When the International Examiner was last in touch with non-binary dancer and artist Moonyeka, they had just been selected as one of four individuals for 4Culture’s first cohort of Arc Artist Fellows, open to artists with physical, developmental, cognitive, intellectual and/or emotional disabilities. That was five years ago.
The Arc Fellowship, Moonyeka believes, stabilized and transformed their artistic practice. “I wanted to know what it was like to be resourced in my practice,” Moonyeka recounted. “Part of that literally meant having access to food, the other part of that meant that I could rent space out without worrying about cost or getting the care and coaching I needed to sustain myself.”
Finding collaborators, institutional partnerships, and friends and queer and trans family that support Moonyeka’s wellness is a key goal, and this pursuit brings forth numerous questions. How do I nourish myself? Moonyeka queried. “What is a sustainable arts career? How do I find longevity and legacy in what I am doing?”
To answer these questions, Moonyeka has been thinking about concepts like boundaries and containers. “Being an interdisciplinary performance artist opens up the space to be seen and mis-seen by many,” they said. “Being an artist, I’ve learned that institutions and people will relate to me as a muse, inspiration, or container for their visions, their agendas.”
But instead, Moonyeka strives to create work that serves as a container with their own preferred boundaries. “With setting a container, I rely on my own lineages of magic to support me in naming who and what type of archetypes of audiences and people I want to be a part of my container,” Moonyeka elaborated. “Because let’s face it, the tried and true story of being typecast and tokenized is tired!”
Before COVID-19, Moonyeka directed Lil Brown Girls Club, a movement-based mentorship program for young g*rls of color. “I wanted my mentees to find their own autonomy and to use their dreams and desires as a compass towards what they want to do in their personal and creative lives,” they said. “I learned how much important intergenerational world-building meant to me.”
When the pandemic hit, Moonyeka had to dissolve that program but wanted to expand upon it while serving as one of Velocity Dance Center’s 2022 Creative Residents. “The Young Choreographer’s Club is an 8-week dance-making workshop for dancers and young choreographers,” Moonyeka described. “This program is the result of a partnership between Velocity Dance center and myself, and builds on the history of two youth dance programs, Lil Brown Girls Club, founded by myself, and Seattle Youth Dance Collective, founded by Velocity.”
Under Moonyeka’s leadership, classes are taught by rotating faculty of local dance-makers. “Early classes focused on the basics of dance-making and storytelling through guided workshops that build skills in movement, voice, music, and collaboration,” Moonyeka said. “Then, in the later weeks, dancers apply what they learned to create their own collaborative dances, working toward an informal showing for friends and family in a professional theater.”
Moonyeka also participated in On the Boards’ 2022 digital initiative called Public Access: Blackbox Weathermxn, which assembled four teams of one performer and one animator each, who each devised 10-minute pieces using a weather forecast format that acknowledges that such forecasts are magical.
The title of Moonyeka’s project was 1 (800) SC4NDAL ext. 3Y3Z. “This work utilizes biomythographic performance practices that center a Manananggal, an Aswang spirit,” they said. “These demonized creatures can sever at its waist and disembody as a choice.”
In reference to 1970s public access TV, the project used hotline numbers as an auto-fictitious device to channel the first media-recorded protest of sex worker rights in France in 1975. “The sound score was inspired by the 8-day occupation in a church of Lyon and was created in collaboration with singer-songwriter karinyo,” Moonyeka recounted. “This is also where I forged a deeper connection to my Digital Producer, Arabella Bautista.”
Following that presentation, the artists continue to iterate and share 1 (800) SC4NDAL ext. 3Y3Z. “This work also had an iteration as a part of Portals: Velocity’s Dance Center Fundraiser, Aswang in Analog,” Moonyeka said. “We had a CCRTV installation, with nods to horror movie devices, that we were not able to present at our On The Boards performance at the time.”
The artists have captured aspects of these live performances to share with a broader audience during 2023. “Arabella and I worked on a short film iteration of 1 (800) SC4ND4L ext. 3Y3Z,” Moonyeka said, “that will be featured at TRANSlations Film Festival on May 6.”
To help support their artistic endeavors, Moonyeka utilizes the Patreon online artist support system. “Patreon has made a space for me to share more intimate behind-the-scenes and works-in-process shares,” they said. “I’ve also used the platform to share my divination based creative practices with the collective.”
Patreon can offer an artist more independence. “One of the bigger challenges to creating a career in the arts, especially exploring themes and centering communities I am from, is that grants and arts funding become extremely limiting to what can be possible,” Moonyeka explained. “The ARC Fellowship is the only unrestricted funding I’ve ever received from an institution.”
These arts funding structures highlight the challenges that artists face. “As someone who doesn’t come from intergenerational wealth, I often feel heartbroken about the ways Seattle claims a robust gig and arts economy,” they said. “The deliverables, time resource, and energy output to access the funds necessary for me to maintain and build my art are imbalanced.”
Arts support, Moonyeka believes, should be restorative or reciprocal. “I am finding more and more that the prolific artists that do so much work here in Seattle are burnt out or are displaced out of the city because of the lack of resources and support,” they observed. “I’m interested in a support for artists that centers in the belief of the artist themselves.”
With this support, Moonyeka has several projects lined up for the remainder of 2023. “On May 7, there will be a works-in-process sharing and celebration of Harana for the Aswang, an audio-visual-performance work centered on queering the research of harana, a Filipinx-Ilocano-Southern Americas diasporic serenade song form rooted in courtship and grief rituals,” they said. “Aswang is an umbrella term for various shape-shifting, mythological, animist, folkloric, ‘evil’ spirits and creatures in Filipino folklore.”
But Moonyeka aims to transform the concept of harana. “The process uses a biomythographic lens on Harana histories and Aswang by queering and re-telling mythologies in a way that centers love and care, and critiques current mythological storytelling as a propaganda’d way to demonize aswang spirits,” they said. “This research modernizes Aswang spirits to those of us who root into our intersectional queer-trans diasporic lives.”
This project emerges from a Base Artist Residency, curated by NEVE and Rana San. “Harana for the Aswang is researched through seven different Aswang archetypes, and for this Base Residency sharing, we are developing material specifically for the Siren archetype,” Moonyeka said. “We will be exploring dance phrase work and durational music and sound scores that activate in and out of the theater space.”
The piece will then be presented at multiple venues around Seattle. “A shorter excerpt will feature a Waling-Waling Orchid Movement Incantation,” Moonyeka revealed. “This Philippine plant ally will be featured in a Storefronts activation in later fall or early winter and is one of the archetypes that will be featured in the recorded sonic material as part of my 2023-2024 Jack Straw New Media Gallery Exhibit Residency.”
The May 7th event will bring forth even more news. “The celebratory part of this sharing includes Filipinx herbalism-infused flower essence infused mocktails,” Moonyeka said, “and a formal announcement of the formation of Moonyeka’s artist collective: The House of Kilig.”
Kilig, Moonyeka notes, is the somatic experience of desire or excitement as butterflies in your stomach. “My art practices for a world we can build with kilig as a compass and kapwa, or sacred interwovenness, as an anchor,” they elaborated. “In 2023 and 2024, I am also focused on writing my first book, Kilig de Fiebre, with themes that are parallel to my performance-research work with Harana.”
Harana for the Aswang is presented as a Resident Artist Open House on May 7 at Base: Experimental Arts + Space, 6520 Fifth Avenue South, Seattle.