“flourish like an ocean’s grief.” Courtesy photo.

When we spoke with Moonyeka last year, the non-binary dancer and artist had just begun a 2023-2024 Jack Straw New Media Gallery Exhibit Residency and had presented, together with House of Kilig, Harana for The Aswang.  Now, the artists have deconstructed various elements of Harana for The Aswang and have created an installation from these elements at Jack Straw Cultural Center entitled flourish like an ocean’s grief.

Combining videography, sculpture, costumes, sound, vocals, and dance performance, Moonyeka worked with about a dozen artists to develop this new presentation.  “Harana is a Filipinx serenade form rooted in courtship and grief rituals,” Moonyeka explained. “The project reimagines and centralizes the narratives of Aswang, an umbrella term for various shapeshifting, mythological, animist, folkloric, ‘evil’ spirits and creatures in Filipino folklore, through the lens of their queer and trans descendants.”

Moonyeka has also posted a written statement about the work. “As a process-based artist, I am interested in sharing the fragments, pieces and excerpts that are unraveling from our (un)seen process,” Moonyeka shared.  “This excerpt in particular challenges and re-myths the Siren archetype, creating a polyphonic experience of voice, poetic-intimacy, wrath, and states of kilig.”

Collaborators were included in the creative process from early on.  “In decoding how myths often (mis)read a Siren’s sonic presence, I distilled four states of sound that a Siren is often attributed with beyond the notion of enchantment: a sigh, a wail, a threat, a cry,” Moonyeka said. “I then asked my collaborators how these four states of being differentiate in our bodies, our voices, even if they may sound the same or be misinterpreted?”

Partnering in collaboration isn’t just a practical strategy for Moonyeka.  “My direction and collaboration style is informed by the heritages, lineages, and lands that have cradled me,” Moonyeka elaborated. “For me, this means that there is ongoing exchange, cross-pollination of ideas, and collectivism. This is how I grew up, and is also my commitment to thwarting systems of oppression’s methods in getting me to feel or be isolated.”

Working together also means growing together.  “While I am healing the ways I might self-efface, I have historically felt uncomfortable with the way institutions have credited me while burying my collaborators and by extension the practice in which I make art and simply exist,” Moonyeka said. “I reject the notion and learned tendency that I need to do everything myself, and rather am curious at what is possible when we can be in spaces to exalt our unique skills, synthesize practices, forms, and approaches as a way to deeply witness, imagine, and create tangible future.”

Appreciating the team’s innate gifts is key for Moonyeka.  “In this given moment, I am initial vision keeper and do the majority of artistic directing,” the artist said. “I often pose my visions and offer where there might be a puzzle that we need to unravel. For me, it is about inviting play and also giving people space to opt into the way they want to co-hold.”

One of Moonyeka’s fellow artists is Heidi Grace Acuña, who created the sculptural art and costume design for flourish like an ocean’s grief.  “I met Moonyeka in 2022 where we started collaborating on fashion-based projects which evolved into working on Filipinx-rooted projects,” Acuña said. “In early 2023, Moonyeka asked if I would be interested in creating costumes for their Siren archetype film, which they explained is part of their audio-visual-performance research, Harana for The Aswang, that would inevitably explore six other Aswang archetypes.”

Acuña immediately agreed.  “It was aligned with my own personal art practice and life journey of creating to connect more with my Ilokano-Filipinx heritage and working in and for community,” she said.

Inspired by the ocean and the Siren, Acuña created costumes for the dancers Moonyeka, Gabriel Colón, and Olivia Stevens, and cast members kai alviar horton, Theo Moon, and sam choi. “I worked with each of them individually to identify colors of the ocean they were drawn to, what kind of materials they liked, or didn’t like, and what made them feel comfortable or most euphoric,” Acuña described. “After speaking with the dance and cast members, I drew rough sketches of their costumes and then got to designing!”

Describing her process as intuitive, Acuña works with materials at hand.  “After three days of repurposing thrifted bridesmaid’s dresses and a shopping bag, dyeing fabrics, and sewing, I arrived at our filming location on Whidbey Island with the six costumes,” Acuña reported. “I was relieved that the dancers and cast members were all thrilled to be in their new looks!”

This kind of acceptance isn’t something Acuña has always felt.  “It’s very refreshing for my art and my process to be welcomed with so much trust,” she said. “It has made collaborating with House of Kilig a dream come true to create with like-minded creatives who are also part of the queer-trans diaspora experience.”

Also serving as the sculpture artist, Acuña created a conch shell sculpture called refract, aligned with the themes of this project. “refract is always changing,” Acuña asserted. “refract cannot be controlled.”

And while the dancers perform in this piece, Acuña says the sculpture does not.  refract is not performing for an audience,” she said.  “It is just being.”

Acuña sees this physical art in parallel to the overall vision of the art installation, and the prior artwork from which it emerged. “More concretely, refract challenges the viewer’s interaction and perception just as Moonyeka challenges what European-influenced societies have come to know of the Siren, and also of Queer and Trans people,” she analogized. “refract is an example of allure and mesmerization, but also of multiplicity and reflection, like the Siren House of Kilig is reclaiming in this project.”

Along with their fellow artists, Moonyeka also invites audience members to become part of the collaboration.  “We invite attendees to linger with the Siren,” they said, “through an interplay of projection, (un)seen process, CCTV landscapes, audio experiments, movement scores, shimmering mylar, and sea shells.”

‘flourish like an ocean’s grief’ runs through July 26 at Jack Straw Cultural Center, 4261 Roosevelt Way Northeast, Seattle. An Artist Talk will occur on July 26 at 7pm, in person and online on Facebook and YouTube. 

Previous articleIn ‘He Who Drowned the World,’ a story of suffering and desire toils
Next article‘Literary Theory for Robots’ asks: Can artificial intelligence write literature?