Hattie Mae Williams balances the elements in ‘Currents’ at MOCA
“Currents” from Hattie Mae Williams is on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami (MOCA), from Oct. 6-10. (Still image courtesy of Christian Salazar)
Sounding the alarm about the effects of climate change doesn’t buy the groceries or pick the 4-year-old up from day care.
“Currents” — the latest installation work from dancer and choreographer Hattie Mae Williams — strives to balance the demands of living a contemporary life with the deeper spiritual experience of acknowledging a changing Earth.
For Williams, the first step in achieving this balance begins with recognizing that we all possess tendencies that, if left unchecked, may harm the Earth and one another.
“I feel that we are indoctrinated in a society where capitalism and patriarchy, sexism, etc., all rule,” Williams says. “It’s ingrained, even when parents are trying to protect us from it, and we absorb it. This is one of the ways I understand domination, and it aligns with masculine energy. When we have been taught that masculine is better and the feminine is weaker and softer, we have a tendency to go toward the more dominant way of being within nature.”
(Video courtesy of Live Arts Miami)
“Currents” — on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami (MOCA), from Oct. 6-10 — forms part of Miami Dade College’s 2021 Live Arts Miami LALA Performance Series. The installation features four “spirit chambers,” each one devoted to a specific element, that provide audiences with an immersive art experience.
Once they enter the spirit chambers, visitors may take in their surroundings, ponder the significance of stylized Florida maps that Williams created showing, for instance, the location of crisis pregnancy centers throughout the state, and view two movies: “Mother Of” and “Marooned.” The films form the centerpiece of “Currents.”
“Mother Of” is a seven-minute short film focused on women that shows Williams transforming the negative, nonconsensual, violent energy she says people put into the Earth through an “Earth-offering” ritual.
She set “Mother Of” at Virginia Key Beach, Miami’s historic Blacks-only beach, based on a feeling: “I wanted to set the film there because it is a really rich part of Miami. It was where so many Black folks gathered for so long, and I just really liked the vibe of it. I felt a connection with the place, and every time I went to Virginia Key, I was getting so much back, so I wanted to offer something — and in the film I do that.”
The 15-minute film, “Marooned,” grew out of Williams’ experiences of isolation and the ambiguous role played by technology during the pandemic.
“There are elements of technology that we use, but how much of it do we need to survive? Not to be in community brings us sickness,” Williams said. “‘Marooned’ poses the question of technology, and allows people to look at how they interact with nature and technology, and maybe to think about stepping out of the bubble.”
Live Arts Miami executive director Kathryn Garcia said Williams’ interest in social and climate issues made her a good fit in the current cohort’s residency program.
“Hattie has a really powerful way to tap into those things that aren’t on the surface … and invites [people] to think about those things that aren’t immediately seen and felt,” Garcia said. “She’s a messenger for our relationship to nature, for how we relate to the elements. All it takes for an artist to be a changemaker is that they can be a door to change something in your life, and in this way Hattie opens up new ideas and experiences to her audience.”
Born and raised in South Florida, Williams attended the New World School of the Arts before traveling to New York where she earned a bachelor of fine arts degree through the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater program at Fordham University. For the next 15 years, she pursued her dance career, even founding her own company, The Tattooed Ballerinas, which allowed her to express herself socially and politically in dance. She returned to Miami in 2014.
Williams believes accommodating masculine energy may teach people to play it safe and to value making money, but feminine energy is needed as well for life to thrive.
“When I think of the feminine aspect, I think of creation,” Williams said. “After all, we do have to take from the Earth, but then what seeds are you planting? I think innately when you have a womb, you know that you have to give back to the Earth or your descendants will not have what they need.”
Williams identifies these ideas of the feminine and giving back to the Earth with relating to people through a spirit of collaboration and community.
Her MOCA installation took shape through Miami-based collaborations with artist Freddy Jouwayed and filmmaker Christian Salazar. The artistic partnership between Williams and Salazar began in the 1980s while both were students at the New World School of the Arts.
At stake for Williams in her struggle to balance masculine and feminine energies is a new vision of our life here on Earth.
“For me the question is, how do we survive, get what we need, but also be a devotee to the Earth?” she said. “It has to be about survival and reimagining a new world where these elements are balanced.”
WHAT: Hattie Mae Williams’ “Currents,” presented by Live Arts Miami
WHEN: A self-guided experience will be offered noon-7 p.m. Oct. 6 and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Oct. 7-Oct. 10; a guided experience with an artist question-and-answer session will take place 3-5 p.m. Oct. 9
WHERE: Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami (MOCA), 770 NE 125th St., North Miami
COST: Free with RSVP
SAFETY PROTOCOLS: Capacity at MOCA will be limited, and all visitors and staff will be required to practice social distancing and wear a facial covering at all times.