Each year, MRG Foundation has the honor of recognizing one or more women artists in Oregon who are advancing a social change message through their art. This year, we put out a call for a theatrical writer and performer and received applications from incredibly talented artists across the state. After much consideration, we are excited to announce Ana Maurine Lara as our 2015 Lilla Jewel Artist! Get your tickets to Justice within Reach today to see Ana’s performance on May 15th.
“When I saw the call for artists, I was amazed and moved and excited,” says Ana. “I realized there is a place for stories I want to tell. A space for people who can relate to the questions I’m asking.”
Many People & Many Places
Ana’s life spans continents. Born in the Dominican Republic, raised in Nairobi and New York, and performing in Boston, Austin, and currently Eugene, she draws on the legacies of her ancestors and the lessons she’s learned from each place she’s lived and from each person she’s worked with.
Ana speaks passionately about the people she’s learned from. She counts among her performance mentors Sharon Bridgforth, Joni L. Jones, Daniel Alexander Jones, and Laurie Carlos.
“So many people have made my work possible. People who have raised me in performance. I wouldn’t be here without the love and tending that they gave me.”
A Collaborative & Interactive Performance
Ana’s performance approach is rooted in the jazz aesthetic – focused on presence, spontaneity, integrity – and she thrives in spaces that facilitate interaction and dialogue with the audience.
With a team of other women artists, Ana will perform at Justice within Reach on May 15, 2015. The production, titled The Hope Chorus, is distinctive in a number of ways, but especially because of its emphasis on collaboration and interaction.
“I’m excited because this performance is going to lay the groundwork for future work I do to create spaces for queer and of-color bodies in theater here in Oregon,” says Ana.
The Hope Chorus seeks to create a collective narrative about what it means to hope today. It’s being created by drawing from the experiences of the performers and the community through a series of dialogues being held before Justice within Reach. And it won’t be a finished product on the day of the event. Ana will challenge the audience to be present, to engage with the questions, and to generate ideas during the performance.
“It’s connected to this unfinished conversation I had with Sekou Sundiata in 2008, before Barack Obama took office,” Ana adds. “We’re now at the end of his time as president and the question still remains: What is hope? Does it delude us? Does it free us? How does hope connect to our humanity and to our freedom?”
Artists & Activists, Together
Starting with performance poetry, Ana’s work has long been tied to political critique and rooted in social justice values. Her art is always looking at what it means to be free and working to contribute to the dialogue around social justice.
Ana believes that artists have a big role to play in helping us look collectively at truth claims and asking hard questions that no one else will ask.
“Artists are a really important compliment to activists who put their bodies on the line – artists put our hearts on the line,” Ana says. “We need all of our selves and each other to create meaningful change.”
The selection process this year was so competitive that the selection committee decided to identify an honorable mention artist, Tamara Lynn. Tamara is the founder of Living Stages, which uses the Theater of the Oppressed model to amplify the voices of day laborers, unhoused Portlanders, and people of color. Tamara’s work as a director and performer leverages workshop, play development, and interactive performances as a consciousness-raising process that builds tools for audiences to dismantle oppression in their own lives.
MRG Foundation’s Lilla Jewel Fund for Women Artists promotes the work of women artists in Oregon who advance a social change message through their art, with a particular emphasis on women of color and queer women. The fund is named after Lilla Jewel, a radical suffragist, artist, and mother. Recent awardees include Claudia Alick, a spoken word artist and producer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and Yulia Arakelyan, a choreographer and founder of Wobbly Dance Studio.