On desire and destiny, decolonizing the body, and becoming sensitive to the invisible world.
Within an interdisciplinary practice of painting, sculpture, installation, film making, and performance art, Nikesha Breeze investigates the interrelationality and resilience of the black and queer body in relationship to power, vulnerability, the sacred, and the ancestral. Her work is deeply ritual and process based, often employing her entire physical body into the action of her work. Originally from Portland, Oregon Nikesha Breeze lives and works in the high desert of New Mexico, she is an American born African Diaspora descendant of the Mende People of Sierra Leone, and Assyrian American Immigrants from Iran. www.nikeshabreeze.com
"By following our desire as a guide, we harmonize the body, and we begin to align with our true destinies. We begin to feel more joy, and that's what our being has wanted all along, from the beginning."
There is so much to contemplate in this episode. One idea that is particularly resonant with me is Nikesha’s discussion of decolonizing the creative process.
Before I enter into this conversation, I want to mention the article Decolonization is Not A Metaphor by Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, who remind us that decolonization is specifically a call for the “repatriation of Indigenous land and life,” and that its metaphorization as a general ideology turns decolonization “into an empty signifier to be filled by any track towards liberation.” This is a potent and complex point, and I highly recommend this article for a deeper dive into the principles of decolonization and the complications of its extrapolation in discourses such as this one. As a white person reflecting on the idea of decolonization in her own life, I feel this perspective bears mentioning.
That said, I think the metaphor serves a function. As we are all embroiled in the aftermath of colonization and have internalized its ideologies to varying degrees, I find it is a vital exercise to consider how the project of colonization continues to play out in and through us. How has colonization informed our value systems and the way we experience the world? Such an inquiry is crucial to our collective liberation and evolution as a society.
Reflecting on her creative process, Nikesha identifies the very notion of having power over her materials or final product as a colonizing precept. Rather than forcing an outcome, she understands her role as an artist is to create “a skeleton or a destination for spirit”—a portal through which energies and ideas can enter. This is such a powerful and useful reframing of the creative process, which fundamentally begs us to stay humble and curious, open and playful, and to put our egos aside so that we may become a channel for something greater than ourselves.
It is a highly erotic concept, especially if one understands eroticism as an openness to the interplay of life forces in the universe. Buddhist scholar and deep ecologist Joanna Macy writes about feeling “embraced in a primal erotic play of life,” in her seminal text World As Lover, World As Self. This is creativity at its best. Eroticism is as antithetical to colonization as it is essential to creativity, which is, in essence, the interpenetration (a term often used by my teacher Zhen Dao when speaking of the erotic) of consciousness and matter, imagination and form, artist and muse.
For Nikesha, decolonizing the creative process means creating a container for the muses to enter without trying to overpower them. It means recognizing, to quote Joanna Macy, that “we are, as open systems, sustained by flows of energy and information that extend beyond the reach of conscious ego.” Nikesha explains, “When I talk about decolonization, I'm really speaking about [...] becoming sensitive. Because colonization, is, in its nature, about not listening. It's about overtaking, overpowering, and decimating sensitivity. So becoming sensitive is a form of decolonization. Deep listening is a form of decolonization.”
She goes on to talk about becoming sensitive and reliable to the invisible world through Qigong. This idea makes me think of the “participation mystique,” a term 19th century anthropologist Lévy-Bruhl coined to explain how Indigenous cultures around the world (problematically referred to as “primitive” in anthropological texts) understand themselves to be “participating in a larger, invisible reality,” as opposed to the European colonialist worldview, which insists on causality, rationalism, and empiricism (systems that, once understood, can be dominated; indeed, it is the colonial ethos of domination and the absence of humility in encountering other life forces that has led to our current ecological crisis.)
I love thinking about the creative process as a mode of mystical participation. Author Elizabeth Gilbert describes creativity as “a force of enchantment.” She posits that ideas are disembodied, supernatural entities looking for a human partner to “escort them out of the ether and into the actual.” Filmmaker David Lynch describes ideas as fish in the sea waiting to be caught. “We don’t make them,” he says. “We catch them”—a process that requires tremendous patience and humility. To make art is to engage deeply with the unknown. It is to risk futility by devoting tremendous time and energy to something whose value is incalculable and uncertain. It is to spend hours wrestling with a single line of a poem that no one may ever read or layering paint onto a canvas that may never sell. To create is to enter a state of “abject vulnerability,” another phrase I’ll borrow from Zhen Dao’s discourse on eroticism.
“And it is the hardest thing you can do,” Nikesha says. “But it should be. Being an artist should be really hard. Being a person should be really hard. Until it's not. Until we learn to build trust. Then it becomes easy. We see that every time we're authentic with somebody, the stronger that relationship is. Every time we really speak our heart or really show our truth or really just go for it when we don't know what's going to happen, the outcome is always better.”
It is no less than terrifying to live one’s life in this way. It requires a kind of abject faith on top of abject vulnerability. But it is this abject vulnerability that makes it possible to experience the participation mystique (which is a supremely sensual way to experience the world).
To decolonize our creative process, we must relinquish our attachment to results. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna, “You have the right to work, but for the work’s sake only. You have no right to the fruits of work. Desire for the fruits of work must never be your motive in working.”
This can be especially difficult if our sense of self (and self worth) are bound up in the fruits of our creative labor. I come up against this time and again in my own creative process, which is deeply intertwined with my career aspirations and my personal identity. While a decolonized worldview might value process over product, exploration over exploitation, receptivity over domination, capitalism (colonialism’s legacy) is product oriented, measuring value in terms of generated wealth and success in terms of achieved outcome. How should we as artists evaluate our time, our productivity--ourselves!--according to this value system?
The obsession with personal success is a vestige of colonization, which replaced Indigenous understandings of the “self” as inseparable from its web of relations with the European construct of the “self” as an isolated, competitive being. Decolonizing the creative process therefore requires that we decolonize our very notion of selfhood. It means evolving our value system from one oriented around success to one oriented around service. It means surrendering to the creative process rather than making demands of it. It’s the same paradigm shift that’s needed to heal our relationship with the planet.
How does this all relate to sex?
As with art, we cannot make demands of our sexuality. We cannot demand a certain kind of response from our bodies or from our lovers’ bodies. If we treat sex or orgasm as a goal, something to conquer or achieve, we risk overriding our erotic truth. Sex requires the same abject vulnerability as the creative process. In sex, as in the creative process, the more we can be present and receptive to what is rather than insisting on a certain outcome, the more likely we are to experience transcendence.
OneTaste founder Nicole Daedone defines orgasm as a state of consciousness rather than a finite moment of climax: “It’s that feeling of being so completely absorbed in an experience that there is no psychic chatter, no being “stuck in your head”; a falling away of the ego.” I would use the same language to describe being in creative flow. It's an orgasmic state.
I'll end with a Toni Morrison quote from Song of Solomon: “If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it.”
Thoughts? I'd love to hear from you. Join the conversation in our Facebook group.
Nikesha: At the foundational root, our sexual energy is our is our vital life force. It's a mirror of our life itself, by following the desire as a guide and not something we're trying to go away from, but as a true guide, that's when we begin to find joy. And that's what our being has wanted all along, from the beginning. And we say that if we can do that with every aspect of our life, when death comes, we can enter it without a ripple.
Lianne: I'm Lianne. Welcome to Strippers & Sages.
