Visiting artist & healer Roopa Kaushik-Brown’s reflection at the end of her month long residency in Grenada.
Every place I’ve travelled in the world, Indians and Africans live together, but don’t co-exist strategically. Usually, the Indians and Arabs own the small businesses where everyone has to shop, but outside of that economic wedge, will live side by side with black folks. We have so many reasons to not be so convinced by divide and conquer, and yet, everywhere we are, divide and conquer rules the day. I have always believed in black and brown solidarity. I will continue to work towards black and brown solidarity being more of a thing. Being in Grenada affirmed this soul directive. It was a blessing to spend a month in a strong, proud black country, especially while the U.S. is imploding with denial and anti-black and brown violence. My black and brown family grew so much, right down to the breath, to breathing better, and being better to self. I believe in the expansiveness of the breath, and of our abilities to subvert divide and conquer mechanisms in place, somehow, someway.
I walked into the Carenage Cafe, and fell in love with the old school wall map that adorns one side of the venue. What really stole my heart? It uses our true name, Bharat, and it depicts a time before partition. I rarely see maps that use our real name. It was moving. I inquired about the map, and the kind manager furrowed her brow as she tried to recall. She said it came with the building, which was built by Italians around the late 19th century/early 20th century. Italians, so that is why all the city and country names are spelled so well, with so much fidelity to true pronunciation. There is none of the awkward lack of lyricism that plagues most, for example, British maps of India. How sweet it is to be called by your true name. How important it is to remember, and resurrect.
Yoga is often translated as union, or yoke. But it is also a disunion, from all patterns of suffering. Yoga is liberation, and liberation means it is both personal and political. Prison yoga sessions have become oddly popular yoga service offerings in the States. Oddly, only because these offerings overwhelmingly feature white folks at the helm; leading the classes, running the prison yoga teacher trainings. There is essentially a total white out at every step of the way in prison yoga, except for the incarcerated folks themselves, who are almost exclusively black and brown. This is a strange phenomenon but unsurprising, given how deep white saviorism tropes run. The prison yoga teacher in the hit Netflix show Orange is the New Black, is a new-agey white woman, but this is just one example of a truly imbalanced on the ground phenomenon. Liberation means yoga, and yoga means liberation, and all of this means that prison yoga is a particularly ripe ground for the practice. All of the white out in prison yoga in the states made it such a valued experience to attend and lead a prison yoga session with Uncle Ferron Lowe and the Spice Harmony Yoga Prison Outreach Program in Grenada. So special to see a prison yoga teacher in whom the incarcerated people can see themselves reflected. So moving to be present alongside those who strive for liberation in ways I never have, such as from the reality of physical cages. I learned deeply about the practice, and for that I am always and ever in gratitude.
Groundation Grenada Artist-in-Residence
Roopa works at the intersection of art, healing and social justice. She is a visual artist, certified pre-natal yoga instructor, doula and a new mom. She is also a licensed attorney and PhD student in Justice and Social Inquiry PhD at the School of Social Transformation (ASU). Her research areas include critical race theory and racial mobilities in law, hip-hop, and the contemplative practices. She holds a B.A. in Politics, Philosophy and Economics, with a certificate in South Asian Studies, from the University of Pittsburgh, a JD from Boalt School of Law, and an MA in Cinema Studies from NYU. In 2003, Roopa launched SAAPYA (South Asian American Perspectives on Yoga in America) via an ongoing series of groundbreaking panels and arts residencies elevating the voices of South Asian diasporic artists, activists, and academics talking yoga, race, cosmopolitanisms and cultural wars. www.roopakb.com