» Free Black Dirt
How did you become artists?
Free Black Dirt is the collaboration of Erin Sharkey and Junauda Petrus, long-time friends and artists. Free Black Dirt was born in 2012, when we came back to Minneapolis and wanted to start developing dynamic art and support creative and experimental artistic collaborations. Erin is a prose poet, essayist, educator, and graphic designer who focuses on memoir and reflections on Black migration, family mythologies and journeying through the complexities of multi-racial identity. Junauda is a writer, aerialist, playwright, creative organizer and performance artist who loves to create art that seeks to explore, expand and excite around the experience of Blackness and healing.
How does art influence change in the world? How does your art do this?
Writing in particular has salvaged and saved us in very deep ways, and was specifically how we connected. We were Black, weird and dreaming young women in a world that we did not see ourselves in. Much of our art is to provide a sense of existence for people made invisible. Art continues to unfold and blossom us in our work as Free Black Dirt and allow us to serve and heal the community. We have seen through the art we have created and presented, how the importance of bringing topics such as the prison industrial complex, sexual violence, environmental destruction, Afro-futurism and radical resistance into the space for reflection by audiences.
What inspires you?
Free Black Dirt has been dreaming big and working hard! This year we are excited and inspired by our podcast, Black Market Reads where we focus on Black Literature and cultural production. We have been inspired about everything from the 4th Precinct resistance in North Minneapolis, The Wiz, Black entrepreneurship, Afro-futurism, and the Harlem Renaissance. Free Black Dirt is also working on more film projects, collaborative performance artwork, and a literary journal. Currently Junauda is being inspired by the sacredness of Queer Blackness and the art of voguing, letter-writing, tarot cards, wild woman ancestors, David Bowie, “The unbearable lightness of being” and the wondrousness of radical existence! Erin is being inspired by spending time in the Givens African American Literature Archive and researching Black migration, autonomy, gardens, slave narratives, and the confounding issues of our time.
What is an artist-activist? How is an artist-activist the same or different from an artist? What are some adjectives you would use to describe an artist-activist?
The two ideas, the creation of art and the work of an activist, don’t have a clear border in our work. We believe that the insistence on creativity in the work of organizing for social justice is essential. We believe that any work of art that celebrates the beauty and dignity and sacredness of people is work of an activist. Sure for some, art can be made for art's sake and for a time, activism can proceed without a creative fire but this work is not life giving and not our jam.
“Any work of art that celebrates the beauty and dignity and sacredness of people is work of an activist.”
- Free Black Dirt
How has Intermedia Arts been a part of your story?
For the weeks before we opened There Are Other Worlds, Intermedia Arts was the home base for our production. We learned together in the space, hashed out the challenges we faced, we laughed, we hung from the ceiling on silks - learning and practicing aerial routines, we felt supported by the staff. It was in the Intermedia Arts lobby that we celebrated our sold out performances and within its walls that we felt the work reverberate through our community as they processed the complex life of the play. Intermedia Arts is also a place where we have participated as audience community members and have been inspired by the work happening on the stage, in the gallery and outdoor spaces.
What is one of your most powerful or meaningful experiences at Intermedia Arts?
Erin: I was really blessed to be a part of a Queer Voices reading and felt really honored to share my work with the Queer Voices audience and to be amongst the other readers that shared the bill that month.
What do you see as Intermedia Arts' role in this community? Why do we need Intermedia Arts?
Intermedia Arts plays a role no other organization plays, in particular as an organization that supports and fosters emerging and experimental artists from so many different communities. As an intersectional space, Intermedia Arts is a location for the celebration of identity and community.
Free Black Dirt is artistic partnership formed by Minneapolis based collaborators, Junauda Petrus and Erin Sharkey. Committed to the creating original theatre and performance, hosting innovative events, organizing local artists, and promoting and supporting the emerging artists’ community in the Twin Cities, Free Black Dirt seeks to spark and engage in critical conversations. Junauda Petrus is a writer and aerialist and performer and ragamuffin and gardener and black and a cosmic bag lady and has a gap in her teeth. Erin Sharkey is a prose poet, essayist, educator and graphic designer, passionate about creating events and spaces where community and art can live. Petrus and Sharkey are the co-hosts of the Given Foundation’s Black Market Reads, a weekly podcast dedicated to black literature and black cultural production.