Nikesha Breeze is an interdisciplinary artist whose work seeks to engage the viewer in a relationship of the soul. She investigates the resilience of the black and queer body in relationship to power, vulnerability, the sacred and the ancestral. Her work is deeply ritual and process-based and invokes the irrepressible urgency of the human spirit. Originally from Portland, Oregon, Nikesha lives and works in the high desert of New Mexico. She's an American born African Diaspora descendant of the Mende people of Sierra Leone, and to Syrian American immigrants from Iran. In this conversation, Nikita shares her personal experiences and insights on coming of age in Portland's queer rave scene, exploring Dallas sexology, engaging the invisible world through Chi Gong, decolonizing the creative process and coming out to her family.
Nikesha: So I came home to all of my brothers and sisters, and my mom, and my stepdad, and a counselor who is so funny, but he's like, Alright, so Nikesha's a pussy licker. Let's talk about it.
Lianne: Nikesha, thank you so much for joining me today.
Nikesha: Thank you. So happy to be here.
Lianne: It's been really beautiful knowing you and I'm excited to capture some of your wisdom in this podcast. So, I'd love for you to just start by telling us a little bit about your upbringing and how it may have influenced in shaping you into who you are today.
Nikesha: Yeah, there's a lot. My upbringing definitely has shaped me, in many ways, possibly unexpected ways. The... I grew up with 10 brothers and sisters, all from my mom. She gave birth to all of us and raised us mostly on her own.
Nikesha: She had seven different husbands and fathers, but she was a single mom for periods of time, most of it with her- with all of us. So I grew up with a very tight knit family, in pretty abject poverty. Ultimately, because my mom was a waitress and supporting 10 young children was pretty difficult. And so I worked from- for myself from eight years old as a model and as an actor and was the second income for my family throughout most of my life.
Lianne: Where were you in the children?
Nikesha: Yeah, I was right in the middle. And so I grew up as a middle child, puffed in.
Lianne: And where did you live?
Nikesha: We lived in Oregon. In the rural part of the Northwest. The town was called Sherwood, Oregon - it's about 45 minutes outside of Portland towards the coast.
Lianne: Mmm. Tell us a little bit about your mom.
Nikesha: My mom is one of the most powerful, strong-willed and intelligent people I've ever met in my life. She taught me everything that I know about resilience and about forgiveness and about surviving. I think she's a saint. And I'm going to look to canonize her at some point in this life. I love my mom very much. And yeah.
Lianne: Where is she now?
Nikesha: She's in Portland, Oregon, as well still, she's raising two of her grandkids. My mom, as I said, had 10 children, but she has 25 or 28 grandchildren now, and another five great grandchildren. Something like that. I need to recount all of the kids. She is, yeah, she's still there raising grandkids and supporting your family.
Lianne: And, in terms of your upbringing, is she Assyrian?
Nikesha: She's Assyrian, yeah she's Assyrian and her family. She was first generation born here from Iran.
Lianne: And was that culture present for you growing up at all?
Nikesha: Um, not so much. I met my grandparents, my mom's parents, when we were little. We would go out and visit them. And it was, you know, wonderful to be around them. You know, they speak Aramaic. So the language was really beautiful to hear. But my mom left home when she was 17 and was on the road raising kids most of the time, so she never carried the language forward and didn't carry a lot of the cultural pieces forward along her own line. So it was really just visiting them sometimes.
Lianne: So you were modeling and you were acting. Give us a sort of snapshot of Nikesha as a kid.
Nikesha: I was modeling and acting sometimes up to four or five days a week, three to five days a week. So I was actually missing quite a bit of school most of the time for doing that. I was in every single week's print ads, you know, all of them that you would see in all of the newspapers, I did runway shows, I did you know, motion pictures full, like feature length films, and they were in film festivals, commercials, you know, for every big company you can imagine.
Nikesha: From, yeah, eight to 16. All of my first experiences around puberty happened in the dressing room with dressers. You know, like my breasts emerging, they're being taped down by my dressers and certain periods later, I didn't become a big model because I never grew tall enough. I was a couple inches too short. So my modeling career ended pretty quick as soon as I grew out of the junior sizes, and then, then it became more acting.
Lianne: And was that something that you sought out or that your mother sort of signed you up for? How did you get into it?
Nikesha: It was something that we came across at some point, some type of fair, there was a booth, you know, and I got really excited about it and wanted to go and, you know, try out for this agency. And I got a, you know, got an agent when I was eight. And so, it was brand new for all of us. We were also doing beauty pageants at the time, particularly scholarship pageants, to help support us through school. And so, I mean, it was a lot of hustling. My mom was hustling, really with all of us. Like finding cool things that we could do, but also things that could help support the family like college scholarships and modeling money, as I said which was used as a second income for the family. I sometimes made more money than my mom doing that type of work. And so we just, we did it. And then after I got into it, you know, it was successful, then my younger brothers and sisters did it as well. So there was four of us, that were all professional models and actors throughout our youth. And, my mom eventually quit waiting tables and became a talent agent at one point, because we were so immersed in that world, and she had a children's and teen's talent agency. So I ended up working for her for a few years, helping run the talent agency as well.
Lianne: And were you close with your siblings growing up?
Nikesha: Yeah, we were all close and we're all still really close, which is rare.
Lianne: So how did you end up in New Mexico?
Nikesha: When I was 18, or barely 18. I decided I was giving up on everything. I quit all of the modeling, all the acting and wanted to take my own life in my own hands. And so I sold everything that I had had at that point, which wasn't very much and had a bike and a backpack and ended up, yeah, moving with a friend to Boulder, Colorado, really randomly, and just showed up, try to make it happen in a new place as a big challenge. And then, in that same year, I decided I wanted to, it was 99. I wanted to travel down and see what was up with the Southwest. And as soon as I found Taos, I fell in love with it and didn't look back. I decided to move there that same year.
Lianne: What about it seduced you?
Nikesha: That it felt like it was a completely other world. I was deeply intrigued by the homes made of mud, and the cultural diversity, and the light and the endlessness of the sky, and everything about it. Growing up in Oregon, where it was wet most of the time, and gray most of the time was, you know, definitely a big change to come to the desert, you know, and the high desert is different. It's not, you know, dry. There's still a lot of water, but it was just perfect for me. Yeah.
Lianne: Well, while we're on your childhood, and you speak about sort of coming of age while you're in these contexts, where did you first learn about sex? How was it introduced into your psyche as something that existed? Was it something that you read about? Did someone tell you in a dressing room? Did your mother have a conversation with you?
Nikesha: Yeah, nobody in my family, my mom, my brothers, sisters, nobody ever talked about sex. No one ever talked about anything like that. There was no talk about sex. No talk about our periods. Like everything was basically just kind of happening on your own. You know, I came out as gay when I was 14. My first sexual experiences were much younger. Mostly, like kissing my friends, you know, girls and boys, and just playing around with that type of feeling. I remember chasing, you know, a boy at one point and a girl at another point in the school play yard. There's one girl that I remember. I won't say her name, but she was like one of my dear friends when I grew up, and I helped her down from this, like big metal elephant at the zoo, like off the thing and she slid down my body and I had like the first like, pulse through my body, of sexual energy. I felt my sex for the first time, like, become alive. And I remember like, the imprint of that for my whole life. It was the first time I actually felt my sex. I think I was nine.
