a decolonizing ritual by Fazle Shairmahomed, Ruby Joemai, Damani Leidsman, Şevval Kayhan & community members
Healing is communal, healing is spiritual, healing is in the body and in spaces in between, healing is to be in harmony with plants and nature. “What do you feel when you think about the spiritual power of plants and ancestry?
Fertile Ground / is an art project of which the seeds are being sown,
about community healing and plants, slowly growing into a performance ritual, dance, music, workshops, a costume installation, podcast, and more.
Fertile Ground / Snake Plant
This project started with a personal research into the spiritual relation between the Snake Plant (Vrouwentong), which my Nani (mother’s mother) brought with her when she migrated from Surinam, a land which was then still colonized by the Dutch, in the year before independence. Nani has been nurturing this plant ever since, and gifted several branches to her children and some of her grandchildren. The Snake Plant is native to tropical West Africa from Nigeria east to the Congo, as part of a colonial history. This plant has become a symbol of migration, rootedness, family and hybridization.
In my dance I embody the plant spirit, a relation that I have been developing by dancing with and for the plant, building intimate relations of touch, communicating through air and earth. In this project others will also be invited to develop such personal spiritual relations with plants, leading to unique dances.
Fertile Ground / costume installation
The costume designed by Ruby Joemai is a tool to practice communal healing, inspired by many different plants and flowers, you are invited to write on it as well.
17 October 2022, Chilly Cabin, Escharen
Dear Snake Plant,
You broke a little…
And it makes me sad.
I have been protective towards you, as you are one of my most precious art of nature. When I told Nani that I am going with you on a holiday she laughed, and I have been laughing about it as well. I mean who does that, to go on a holiday with their plant. But I also told Nani that it is not that weird as she migrated with you from Surinam to Holland. So I can surely make a little trip with you as well. I know that you are fragile and vulnerable. You have been broken several times, the scars of migration clearly visible on you. Now I brought you yet another scar. I am sorry. I am wondering if I should have acted differently, if I should have taken better care of you. I mean, I could at least have wrapped you more firmly, like they did at the plant store when I got your sister plant as a gift for Josine and Chilly Cabin. Like why did I not think of this before? When I got your sister plant and arrived at the cabin, I decided to keep the two of you close together for the week. Perhaps you could support each other, and I wish for you to exchange some powerful energies. The beautiful image of you together also reminded me of how fragile you are again. Your spirit was gifted to me before, and you would grow very slowly, never really becoming taller than the size you had when Nani gifted you to me the first time. You were growing yes, I remember one new leave, but yeah not much taller.
When we moved to the squat together I placed you under harsh conditions. Even though your room was filled with many other plants of Stephanie I did not manage to take care of you properly. The room was not heated in this big office room and when the winter kicked in I was barely surviving myself in that cold place. I forgot about you and you died. Already then I felt as if a piece of my soul got lost. I was not able to properly care for my Nani’s plant, such a precious gift carrying the soul of migration and resilience of family and rootedness. It was a painful reminder that the relation with my family and Nani was broken too. I would not see Nani often in those years. I was ashamed, and not confronting many things about the past. Actions of individuals in the family became identical with the action of family at large. Nani is very much part of that. When I started to reconcile with my feelings with the help of many, but in particular coach Sarita, and through my creative/artistic journey, I was able to open up towards Nani as well. Since then our relationship has been growing, the good spirits and my good ancestors guided me towards her, and even towards the house where I live now, in her street, the hood where I grew up. It was only after some time that she gifted me you again. As if I had to earn you again… Since then you immediately became my most precious plant. You have been doing so well, growing so quickly, and you became twice as tall. Your new leaves are more firm, and a bit thicker. When you broke again as we arrived to Chilly Cabin I was sad, because you had become much stronger, yet your fragility is still there. I was being reminded, that your fragility and vulnerability will always be there. So when I saw the two of you together I was reminded that Nani has also placed you together with other stronger siblings that she got in Holland. With each other’s support you grow stronger, yet you will remain fragile.
You have gone through a lot, were forcefully taken from your land and we do not really know where you come from. It is likely that you come from West-Africa and were brought to Surinam together with your human ancestors from the same lands. Nani got you from a Afro-Surinamese woman and planted you around her house. When she had to migrate to Holland she felt that she needed to bring your spirit along. You are a protector, which is why you are often placed around the house in many West-African, Caribbean, and South American households. You also have spiritual powers in West-Africa related to the gods Oya and Oshun. I do not know how your powers manifest there, but I know and am discovering how your powers manifest here. Your sharp edges and elegant features, your snake like skin at least visually, cause you feel like a sword, thick and firm. You carry many names that reflect your features, and other names which I do not understand, and even more names that I do not know. Do you also carry names that reveal your spiritual powers? Snake plant, Vrouwentong in Dutch a woman’s tongue, Mother in Law plant, St. George’s Sword. Names which connect more explicitly with feminine energy, and names that connect with protective energy. Your sharpness is reflected in words such as sword and tongue, both able to break and protect spirits, and both carrying a sense of power. You are a protector, a fighter and a survivor, a migrant, who knows how to be vulnerable. You can break, you restore and grow. When I call upon your spirit I feel these energies becoming part of me. I dance with you on rhythmical drums, repetition, with fire, fierceness and with a sense of becoming a warrior. A warrior to grow in community, not in solitude. I need to root in the dimension where I feel strongest, with other humans who hold me, support me in my growth. I know that you become stronger as well when you are rooted in the same earth with your siblings. There is a common desire to root more deeply with a sense of return. Where to return, how to return? We cannot easily travel with our physicality into the past, but how can we reconnect with our past energies, powers, dimensions in which we grow strongest?