“Feeling Myself” Performances #3

Accompanied by my friend Jana, I headed out to 3rd Street Promenade on Sunday, May 19. For context: a steady—albeit trickling—stream of shoppers (both tourists and locals) and street performers typically fill the three-block stretch of stores and restaurants on the famous open-air shopping strip in downtown Santa Monica. My last performance there, on Mother’s Day, had enticed four people to participate, so I figured I’d try my luck there again.

Also, the area’s presence and acceptance of performers does soothe my nerves a bit (I’m very nervous leading up to and at the start of my performances and practice self-talk to hype myself up, a meta moment as that’s what I’m encouraging other Black women to do in the performance).

For my costume, I wore a pink, stretchy mini dress, oversized shades, and hot pink faux fur slingback heels. You might have noticed by now that I opt for outfits likely to provoke particular presumptions along the lines of, “She looks super confident/high-maintenance/bougie,” “she’s doing the most,” and “Who does she think she is?” Think a blend of Elle Woods from “Legally Blonde,” Elektra Evangelista from “Pose,” and Eve from “Life-Size”—three women who demonstrated an unapologetic pride in their appearance and achievements that triggered and ultimately inspired those around them.

As for the performance, a mix of nervousness and self-doubt stopped me from inviting by-passers to participate. I got in my head, overthinking and overanalyzing the situation, imaging all the no’s or silent dismals I would receive from the strangers who seemed too immersed in their phones or their walk to take a few minutes to participate. Mind you, each performance has drawn more yes’s than no’s, but did I reason with myself in the moment? Of course not. I continued to shrink inside myself. That’s when I realized: all this time, I’d been inviting Black women and girls to hype up themselves in my public performance, to talk their shit, to unapologetically affirm themselves, but had yet to do so by myself. What better time to practice what I was preaching?

So for the next hour or so, I stood before the mirror and proclaimed my pride in my appearance and achievements into my new speakerphone. I shamelessly planted a lipstick coated kiss on the mirror after each affirmation, the pink traces serving as visual marker of my self-pride. About 30 kisses later, Remy Ma’s “Conceited,” Nicki Minaj’s “Feeling Myself,” Beyoncé’s “Feeling Myself, and other tracks from my performance playlist “Conceited” blasted from my bluetooth speaker as I sung, rapped, and danced along to each track, my hairbrush alternating as a grooming tool and microphone.

A couple bystanders—a Black woman and a young woman of color— approached, asking what I was up to. “Are you a famous TikToker?!” the young woman wondered with starstruck eyes. On the one hand, her excitement and intrigue motivated me—perhaps my performance had encouraged her?—, but on the other hand, some of the self-doubt I had about my performance and artistic process/practice rushed to the surface. I recognized the validity of my concerns and shelved them for my post-performance criticism.

Here’s what’s next:

  • ALLOW ME TO REINTRODUCE MYSELF: A few weeks ago, performance artist Ayana Evans kindly replied to a question-filled cold email I sent her and has since given me feedback and advice (which included being mindful of considering others’ feedback and advice). I loved her suggestion of considering a persona and costume/uniform (hers is a tiger striped, neon green catsuit). My persona will be Valentina Vanity until further notice.
  • SETTING THE STAGE: I’m brainstorming resourceful stage design options—a sturdier mirror, a small area rug, a side table decorated with theme-related bits and bobs—as I’d like to create a a feeling of intimacy, comfort, luxury, and refuge for the performance. I’m inspired by multidisciplinary artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s solo exhibition “Finding Soft Ground” at Art + Practice, in which she recreated the spaces of softness, safety, and refugee described to her during her interviews with her Black women portrait sitters. I’m also thinking of one of the comments from a participant in an earlier “Feeling Myself” performance, who likened her experience to a similarly empowering experience of affirming herself before a mirror in her home.
  • FILMING THE PERFORMANCE: I’ve found a videographer, but need to develop the performance a bit more before filming (she’s great and affordable, but she ain’t cheap).
  • ARTIST WORKSHOPS: I’m pitching an artist-led workshop for “Feeling Myself” that will involve myself and a small group of attendees exploring the themes of the performance in a more intimate, extended, and concentrated manner. I’ve reached out to a couple of Black woman-owned local businesses and haven’t heard back yet. If you have any recommendations on potential brand partners (ideally for event space) and/or event sponsors in Los Angeles or beyond, please let me know.
  • APPLYING TO GRANTS/FELLOWSHIPS: Please let me know if you have any suggestions or leads for art/media/social practice grants that might be a good fit for me and my work.

Thank you to Jana for accompanying and indulging me during this performance. Thank you to Maddie, Caro, Jac’leen, Christine, Courtney, Ellen, Auttrianna, Essence, and Carrie for joining and assisting me on my earlier performances. And thank you to Tian Jun for letting me use your dope ass camera for these performance photos. 

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