Nikesha: And yeah, it was this woman that I had a crush on then for the rest of my life. She never would have known. But yeah, when I was 14, I came out as gay. And I began to, to really express that and my older... one of my friends who was 16, one of my mom's friends' kids, who we grew up with, also came out in the same year. And so both of us were really excited about us being gay. He was, you know, super excited. And so it was I. And he just got a car, and so he would drive us every single weekend to Portland, to the city, which is about 45 minutes away to this underage gay dance club, called The City. You can get in when you were 14-- 14 to 20. And it was the most amazing place I've ever been. To this day as a queer person, I can't even believe that that existed. I think, like was that real? It was this three story dance... like techno dance on one floor, like goth you know dance music on another. and hip hop on another floor. All queer, all kids, drug free, alcohol free. I mean, drug free is questionable. There's a lot of stuff going on. But it says we're drug free. But we had drag shows, huge performances, and that was where I really started to dig into sex and sexuality and sexual bodies, particularly learning from the drag queens.
Lianne: Say more about that?
Nikesha: That was sort of the center for me of like, where I found my camaraderie, was working with these drag queens who were exploring their gendered bodies and their sexual bodies in this way. At that time, so young, you know, 14 to 18 you know, what it meant to, yeah, to embody, embody their gender and through that express their sexuality. You know, this freedom of being a sexual body, of allowing a sexual body to be out in the world and be shown. And so for me, it was this place of just getting inspired around... I guess being so proud of and, and yeah embodied in a sexual personality. Even though a lot for the drag queens, there was a show around it. And still, for me it was inspiring. I was really closeted in those particular ways of like feeling as a living pulsing sexual body in the world. And those young women really, really showed me what it was like to be unafraid in that way.
Lianne: And that's when you're like, 14
Nikesha: Yeah that's when I was like 14.
Lianne: Mm hmm. So take us through sort of what your trajectory was from that point in terms of your sexual awakening or exploration.
Nikesha: Yeah. I mean, I began at that time, trying to understand what even my sexual desires were. Like who I was into, and I realized pretty quickly that I, I mean, it's so funny now there's all these words, and I guess I'm pansexual or something... like I really was very much interested in all kinds of bodies. And that became really apparent at that time because I had the opportunity to kind of explore myself, you know, feeling into my sexual body with many different people. I mean, I wasn't precocious in that way, you know, really, and not having sex, but just feeling what attraction was like and what, you know, the movements towards intimacy or making out... you know, I had a girlfriend once, she was super super butch in that time, you know, very, she had this quality that was so overly massively masculine that I realized that I was like, I don't know if I like that. Like she was like with boxers and kinda farting all of the time. I don't know there's this quality to her that is like, I don't know if I like that. And then I was like, started being with these really super, super femme-y girls. And then I didn't quite fit there either. And it was all these different trying out- like where's my both sexual attraction falling, and where's my gender attraction falling, whereas my gender attraction falling in my own body. I was going through huge changes as to how I was presenting myself in the world as well as like, what I was drawing towards me.
Lianne: And was your family supportive around that exploration?
Nikesha: Yeah, I mean, they were sort of ignorant of it intentionally for a while and sort of thought it was more a phase. I moved out when I was 15 from my house. And I remember being called home one time there and there was a big, like, intervention. Because, I don't know I'd been out wild on the dance rave scene, queer scene, and wasn't checking in, and hadn't really lived at home for a bit and so they were all worried about me. So I came home to all 10 of my brothers and sisters, and my mom and my stepdad and the counselor, all sitting around a huge table, like waiting for me, like The Intervention. And we all sat down. I didn't know what was going on. And the counselor who is so funny, that he's like, "Alright, so Nikesha's a pussy licker. Let's talk about it."
Nikesha: Everyone was like, ah, jaws dropped.
Lianne: Did you find that tactful?
Nikesha: I think at the time, I think I was just shocked. I laughed when he said it, because it was so funny, and like really broke the ice and silence of the whole thing. Um, you know, so I laughed and I think a couple other people, brothers and sisters, laughed. My mom was very like “Oh God”. But it did help break the ice. And, you know, we talked, you know, and I just let people know, this is who I am and what I am and, and they, you know, in the end were supportive. It ended up being mostly them worried about my health and my well-being and what I was doing and you know, just keeping me safe. And from that point on, there was never any need to go further. My my family's always been supportive of--
Lianne: No more interventions.
Nikesha: No more interventions. I was okay.
Lianne: So where did you go to live when you moved out?
Nikesha: When I moved out, I just crashed on people's floors and couches and stayed with my brother a little and... I just didn't want to be living in the home at that time.
Lianne: Well, speaking of pussy licking, you know, I'm always curious, like, how we learn these things because there's so little guidance. Right? And I'm curious just about, to the extent that you'd like to share, about your early pussy licking experiences, receiving and giving and just what you know, was that like, a fearful immersion for you, or introduction, or was it in a safe supportive environment? Like what was the sort of learning curve there?
Nikesha: Um, with women it was always, I don't know, I always felt really safe with women in the very, very beginning, like my first experiences just kissing or getting close, you know, I was so young. You know, I'm trying to remember who was my actual first, first kiss? But um, yeah. I mean, a lot of the first people I ever kissed, were straight girls. Like, because I grew up in a very small town and it was sort of like me seducing my girlfriend's, like at sleepovers. Basically I was this like young seductress sleeping and seducing my girlfriend's and, um, and that obviously wasn't really fulfilling. Because it was always kind of secret, taboo, and not talked about. And eventually, my girlfriends kind of stopped wanting to hang out with me because it made them feel awkward. And because they weren't gay.
Lianne: Right. It wasn't reciprocated.
Nikesha: It wasn't really reciprocated in the same way. And so the reciprocal relationships for me with women didn't happen until a little bit later, till I was more 15 you know, 16. And as I said, it was really all, you know, just exciting and fun and safe and a lot of just making out and feeling into our bodies. We were all young in that time, so it didn't feel like there was any strange power dynamics in those relationships that I was having. What became strange or hard for me was when I started to try and mess around with men.
Lianne: Always very challenging.
Nikesha: That became really challenging and became really awkward and made me feel really, kind of gross in different ways. But I kept pushing because I would become attracted to men. A lot of them, it was more of an intellectual attraction that I would feel or move into. And that made me think it was sexual. But often then the sexual feelings would not... I wouldn't feel good or feel right.
Lianne: What about it made you feel that way?
Nikesha: I think that the first men that I was with, maybe they were young too, but there was a lot of sort of tentative qualities... like they felt so othered. Whereas when I was with women, I felt really like we were the same and just playing around and it was just super playful and innocent in this quality of this mutuality and sharing. Whereas with men, there was that power dynamic. You know, the men felt like they had to do something to please me. And I felt like I had to do something to please them, but I didn't know what and how their bodies really worked, and there was a lot of barriers of the other that would come up. And with that even bit of hesitation, my body would shut down. So that then when I would be touched, it would feel like I was being like molested. Even though somebody who really loved me or was caring for me, I would still feel like they didn't. Like it was an other touching my body, right? And, so almost every single time I tried to have a relationship with men, they would fizzle out and become non sexual. And then they would just be sort of good friendships, and even in relationships, I'd try to have these relationships, but we wouldn't have sex anymore.
Lianne: And then did that transform at some point for you, in terms of taking male lovers and it not feeling as othered or--
Nikesha: No, it never really. It didn't actually. I mean, it really, it didn't. I continued on in my life with a lot of female lovers. And then in my 20s I moved to a small town. I moved to Taos. And there were no gay people. And no gay community. And I was really isolated, by myself. And I ended up kind of dating some men again. And it always still felt awkward, and still was not quite right. And then I met this one man, and we were together for a couple weeks. And then I got pregnant. And that was kind of a whole shift of my entire life.
Lianne: So you have two sons right now?
Nikesha: Yeah, I have two sons.
Lianne: So keeping in mind, I mean, now you are raising the boys, the teenage boys. Do you talk to them about sex?
