An Invitation for Black and Indigenous Artists to Dream
by Kite and Alisha B. Wormsley
Recently, we have seen uprisings, movements that form in the virtual space and flow over into the real world. We witnessed a global reckoning on misogynistic politics and white supremacy. We saw people unite and ideas formed. But how can we even imagine a future without taking the time to collectively dream?
In 2020, the two of us began a project to bring Black and Indigenous artists together through a practice of collective dreaming and healing work—as an artistic and activist practice, to strengthen communities, and as a revolutionary act. In October 2020, we gathered with 18 Black and Indigenous artists for a whole day over the internet to nap and dream. We met with good intentions, arranging beforehand for dreaming herbs to be sent to each participant, as well as providing funds for a long-distance shared meal. We began with offerings, groundings, and prayers. We watched Skawennati’s film She Falls for Ages (2017),1 which emerges out of her own Indigenous futuring practice. We made our teas and spent a good long time introducing ourselves, our work, and our ancestors. We had the honour of being led into rest by The Nap Bishop, Tricia Hersey.2 We began to imagine a future where our needs were met and our communities’ needs were met.
Participant Aline Baiana told us, “We were in this beautiful group of people, some of them never talked to each other before, never seen each other before. We connected in this wave and we were sharing all these feelings and this vibration of this potential of a future […] we just survive most of the time, and struggle, and find out how to answer things at this moment, and never have time to project into the future.”3
In an attempt to mirror the non-linear logic of dreaming, the following isn’t intended to be read as a dialogue, but rather a collage of thinking, becoming, speaking, and dreaming—not across from but next to and with each other. You are invited to read this piece lying down, imagine these voices next to you, and use this conversation as a starting point for the dreaming exercise that follows.
KITE: We reflected aloud on abundance—a value I am reminded about from my Hawai‘ian colleagues—and imagined future worlds as abundant and giving.4 When I see a herd of bison, I am reminded that the abundance already exists, but that it is the way in which we distribute resources that creates starvation.
I do not want to imagine the future from a place of scarcity because it is so easy to be full of terror: scarcity in resources, scarcity in funding, scarcity in rest. It is difficult for many people in my community and in my family to dream or to rest because they do not have basic human rights. It is difficult to allow myself to dream of the future when I feel it is unfair to those who cannot.
ALISHA B. WORMSLEY: I want to say, “There are Black people in the future.” I give that language to other people and I ask them to replicate it and keep it going. So now there are Black people in the future; we can relax a little bit and think about what that future is going to be. Creating spaces where Black and Brown women can dream, think, speak collectively, and remember our ancestral technology is the aim of my work.
K: Since 2017, I have worked with the Initiative for Indigenous Futures as a research assistant and more recently as a global coordinator for the position paper on “Indigenous Protocols and Artificial Intelligence Position Paper.” Through this work, I have learned an Indigenous-led practice of futuring, where we imagine the future at least seven generations forward, and have come to deepen my understanding of the necessity to centre the non-human. Lakota ontologies teach us that humans are not as intelligent or as wise as our non-human kin. We can look toward beings such as the bison that feed us and clothe us, and stones which have guided and will guide us for millennia. Much of my artwork and research now concerns artificial intelligence ethics, machine learning, and the possibilities of listening with, through, and beyond materials such as stones and wearable computers— devices which are currently made of arrangements of melted stones. Lakota ontologies include the understanding that some stones have volition and animacy, choosing to communicate with humans. A state of dreaming is a place where I can begin to move knowledge from the non-human to the human realm.
ABW: A mentor told me: the universe does not judge. Part of the oppressor’s plan to take away and limit our languages and ways of seeing things was to limit what needs to be manifested. A tool of the oppressor is for us not to be planning, not to be dreaming. In this current labour force, in this slave model, we are not sleeping and not dreaming. In the first workshop I did with The Nap Ministry, Hersey explained that her dad told her to think about all the ways we are oppressed, all the ways we were meant to be oppressed, and then do the opposite. We are not supposed to dream, so there must be extreme power there.
Baiana reflected to us, “This dreaming workshop is […] not in relation to whiteness, not responding to whiteness. It is Indigenous and Black folks thinking of our future together. We need the community to survive.”
K: It is my responsibility to do what I can with the dreams and the materials that I have been given. When I dream vividly, I understand it as a story, which I then retell myself constantly. Each dream is a little vision I have been gifted, which I can stretch out over the course of my entire life, revisiting it again and again. That mechanism is the technology. Technology is so old. Just as our languages are linguistic technology, our dreams help us create vortexes to communicate with the other side.
We can move past mining materials to build physical computing devices which store artificial intelligences. Instead, we are going to have AI elders that reflect our Indigenous diversity: biocomputers, which use DNA and proteins to create digital computation.5 All our Indigenous ontologies will have the capacity to make these new technologies so every community can decide what it values, what data they want to keep, and who is compensated. It is going to happen, and that is the most optimistic I can be about the future—that we are going to emerge from this era of geological extraction for computational materials and use Indigenous relationships with human and non-human beings to develop ethical biocomputing.
Our relationships are our technologies and they are already with us. Lakota prophet Black Elk speaks of the future: “I see the sacred hoop of my people, it is one of many hoops which make one circle.”
