Heather Jones: I want to speak with you mostly about your recent film Muttererde, but to give a bit of context first, could you tell us a little bit more about your background and how you came to work with art, film, and social organizing?
Jessica Lauren Elizabeth Taylor: I like to think I happened into activism in art as it wasn’t ever my intention to be an activist. My mother was an activist and community organizer. She started one of the first black book clubs in Daytona Beach, Florida and was constantly organizing black history events at my school. I was always very sheepish about it, as are lots of kids with outspoken mothers. I turned to art and was a total theater kid. After studying theater and moving to Berlin, I got more into performance art and art theory. Then I began to see that my work, by virtue of living in a black body, was inherently political. I organized the Black in Berlin salon, a monthly discussion group on race relations in the city as a way to have an outlet for all the frustration I was feeling. I was deeply uncomfortable with the lack of discussion around race in this city and furthermore the complete dismissal of it by the liberal arts community. So now I see that as black people, we often don’t have a choice to sit back and be apolitical. And I finally understand and appreciate my mother’s initiatives.
HJ: The film Muttererde is incredibly moving, and features the personal and familial (most matriarchal) histories of five black femmes. What was the original impetus to make this work, and how did you choose the participants to include?
HJ: Although each of the stories and narrators are distinct, there are several threads running through the film as a whole; histories of trauma, isolation, questions around sexual and cultural identity, as well as themes of strength, forgiveness and reparation. Was this planned on your part, or did these themes emerge as the work took form?
HJ: I believe the title of the film translates to Mother Earth. Is that correct? How do you see this title as weaving together the stories in the film?
HJ: Many (or all?) of the women featured in the film are creators of some kind, and their voices contain a high degree of reverence for ancestors and elders. The film itself contains text quotes that read: “Wherever you go, you carry your ancestors with you” and “When an elder dies a whole library burns.” Why do you find ancestral knowledge to be important, and do you find that creative practitioners are on the forefront of bringing these kinds of stories to light?
HJ: Thanks for that distinction. Muttererde was recently screened as Rogaland Kunstsenter. How do you navigate the presentation of these stories to audiences in different geographical and cultural contexts? Is there a specific goal you are trying to achieve in screening this film?
HJ: For those who were not able to attend the recent screening, are there opportunities to view the film?
HJ: And other than the ongoing screenings of Muttererde, do you have any other upcoming projects or current research that you can share with us?
Jessica Lauren Elizabeth Taylor (b. 1984, Florida) is an artist, filmmaker and community organizer. Her roots are in the Southern United States, born in Mississippi and bred in Florida. Taylor’s work manifests through performance, text, dialogue, dance and community building for Black People and People of Color. Her work centers on themes of ritual, visibility and identity mythology. She is chiefly concerned with ways to dismantle oppressive institutions and the creation of racial equity in art and theater. She strives to address race politics as a performer, maker and artist. Taylor’s current artistic practice revolves around various states of the interpretive body and how best to mis-manage these expectations. Her advocacy and organizing work stems from contemporary critical race theory. Taylor curated and hosted the almost monthly discursive salon on race politics and race relations ‘Black in Berlin’.
She has performed at the Barbican Centre of Art (lLondon, UK) Chisenhale Gallery (London, UK) Hebbel Am Ufer (Berlin, Germany) Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Art (Berlin, Germany) Sophiensaele Theater (Berlin, Germany) and The Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art (Oslo, Norway).
Her current project Muttererde, a film series that calls for femme forms of ancestral history in the face of the often interrupted historical knowledge of the African diaspora in Europe and elsewhere.