Nikesha: I do. I'm my oldest. We've had good conversations. My youngest is isn't quite there yet. He's still just figuring out his own body. And I'm not quite sure where his attraction lies yet. He hasn't emerged with any of those thoughts or feelings outwardly to me around it. He's pretty shy. My oldest, however, is really proactively communicative about his experiences with women and with, or, girls. Trying to date girls trying to feel it, and you know, we had a long talk about his sexual body when he was first going through puberty. And about like, what he might expect to happen in his body and talked about masturbation and how it was totally good and healthy and important. And like, that's your chance to like train your body into what you like, and, you know, so it was kind of at the very beginning an embarrassing conversation and then it wasn't.
Lianne: Yeah, I was gonna say like, how did he.. was he like, was he like ahh mom, or how did you finesse that conversation?
Nikesha: I just like... we're real with each other. It's like, let's do this, like, here's the talk, let's talk the talk, I know you're gonna be approaching these things and your body is changing. And, you know, I just want you to know, right away, cause a lot of people don't have this conversation with their kids like that. That it's really good and important to explore yourself. You know, and if you're gonna ever be able to be good, and able to show up for any relationship that you choose to have, you need to have this chance to have this relationship with yourself. So this is your opportunity. And so it was just one of those real, real talks, you know about it. And then there's more details about his sexual body that I said, you know, his father could talk to him about you know, and then I would leave and reserve space obviously for his dad to have his own conversation around those things. But on my side as his mother, I just wanted to make sure he knew in his gut how important and how good it was for him to not be ashamed, ever, of him exploring and being with his body. And how that makes him reliable to be able to actually be with a woman when that time arises.
Lianne: Has there been conversation also about that, about how to show up in in partnership and lovemaking or--
Nikesha: Yeah, well, he's not quite and I don't know, you know, he hasn't told me now like exactly where he's gone yet, you know, with girls.
Nikesha: So I don't know if he's lost his virginity. I don't think he has. So we're still on the edge on that conversation.
Lianne: Yeah, it's always really interesting like, because there's really so little protocol for how to have these conversations intelligently, and most parents do shy away from it. I remember I was traveling. It was like around Christmas. My flight got canceled in Argentina, and I was with this family. And they were just very unique-- also from Portland actually-- beautiful family that in the course of hours of having this layover and speaking at one point, they were just very open about sex, I learned, and they were telling me about how the older brother put together a sort of, essentially, a lose your virginity kit for his sister, but like a beautiful offering of how to be safe and like... I don't know what was in it. But then they both spoke to their parents at one point about you know, like: looks like you guys are having some distance in your marriage, maybe, which maybe some people would be like this is a lot. But there is this stigma that separates family members around this thing, when in fact, it's like the most intimate and at the same time universal thing, right? So it's interesting to just hear both about your upbringing and now you as a parent- how to approach these conversations. And what would it look like for us to have really honest and intimate and probing discussions with our children that, like, give some guidance and support in their exploration? Sounds like you're doing a good job.
Nikesha: Yeah, the best I can. And my son had one of his best friends, a girl, got pregnant this year, and just had their baby. And with another one of his friends, you know, they're all 15 and 16. Yeah. And so I felt really, really proud of my son because he called me as soon as he found out from her, and she hadn't even told her mom yet. He, like came to me and was like, Mom, what should I do?
Lianne: As a friend?
Nikesha: As a friend, for my friend and, like, what can I do to help her? She hasn't told anybody. She just found this out, you know? And I was like, have her come talk to me! That's what you can do. You can reach out to somebody for some help. And, you know, and so he did and she came and talked to me and it was is really important and great conversation and, you know, all these different things... but it was super sobering for my son. Because it was like so close to home, what that could look like you know? So I think that's also important is when things aren't hidden away and like the realities of life and the consequences of sex, you know, sometimes, yeah, show themselves.
Nikesha: That's been good.
Lianne: Well, that's great that you were able to show up for that girl in that way. So going back to your own journey. So you lived in Taos or you were living in Taos, you got pregnant, you had your first son. We left off in terms of your own sexual journey. I guess around that time dating men, where did it go from there and how has your own like, as you've matured, what is it like to... how has your relationship with your own eroticism matured over the years and what have been the influences in that?
Nikesha: I got pretty shocked in my sexuality, you know, from young. I was, as I said, super explorative and interested in the whole queer world, you know, and had some pretty intense experiences when I was young with some sexual spaces that were not safe. And you know things like that did come up for me. And so those scars and that place was definitely in my body as I was aging and moving into this other space in my 20s. After I got pregnant I didn't stay with that man. I was only with him for a couple weeks but we decided to co-parent through the birth and we've co parented my son his whole life. I had another relationship with another man in that time while I was pregnant before I gave birth, and we ended up having a long term relationship, but it ended up being also pretty much non-sexual. But we stayed together because I had a baby at the time, and he was really helping us as support. And then it ended up becoming abusive, which was really intense. And then that ended. I had another child by that same man, but a couple months after the birth, our relationship ended. So I raised both my kids by myself with co-parenting, you know, scheduling. But my sexual life was definitely seriously damaged in that process. Those men, the two kids, the whole thing, I was super closed. And felt like I had no sexual desire. My body was cold and sort of frigid. I didn't really, men or women, have anybody in my life that I wanted to touch me. And I was sort of moved into an asexual and basically celibate type of life. And then later as my kids were a little older, you know, four or five years old, I started to date again. And dating some women. And that was beautiful also, like felt better, but also still slightly scarred and sexually couldn't open up. And I just thought I was sort of broken, in a sense, in my body, sexually. And around that time, I ended up finding Mogadao, which was a really powerful Taoist, embodied practice that incorporated my own long history, which we didn't talk about studying, you know, philosophical Taoism. You know, finding an embodied Taoist practice was huge, and it had an entire component that was based on the sort of Taoist approach to sexual healing, and cultivation, and generation in the body. And so that was really profound in introducing, sort of, a new way of feeling into, and looking into, one, what my sexual body is, what sexual trauma is, and how, you know, I could begin to soften. And in that same process, I also was finding myself in a new relationship that I could begin to work some of those feelings out with.
Lianne: Tell us a little bit about your first philosophical relationship to Taoism.
Nikesha: I started to study and learn about Taoism when I was eight years old. So way back. My godmother died, my mom's best friend. And you know, as I said, we were really poor, grew up in the middle of nowhere, in like a two bedroom house, all ten brothers and sisters sleeping in basically one room, and then my godmother died, and my mom adopted her two children. So then we had two more brothers and sisters that moved in with us. But we also inherited my godmother's books. And in her library, she had an entire section of books that were all spiritual focus books, there was this book by Alan Watts called Tao: The Watercourse Way. It's a small book that I pulled off the shelf. And I was a really precocious, super prodigy reader at that time, and also very isolated in my crazy, crazy family. And so I ended up becoming just a little recluse reader reading these very esoteric books. So I had Dao: The Watercourse Way. I had a book by Mantak Chia about cultivating sexual energy. I had another book on psychic powers that I really liked, and Be Here Now, by Ram Dass, and that became like my first library.
Lianne: Classic eight year old library.
Nikesha: Yeah, it was so good. I remember like, when I finally finished the Alan Watts book I was like sitting in this tent at the beach at my family's like family beach trip, and I was in the tent with these little meditation balls and like, in my head, and just soaking up all of this knowledge, and felt like I had won the lottery because I knew so much more than anybody else in my family about like, the ways of life. But yeah, so that was the beginning. And then I became an adamant and pretty, like, voracious scholar in Taoist philosophy.
Lianne: What spoke to you about that philosophy at that time?