ABW: It is a white supremacist myth that Black and Indigenous people did not maintain advanced technology before Western colonialism. As you’re saying, we do not have to evolve toward new technologies but rather remember traditional technologies, of which dreaming is just one.
In the workshop, we spent a lot of time talking about grief. Hersey told us that we had to grieve first. We were hand in hand with the ancestors, asking them to guide our dreaming, but the first step was to grieve them and the trauma that we had all experienced. Ancestral memory, glossed over by many who think it’s a myth, is a reality.
K: In Lakota thought, a Kapemni, or twisting vortex, represents our connection to the other world, the stars, and the people in the stars. Our teachings tell us that tipi are a microcosm of our ceremonial relationship with the universe. Every time we do a ceremony creating this twisting vortex, I hope those on the other side are mirroring our exact ceremony. I imagine, when we collec – tively dream together, that up in the stars the same number of our ancestors gather above us to dream with us, rest with us, because as hard as we are working, they are working harder. Perhaps our ancestors need a rest too.
The Kapemni always reminds me of Minkowski’s light cone, a mathematical model mapping the distance a flash of light can travel in the universe. The possibilities of our current model of knowability limit us. I want to step out of the light cone, into the darkness.
ABW: The darkness, the void: there, it’s possible to speak or rest with the ancestors. In the ’20s and ’30s, Zora Neale Hurston recorded mostly Black women in the rural South speaking in tongues in spir – itual churches, home churches, field churches. While some people may say it is gibberish, speaking in tongues is a heightened spiritual state. In those recordings—taken 400 years after the first enslaved Africans were brought into the US and forced not to speak their language—she found traces of African dialects. Many generations had passed with the languages still in the consciousness, still with a connection to Africa, to the motherland. The ancestors are here. Speaking to us in their own tongues. And in this void, this darkness, we can hear them without limitations of language or other codes.
I saw that the inheritance of language from generations past was real within my people, and that’s where time collapsed. I started thinking about overlaps. I travelled a lot as a young person—to the Caribbean and South America—to paint murals, and I would see collapsing time. I would see many similarities between the women there and my grandmothers: the herbs they used, the way they cleaned their houses, the way they nurtured their families, the way they took care of their altars. Even though both my grandmothers are Christians, they still had ancestral altars in their houses. They didn’t have altars to saints with crosses for Eucharist; they had altars to their dead relatives and Black angels. They fed them offerings of the things they loved in this realm. They honoured them with representations of their accomplishments and struggles. They still practice this sacred way, with that consciousness still there.
We have so much power. If you can tap into a language that was taken away from you and your ancestors for 400 years, then what else could you do? You are limitless. If you could get beyond the limitations imposed by white men, then what could you do? How can you communicate beyond?
As Black and Brown women, we are fighting for our own libera – tion and we are fighting for everyone else’s liberation and that is incredible. As an artist, I try to create situations where people can relax, meditate, be without limitations. Our collective consciousness can change worlds. We can time travel collectively, speak telepathically. We, ourselves, are the most advanced technology. Many of my artworks are concerned with memory, trying to tap into the technology that is our bodies. During our dreaming, I felt that different source of power.
K: This workshop is an artwork. Perhaps akin to composing music, we composed this performative, collective, existential dream world. We gave gifts to each other, where the act of giving was enough.6 Dreaming is difficult, complex, and generative. Dreaming values the unknowable over the knowable. Dreaming makes new knowledge. Dreaming is the act of making art.7 Art is the translation of dreams. Collective dreaming is the concentration of our dreams, enhancing their power. When we as a collective make something this sacred, dreaming feels like a form of resistance.
Resting at Home: Beginning to Dream
We want to share this activity with you. You can think about it, or you can write it.
How do we begin to dream? What is in your space? How can you access a safe space? How do you find ways to actually rest? While we have a lot of things to move through in terms of our relationships with each other as cultures, as races, as people, we want to step beyond that, just to try to dream first. What brings you joy? We’ll use that joy to time travel. Maybe joy is not always accessible. Mourning can also be a transcendent state, wherein joy and pain link through grieving, wherein the separation between this world and beyond is thin. Perhaps you need to time travel far in the future. Go as far you need to. No matter how many millennia it takes, we will go there.
Let’s begin. Let’s take a deep breath in, let’s fill our body up with all this beautiful energy around us and let’s exhale all of the tension and stress in your body and inhale the love and compassion that surrounds you and exhale all the fear and doubt that limits you. And one last time, we’re going to inhale love and courage, strength, and exhale love, exhale all that beautiful energy back out into the universe. Inhale and exhale, you go even deeper. You are just surrounded by beautiful blackness and now in the beautiful blackness, you are now floating. You are no longer in the waters, but you are now in the universe, the beautiful place we call space, surrounded by all this wonderful darkness. You’re home, you are in a safe place and as you float, you get closer, you realize this is the star Sirius, the centre of our universe. And as you get closer, you feel a rhythm before you hear it. You can feel the sound vibration moving through your body, as if it’s healing every single part of you.
That is Drexciya8 calling you, calling you home.
You are searching for the great cosmic mother.
You are the mother.9