne Frank, Virginia Woolf and Anaïs Nin. L’s journey from teen writer to emerging artist is dramatized with intricate and striking graphic novel-style illustrations by Bly Pope and performed by the band Psychic Revival. Introspective, ambitious and creative, L, like many women, experiences violence and harassment in her search for her artistic voice.
When I started writing Book of L in August of 2017, I could not have predicted the huge cultural shift we’re currently experiencing, spurred by women telling their stories of harassment, abuse and violence. I was stunned throughout much of the fall of 2017. Not stunned that these events had happened to so many women, but amazed that they had made it to the top of newsfeeds and front pages. As victims, we are used to darkness, silence and not being believed.
“Many Alleys” from Ashantiva’s multimedia Cedar Commissions performance
In October, I asked a Victim Advocate involved with the Harvey Weinstein case, “I can’t believe this is being reported in the news and people are paying attention. Why now?” She replied, “This is a tipping point, a sea change, we’ve had enough.” And we are still riding that wave!
As a survivor, I have hesitated to share my own stories of harassment and violence. It’s not a fun conversation to have and sometimes I come away with the impression that people are trying to find out how it was partially my fault or it wasn’t “that bad” or they say that I shouldn’t identify as a “victim”. I think people react in this way because they don’t want to believe that harassment and misconduct takes place on a fairly regular basis. Even worse, they might realize that it’s not just “monsters” like Weinstein that are playing a part in a culture of misogyny.
“Rising from Body”
Many victims of abuse suffer in silence, are filled with shame and struggle to recover completely, even after years of treatment and recovery. For most of us, there is no benefit in speaking out. In my own experience, reporting harassment, discrimination and violence has resulted mostly in retaliation, being ignored or shunned.
Instead of reaching out for support, I’ve reached inwards. I’ve written about my experiences and feelings in a journal, off and on, since I was 10, and it’s been a vehicle to express what I’ve gone through. Reading the journals of Sylvia Plath, Anaïs Nin, Virginia Woolf and Anne Frank, I felt solidarity with these writers who have gone through similar challenges while discovering their artistic voices.
The character in my piece, L, is a montage of all these women writers plus me, and the lyrics were written by mapping out common themes in all of our lives. In the arts, women face not only sexual harassment and violence, but discrimination, ageism, pay inequality and the challenges of raising children while striving for artistic excellence. A career in the arts is difficult, but we don’t quit, because we are passionate about creating.
When I was deep into composing for this project, I worried that the music and subject matter would be too dark. But as the pieces have developed, I am more confident that they express L’s full array of emotions, from joy to anxiety, and depression to gratitude. L is not just a victim, she’s an artist, a writer, a lover, a dreamer. Her story is my story and the story of many women.
The Cedar Commissions is The Cedar’s flagship program for emerging artists made possible with a grant from the Jerome Foundation. Since its launch in 2011, The Cedar has commissioned and showcased new work by almost 40 local, emerging composers and musicians. Buy tickets for the 2017-18 Cedar Commissions here.