Nikesha: It was so easy to understand, for me. In that, the simplest thing. It was all nature. That I could look to nature itself for all of the wisdom. I didn't need to believe any made up stories about people, like gods in other realms or you know, all these... every single religion has this whole story line that you have to sort of follow to be able to understand the knowledge. And as an eight year old, it got too complex for me. I didn't get it. And even Hinduism was cool, but it was just... it felt like a cartoon. Although now I embrace... I have a deep relationship to so many different religious concepts. But at that time, Taoism was the only thing that made total sense because I didn't have to do anything. I didn't have to think about anything other than nature, and its relationship, and me getting sensitive to that relationship, and that I was already okay. Like, I was already in the Tao. I didn't have to do anything to get there. I didn't have to do anything to get to God, I was it. I just had to get more sensitive so that I could navigate it better.
Lianne: And was there a spiritual or religious upbringing that you had in your family?
Nikesha: No, they weren't. No my parents were marijuana farmers.
Lianne: That is a religion of its own! Often a very direct route to the spirit. Okay, so you had all this philosophical knowledge but hadn't been exposed to Qigong or a physical embodiment?
Nikesha: No, not really. I mean, when I was in my 20s when I moved to Taos, I, one point... again I never drove a car till I was 24. I just had a bike, and I lived in a little tent on this property that I was helping caretake- doing cleaning and caring for this big Dojo, and at the Dojo, the person who owned it would teach Qigong and Bhagwa classes. So I started to study a little bit of Baghwa and Qigong in the Dojo in my 20s. So I got a touch of it. But it wasn't a fully embodied philosophy that I knew, or that he was really teaching. It was really the physical forms and sort of the martial practice that was interesting at that time, but it didn't sink all the way through to a fully embodied practice-philosophy. So when I encountered Mogadao, my life changed. And it was really powerful for me to be able to have physical movements that accompanied the philosophies in my body.
Lianne: Did you immediately feel a sort of physical connection to the ideology? So, in like starting to practice with these forms, was that something that right away you were like, oh, yes, this is this is Taoism in an action or was there--
Nikesha: It was right away.
Nikesha: Yeah. I mean, the way that Zhen, the master teacher of the lineage, taught, was so embedded with the philosophical understanding that I knew so well that as you know, at the time, Jen was talking about it, and and doing the movements, it all made sense. It just felt like a lock and key.
Lianne: I'd love for you to talk about Qichong. Like as though you're telling it to someone who has never experienced it or done it. Like how do you think about what we're doing when we practice?
Nikesha: Qigong is ultimately becoming sensitive to all of the energy that exists already, in the entire universe. Everything has a sense of lifeforce, our body is made through lifeforce, you know, the force of the egg and the sperm. The energy that creates the growing in the trees, I mean everything that has a desire to be. Like, that quality of life is chi, ultimately. And so Qigong is the working of chi, literally in transliterated terms. And so for me Qiong is a way of creating these structural or architectural forms with the physical body that invite chi to flow, so it's as if we make a shape with our body, and then, through that allowance, then the chi floods it, right? The life force that already existed in the air itself, floods into the body. And it's definitely something that comes from, like, becoming more sensitive to it. We tend to be, in our regular lives, like really numb, most people, to what's going on, like outside of our bodies and even in our bodies. Like people just kind of go on this auto-mode and aren't paying attention to the things that are happening, other than their basic needs. And so Qigong is a process of slowing down, becoming more aware of everything around you, being more sensitive and then being able to harness that energy that we become aware of. So it's sort of a magic trick. I mean, that's how it feels to me.
Lianne: I mean, when I started, I was like, okay, so I'm moving my hands in this way I'm somehow affecting my spleen. Like, how is it working? And I know that that very inquiry speaks to like, my own colonized, like scientific reductionist brain, that's like, what is the actual mechanism? But, I still want to understand- what is the mechanism? Like how are we harnessing and also working with our organs when we take these somatic architectures?
Nikesha: They can be broken down in really scientific ways. You know, that's the beauty of it - is that we you can actually talk about, well, okay, you know, literally moving my arms or my legs in this way or breathing in this way is creating an influx of blood flowing through these particular parts of the body, which you know... blood carries particular form of energy in the body, you know, and it's how our body survives is that is through the qualities and the quantities of our blood. So if we follow the blood around the body, then we can begin to have sort of a gross understanding of how chi is flowing through the body. But there is something sort of beyond that too, right? So the blood flow, the movements, are of course, moving physical blood, they're also, as you focus your mind or your intentionality, and in Mogadao particularly, all of the movements are embedded with mythopoetics, this relationship to language and breath and the quality of language as a sort of a guide and a rudder for the chi, you know, because it does work just moving without any words, but it's harder, because the mind has a tendency to wander, also. And so when we can to harness the mind and not only just focus it on the breath, but focus it on the breath and then allow it psychospiritually or mythopoetically to move into the different qualities of the organ systems that we're working on. You know, that's where it begins to really work. Because we're kind of psychologizing the movements while the movements are happening. So there's this place where the mind, the body and the breath are all working together towards the same goal of moving the energy. So there's a concert.
Lianne: And do you think about it as like, again, going into how moving outside of the body then, in fact, affects the internal organs? Is that about an electromagnetic field? How is that relationship formed?
Nikesha: I think with Qigong it's important, and with Chinese medicine in general, it's important to look at the organs not as the physical fleshy thing in our body, you know, it's not just the stomach, or a kidney in these little bags of water. In Chinese medicine, the organs are looked at as a whole system that is inseparable from the physical form from the psychology and from the emotional form. So, Chinese medicine doesn't look at the body as one thing. So, when we talk about the spleen... or let's talk about an organ, people know more readily... Like we talk about the kidney, which is great. And the kidney is the kidney itself, the wet organ that gives birth to the testes and ovaries and all of the fluids of the body, but also, in Chinese medicine, on the psychology side, the kidney is responsible for this whole host of our relationships to surrender, to forgiveness, to the phonic or the chaotic unconscious spaces, as well as life and birth and death. The kidneys are really rich in the psychology you know and then as well the emotions of the kidneys themselves. Chinese medicine believes that the kidneys are more than just that organ but they're actually a whole kind of thinking, conscious, feeling part of the body. We say, or Chinese medicine says the kidneys have a tendency towards fear. Right? And, you know, don't like loud music or obnoxious people.
Lianne: I'm a kidney!
Nikesha: I'm a kidney, we all are kidney's! But, you know, when you talk about an organ, it has to already be understood sort of extrapolated out of its physical into its psychology and its emotion as one thing. And so in that way, when we're moving the body in a particular way, we're one, moving blood through the body, particularly, that is nourishing or benefiting the organ, the physical organ. You know, particular movements will rock the hips back and forth, or twist the actual kidney and kind of squish it and stimulate it physically, but at the same time, with the words that you're saying, the psychology that you're saying, you're going into another layer of what the kidney is. And then the emotions that you're allowing to flow through from the mythopoetic responses are another layer of what the kidney is. So any one of them will be helping.
Lianne: Beautiful, it's really helpful for my understanding. I mean, I've, as you know, been a Mogadao practitioner for almost a year now, but it's still something that I want to wrestle with understanding actually what I'm doing.
Lianne: And what we're doing. So you found Mogadao and that contributed to an opening for you.
Nikesha: It did.
Lianne: Yeah, so how does everything that we're talking about then start to relate to our sexual energy?
Nikesha: Our sexual bodies are ultimately, you know, related to all of these, all of the organs in the body, you know, our sexual energy is in every single one of them because at the foundational root, our sexual energy is our vital life force. It's a mirror of our life itself. Right? And so every organ has to be a part of that concert. But in particular, the kidneys you know, in Chinese medicine and in Mogadao particularly, are the home of our sexual energy in the body. And there's an essence that we speak of called Jing that is prevalent in, not even prevalent, but is infused in all of the fluids of the body. Again, the kidneys provide physically the fluids - both the quantity and the quality of fluid as it flows through the body, in the blood in the saliva in the sexual, you know, fluids and the tears and sweat, all of these fluids carry the essence of the kidney. And that essence of the kidney is the Jing. The Jing is understood as the first energy, the primordial energy that comes into our body at birth. So there's a sort of weight to it. They even say at death, the body, you know, has this sort of two and a half pounds of chi, you know, in the body, that leaves the body sort of unexpectedly when the body dies. And--
Lianne: That's very specific.
Nikesha: It is, it's interesting, like in some deep death studies, that's one of the things, it's like this unknown reality that when a body dies, there's this disappearance of a very particular amount of weight that can't be accounted for in the loss of water or the loss of, you know, muscle tone or anything. Like the body weighs one thing and then after the death this two and a half pounds disappear. And so that is related, we understand also, to that to that Jing, that primordial energy in the body that has an actual physical form. The Jing in Chinese medicine, and this is really about our sexual energy, is incredibly profound because it relates to our whole, in the Mogadao understanding, it's really our whole destiny, our whole purpose or reason for being. There’s a really beautiful way that I love talking about it or explaining Jing. That's like a Jing, kind of cycle of life, and, you know, we begin with Jing in the body as the initial sexual life force that comes from the moment of sex! Of our you know, inception. You know, all of us come from sex, of some form, you know, even if we're born from artificial insemination, there's still a merging that happens of egg and ovum that creates life. So that moment of merging creates the foundation of Jing in the body. The Jing is interlaced in every single code and as a code in it, the destiny of our life, we're actually imprinted with the perfect harmony of our being from the very beginning. And what we say is that that is flowing through the Jing and it's constantly communicating to us. It's, it shows up in the way and you know, science will talk about it like pheromones or you know, things like that, but it shows up literally in the fluid. Right? So the way that we smell the way that our sexual fluids or our mouth taste, the ways that we register somebody else's taste or smell, as attractive or not That's all the Jing talking. And so the Jing is responsible ultimately, for guiding us towards our own perfect harmony. And so the practice is learning how to really listen to the Jing, which means listening to our desire. So it's really the opposite of many religious and spiritual traditions that say to go against desire, that desire is the root of suffering. That desire, you know, creates a sense of grasping, there's this clinging desire, which is true- clinging desire is unhealthy, right? We're looking at something not clinging, something that is much more like listening, you know, where it's not trying to reach outside of a truth, but to embrace deeply a truth. And so that means that whatever desires arise in our body, if we understand them as being pure, even when they're the most strange or, you know, kink or, you know, things that nobody would even think they understand, but they really come up in us. And we can trust that? Like that quality of Jing is essential. It's a roadmap to our harmony. And in the very beginning of us learning about Jing and learning about our desires, often we're kind of desiring everything like even like when I was a girl, or, you know, being like, oh, maybe that, maybe this, maybe this. And that's really important, as our desires come up for us to actually go with them, and to listen to them. And then to be honest enough to know when it's not right. To actually taste the kiss and be like, mmm, not right. And when we can actually get that sensitive, to be able to, to feel into when the Jing is correct, then what happens is, we begin to narrow. We begin to, at one point, we're like, yes, we're going to eat all of the candy !! We're going to make out with all the girls and all the boys !! And then at a certain point, we're like, okay, maybe Some of the girls, none other boys. And then sometimes it like comes all the way down, where we get narrowing down, narrowing down. And this happens for a lot of us as we get older, and we think, oh, we're just becoming wiser. The truth is, is that we're becoming more hopefully more refined towards our truth, towards our Jing, towards what is actually feeding us. And that process of finding the thing, the kind of kink that we're into, by following the desire as a guide, and not something we're trying to go away from, but as a true guide, that ultimately harmonizes our entire body. We begin to align with our true destinies, you know, and we begin to feel more joy. When you're living in a life where you're actually joyfully in line or aligned with all of your desires, and everything has refined down to exactly that kind of kiss and only that kind. That's when we'll begin to find joy. And that's what our being is wanted all along, from the beginning. And we say that, that if we can do that with every aspect of our life, when death comes, we can enter it without a ripple, we slide back into the Dao, into all that is, in a sense of harmony with all that is. There's a seamlessness to that. And then we're able to refund back into the greater body, you know, better than when we started. So we're all on this journey. And in this work, it's the journey of Jing. So all of our sex, all of it is about harmonizing ourselves to our most clear and refined truth. It's so personal, not mortal. There's no outside thing that's going to say this is what's right for you. And that's the beauty of it. It's ultimately completely amoral, totally specific, you know, and individually harmonizing.
Lianne: That's really profound and beautifully said, thank you. So, how at this time did your alignment with this or your exploration of this work attune you to your destiny? What changes happened in your life around that time when you started to do these practices?
Nikesha: Um, well, I was, I began to really become more sensitive to what it was that I was wanting and looking for, physically, psychologically emotionally and mentally, as far as the rigors of the study. All of this felt really aligned, but it also opened me up to being ready to move into relationships also again. In that time, I fell in love with a man, which was super surprising to me because I'd sort of vowed never to be with men again. But through that process of really kind of understanding my desire, I found myself really drawing close to and falling in love with this person that was a man, and intimately and sexually was so aligned with me, unlike anything I'd ever felt before. And it was also very frightening. Because I'd started to try and open up and was, you know, hit with all of my fears, and all of my places of not feeling like I was good enough or, you know, yeah, open enough, like everything in me wanted to. I'd found the person that I actually felt safe with. And I wanted so much to open my whole being and body up and I realized how far I was from being able to do that. How much rigidity had actually built itself into my cells unconsciously. And so even in my sexual openings, I started to feel the places where I was missing, which was in the end a blessing, because that's where I was able to then luckily with this partner communicate, you know, and say here's some places that I'm really feeling closed and can we work through these carefully and have somebody who is willing to do those works with me. And so studying in Mogadao and deepening in this relationship and deepening my sensitivity as well as my ability to approach radical honesty in my partnership, you know, all of it, you know, we say too, like, as the Jing begins to refine in the body, it begins to fill and flood the heart. And as the heart is filled and flooded, you're able to speak. Like it actually comes out through the tongue, and through the voice. And so the tongue and the voice become the outer expression of the heart, which is rooted back all the way into the kidney and the sexual chi, and so the sex comes literally out through the tip of the tongue. So my ability to speak about what I needed and speak about what I was feeling and what, you know, I was wanting to cultivate became easier. And that then made it easier to do those things and then those things fed back into my kidney and my sexual chi. And the cycle began to grow healthy in my body. And in that process, which was the most beautiful thing was that in my partnership, my ability to do that was able to then inspire my partner's ability to do that deeper, you know, and so both of us went through an incredible process of exploration and understanding of our own sexual, you know, complexities and specificities together. And in that process, my partner was able to open up to me and speak about, at that time, his, you know, and now her, you know, truth. Her feeling in her body that she was not actually a man, you know, and so of course, for me as a lesbian woman, that had to sort of said, okay, fine, I'll be with this man. To have that man say actually, I'm a woman, was also profound. Because our mutuality was able to refine each of our truths towards, you know, the reality that they are. And so this woman, you know, began to emerge with me. And I realized the perfection of that for me too, because, in reality I had not actually ever been truly satisfied with women, or with men. Ever. Like even the women that I had, it was playful was sweet, but I never stuck. I never wanted to really continue. It didn't feed something in me and even in women in my relationships with women, I felt I was cold and somehow closed. And so to have this trans woman emerge in my life, it fulfilled everything I could ever dream because I had this being that sexually and physically could, you know, touch me and move me in ways that a woman couldn't? You know, or, youknow, the cis women couldn't, you know, and but I had a woman wholly in my life that could fulfill me in the ways that cis men couldn't. You know, and so I realized that my particularity was that I actually am, like, made for this one trans woman. And like, no one else, which is, you know, also incredible, you know, to find your, your person and your sexual orientation, actually,
Lianne: Totally. Yeah, really incredible. And, you know, I'm curious, I want to transition to talking about your art practice, which I know is something that you started- did it start around that time or... you're a self taught artist?
Lianne: Yeah, did it start around that time?
Nikesha: Um, different ways. I've been - I'm a self taught artist, but I've worked in almost every kind of art field most of my life. So from modeling and acting, I flowed pretty quickly into... in school, I was doing photography, and things like that, because I was always around photographers, you know, also in the modeling industry. But I really loved and moved into doing photography when I was young and then that grew into performance art. And so in my early 20s before my kids, or right around the time I got pregnant, I started doing circus arts and performance arts. And I traveled the world. I went and traveled with a circus company working in Latin America doing street circus for four years. And so performance became a really big part of my life - circus performance, and then I came in clown work and all these amazing ways. And then I came back to the states and ended up working with the theatre arts company in New Mexico, and I'm still working with them. So I've been working with them for the last almost 20 years teaching and directing and developing spectacle, circus and theatre work.
Lianne: What's the company?
Nikesha: Wise Fool New Mexico. And yeah, and the Penasco Theatre Collective is another one. But so I started working with those companies. And then in that process began to develop my own form of teaching. As Mogadao came deeper into me, I realized that even my theater work had to shift to sort of accommodate the width of understanding that I was having around vulnerability, and around performativity in general, and the necessity for sort of a radical reinvention of what it meant to be a performer and what it meant to be a body on stage. And I became really invested in the relationship to truth and truth telling as a performance artist, as the only way, in that often performance artists are about, you know, kind of being complex liars. You know? Ultimately, they create characters and beings in ways outside of themselves-
Lianne: And politicians!
Nikesha: And politicians, yeah exactly! And I decided in my work and in my teaching and in the work that I was doing that I wanted to reinvent that concept all the way and make us, instead of abject liars, abject truth tellers, and said, you know, that the only reason people actually, I think, watch performers at all is because they're looking for seeds of deep truth, because that's the only thing that actually relates. You know, people like to be fooled only so far. And then then they get either bored, or angry, or disenchanted. You know, and so as a performer, I recognized I had a greater calling, as a as a teacher of of truth and authenticity. So my work began to incorporate that deeper as I was also studying and becoming a teacher in the Mogadao tradition equally And then in just the last couple years, two and a half years, my focus shifted sort of, surprisingly to me. You know, in all of that time and all of my life I never really even looked at or dealt with anything to do with my ancestry. I just sort of grew up sort of colorblind, my mom would always say. She tried to raise us colorblind, because we had a family of seven different dads of many different races. So all my brothers and sisters were every color of the rainbow, you know, really, we had a whole very multiracial family. And so my mom just made no deal about it, just kind of pretended we were all one, which we were and never continued on in our life as being a thought. And I was willfully ignorant for pretty much most of my life to those conversations, and just allowed myself to flow through the world, through the racism, through all the things, just as you know, some avant garde person outside of it. Some post racial being. And that came crashing down pretty quick. As I, as I came into my late 30s, and my children were getting older, I realized how important it was actually to stop and reckon with the realities. You know, not only for me, but for so many people. As I grew deeper in my understanding of social activism, it became unconscionable for me to not have done that work myself and actually looked at what it meant. And so in the process of embracing that, and as an approaching deeper study into myself and my ancestry and my family histories and, you know, talking to my my dad, who I didn't really know very well, like, what about our family and where we came from, and so many pieces of the story started coming together, and I began to get flooded with imagery. And so two and a half years ago, I began to try to paint the images that were coming through my mind. For the first time, I had never painted anything ever in my life,
Lianne: Which I - these paintings are stunning for that to be true. For it not to be true, I mean, yeah, they're stunning paintings, really astounding.
Nikesha: It was a big deal. And that's now really changed my life, I've begun to completely, you know, embrace a world of listening to these ancestors, and allowing whatever form they need to come through to come through and, also, astonishing myself at the different ways, you know, through sculptures through painting through installation, like, what it's looking like.
Lianne: Yeah, I brought up the question, again about, you know, did your art start in that time, or how did it get affected because you're even using that same language of listening, the way that you spoke earlier about listening to our destiny, and listening to Jing, and of course, erotic energy and sexuality are so connected to our creative energy, right? It's the same source. So it seems like in a way, there's that refinement that you were talking about, of desire comes out also in a refinement of yourself as an artist and the work that you're doing.
Nikesha: 100%, it's a direct line. I believe that the studies and the work that I was able to come into through Mogadao and also through the intimate relationship that I was having with my partner at the time, and the opening there, all of it fed this deep creative force. And also the tools were in my body to listen better, to actually become more acutely aware of what was happening. And that's why I feel like in a certain way I finally became trustworthy to the invisible world. You know, and so then the invisible world could visit me and were able to give me and let these gifts move through me. So I don't feel like I could have moved into any of the expression of art that I have now without the root of the practice that came through in that time.
Lianne: Wow yeah, and I just want to name the beauty of all of this happening in your late 30s. After being a mother, right? I think our society has created this youth focused dynamic, right, in which if you haven't figured it out in your 20s, or you haven't achieved that in your 20s or aligned with it, you know, it's too late. And it's really toxic. And it's something that I in my early 30s now, like, find myself trying to unlearn and decondition so I just want to name that because it's, it's really beautiful and inspiring and acknowledges what you said earlier - that our lives are about becoming more refined, and knowing ourselves more, and being able to listen more, and that necessarily that's going to take maturation.
Lianne: So thank you for modeling that.
Nikesha: I think, you know, it's a big deal. And I think it is true. I think it's a fault of our society, and it is toxic, to believe that the 20s are supposed to be the time where we're supposed to know anything, really. The 20s are barely like, figuring out like, how to just walk in the world, you know, and know who we are. And so yeah, I feel really blessed to have come into this now in my 30s and be able to feel like I can move into, which I'm now in my 40s this, these next eras with, you know, such, yeah, both wisdom and practice.
Lianne: In your bio, you talked about ritual being such a big part of your process, and you just spoke about being flooded with imagery from ancestors. Can you speak more about the role of ritual in your art making, and just more generally about your processes as a visual artist now?
Nikesha: Yeah, again, it's, like I said, just a touch, this relationship with the invisible world, you know, is really essential for me. I feel that, and maybe also, not even maybe, but surely, it's also rooted in this Taoist understanding of, of Wu Wei, which is the concept of the action of non action. It would seem like a paradoxical understanding, you know, this place of, of acting and in nonaction, this light holding, but that, for me comes out in this relationship to ritual. I feel like we have to sort of create a form, but then we have to let go completely and allow it to be filled. And so I use ritual as a way of creating a skeleton, or creating a destination for spirit, or you know, the energy or the ideas or whatever it is to come into a... if I'm trying to make something, or trying to have power over, or even coming up with an idea and saying I'm gonna make that or do that, it will never work. You know, and ultimately, I recognize that as a colonized and colonizing idea that I would somehow have power over anything, whatever material I'm working with, or whatever concept I'm trying to develop, you know, is as soon as I am able to take myself or that idea out of the picture, you know, and instead, you know, say I'm going to make a really beautiful place, like make the bed for the energy to come into, I'm going to do everything I can to create the circumstances, so that what is right will flow into it. You know, that's the action, my action is to kind of create the space, and then to step back from it. And in that process of stepping back from it, then what is right will come through. And if I've done a really good job of aligning myself and that space to be as receptive and as sensitive as I can to it, then it will really come through. And there's a reliability and a level of trust in it. And to speak more directly on what that might look like, with my mask project, which was a project of - I sculpted 108 life size, ceramic masks, each one as a tribute and a honoring of these invisible ancestral voices, I had a very, very strict process that I put myself through. So that every single day in the evenings, after five or six, after I'd made food for my kids, and you know, did all the things I need to do, I would go into deep research mode, and I would read every book I could, listen to fiction, nonfiction, everything I could find, you know, studying my history, my own family history, as well as Black, you know, and African histories, I would inundate my mind with images, some days, I would just sit and look at hundreds of images of lynched bodies, and just soak the reality of lynching up in my body. And then I would sleep. And I would let that stew in my unconscious. And then in the mornings, I would go into my studio, and I would remove all of my visual and audio stimulus, everything, and make it a clear and clean environment. And then I would take out a raw piece of clay and roll it out, and then allow for what could come, what needed to come, to come through. So I wouldn't use any models. I wouldn't use any images. I wouldn't use anything more at that point. I would just say, I did the work, I let it stew in my body. And then I would go through this process. So each clay piece also had then a way, where with the clay, I would, you know, create this story or history based on the way that I would touch it or, you know, hammer it with my hand or a fist or lay it in the sun and imagine, you know, hard cracked skin from hours in the field, or I'd whip it with a piece of leather, or I'd rub soft silk on it. All of this on a piece of clay as a human body, imagining and sort of retelling histories into it just as the form, you know? And then from that, I put them into a structure of my own head so that my bones could speak into it. All of this just being structure. I'm not actually doing any art yet. I'm just following a script. All right, lay the history into the clay. Place the clay on the bones, let the bones fill it, let the ancestors fill it. And then look - what is there? Can I carve away at the things that are unnecessary now? Can I add the places that are missing? And six, seven hours later, I'd have one face. Times 108.
Lianne: How long did that process take you?
Nikesha: It was six months of straight working in that manner, every single day. And then yeah, then I dipped them all in red iron as a symbol for blood, and then brought them into the world through fire.
Lianne: Beautiful. And then that led to a project that you were involved in, in Ghana that had some, some parallels in terms of ancestry and invoking that through sculpture?
Nikesha: Yeah, I had a huge show and won a big competition, actually, with the masks and that brought a lot of attention to them. And there was an artist in Ghana, who's been doing and has done a very similar process, but had been working on it for many years before me, and had sculpted already at that time, over 2000 heads of ancestors, and had installed them in the slave castle in the Cape Coast in Ghana. And I was so deeply moved by seeing that work and, and he also was really inspired and excited about what I was doing, and invited me to come as a visiting artist to Ghana to continue to work on his installations called the Im Chim Chim installation, which is a large 25 acre installation to African history - both pre-colonial to post-colonial African histories, and to contemporary times. And so I went there for six weeks this summer, and worked as a studio visiting artist in sculpting.
Lianne: Wow. You spoke earlier about this idea of decolonizing process, which is so big and in taking away this idea that you're gonna come in knowing what and controlling what you're making, which I think is huge. And, you know, I want to talk a little about the workshop that you gave decolonizing the body that drew from some of Mogadao practices, but you also spoke about the five elements and how to reflect on colonization, impacting our own existence and processes and all of these realms. And the way that that workshop was spoken about- you spoke about decolonization as a form of accountability. Can you speak about that idea of accountability in this process?
Nikesha: Yeah, um, I mean, accountability is, is such a huge concept in general, this understanding of taking account and or being accountable, meaning that, that we can ultimately be relied upon, right? And the spirit can be relied upon. In colonization, in particular, one of the main actions of colonization is to destabilize and to, to create structures that are not accountable, actually, as a form of power. You know, when you create and develop systems of oppression, and there's no accountability, and there's nobody to turn to to say "you did this". You know? "You need to make this right". Or create balance or harmony. When there's no one to turn to, it does something deep in the soul. It creates the sense of, of incapacity for any type of healing, you know? And that creates ultimately a sort of entropic reality in the cells of the body and in the mind, and that creates then a sense of weakness and vulnerability, which then is easy to be manipulated, and continue to be manipulated. So entire communities, I mean, our entire world has been subjected to this colonization without accountability.
Lianne: So in that workshop, you spoke about the original intelligence of the organ systems, and I'm thinking about the nature quote that says, "there's more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy". So talk a little about body intelligence and how that can be part of our process of decolonization.
Nikesha: As with the foundational understanding, you know, that I talked about before, around Jing when we really get that in our body, and we recognize that all of the fluids of our body, which are constantly with us, all the time, are communicating to us about our most essential truth and harmony, that like our fluids are working with us to try and get us to a place of deep joy, ultimately. When that is the foundation, then we begin to really understand how important it is for us to be aware of our body, right? To be aware of the blood flowing through, and the health of the body, the actual way that we tend to the body. Because, the clearer the body is, the more functioning the body is in certain ways of you know, factual, fundamental health. Like when we're not beating ourselves up, you know, and doing things that are our dulling and numbing and basically disregarding the body, when we really begin to move into our healthy body, our body speaks to us clearer. It does. Our sweat begins to smell particular ways and we can tell when it's healthy and when it's not. We can tell when we had that crazy junk food, or we had that really bad relationship, or whatever was going on, like we can tell. And so the process of refining the body through the Jing, and again, non moralistically. It's not saying, you know, you can't do these certain drugs or this certain thing or this kind of food or whatever... It's really about our own personal ways of finding clarity. You know, some medicines people take are really important for them to actually get more in touch with the sensitivity in their body. When we can do that when we get into really finding that bodily intelligence through listening through deep listening, then the body begins to speak. And when that happens, and the body is speaking. And all of our organ systems are able to tell us what's going on with them, that in and of itself, just listening to your body is a form of decolonizing. Because colonization is, in its nature, about not listening. It's about overtaking, overpowering, and decimating sensitivity. And so becoming sensitive is a form of decolonization. Deep listening is a form of decolonization as the organs begin to speak to us. Then we begin to have a real relationship. We're not just controlling the body, we're not just this person that is telling the organs what to do, all of a sudden the organs start telling us what they need. You know, and in that nourishing of a relationship, just like relationships that we have with people in the external world, when we can actually listen to each other, look at each other in the eyes and hear what somebody's saying, you know, or be able to speak clearly what we need or want, then that that type of relationship that we can develop becomes reliable. We can count on it. They can say, all right, I trust you. I trust you're telling me the truth. And so we create these relationships with our organs. And I can say, all right, I trust my heart is telling me the truth. I trust my stomach is telling me the truth. My stomach can trust me, and that I'm not going to continue to hurt it. My heart can trust me. And so you actually build relationships with every single organ system. Like a being. And it's unique, just as unique as every single relationship that we have out in the outside world. And that creates a foundational accountability in the body. Right? And from that place of being accountable in that way, in a really honest way to ourselves, then we can be accountable to others.