Oklahoma Contemporary
Changing FrEQuencies and Briana Sayles
Two dancers hold a rose gold bowl, one pulling it in one direction while the other seems to give and push it toward the other dancer. The room is bright. Both dancers are in dark colors.

New Light

June 07, 2022

Sanctuary Redefined: Listening to Black Women

OKC Artists for Justice ask that you really listen

How can we support Black women? How can we aid them in their journey through this world? Through heightened stress and anxiety? What do Black women need to find solace, to find sanctuary? They already know those answers.

An illustrated, all black figure of an illustrated profile sits in the middle of a white page. Below the illustration are the letters O, A, the number four and letter J in black in different, unique fonts.
OKC Artists for Justice

“We don’t need somebody to tell us what we need in the sanctuary,” says Sanctuary Redefined creator and OKC Artists for Justice advocate Grace Franklin. “We know what we need in the sanctuary. We know what we need to have some peace and some relaxation, to breathe, to just be free, to not have to deal with all of the things we deal with daily — we know what that is. We define that. We have to redefine what society believes we want and need. We can speak; we can tell you. We can define it for ourselves.”

And that’s what June 16’s free performance, Sanctuary Redefined: We Shall Own Our Legacy, aims to do. Incorporating poetry written by Franklin, local dancers, musicians and singers and Chakaia Booker’s Shaved Portions, Sanctuary Redefined will present a perspective of Black women that expresses the journey of searching for basic human experiences, including safety, joy, laughter, prosperity, family (born into and created) and the ability to grow.

Two dancers stand in a dance studio with floor to ceiling windows on one wall and mirrors on another. We can see the dancers, mid-movement, in the reflection, creating three images of performers. To left, a man sits with a guitar in the corner, playing.
Dancers Changing FrEQuencies and Briana Sayles

As she chose performers and artists, Franklin didn’t only want their skills, but their voices, participation, thoughts and feedback. Trust was vital to Franklin when she asked vocalist Annisia Anderson, dancers Changing FrEQuencies and Briana Sayles, and musicians Lorne Lee and Julien Côte d'Ivoire to act as collaborators. Franklin knew that she needed participants who could truly feel the heart of the project, the heart of her poetry, to really be “tapped in,” in order to successfully invest in and portray the narrative for Sanctuary Redefined.

“I think the biggest thing we want to do is make people question the narrative of Black women,” Franklin says. “Understanding that what most of society has been fed around Black women is wrapped around the strong, mythical, ‘Black women can do anything.’ It removes a part of humanity of Black women, as if there is not pain or we don’t experience pain. And hopefully with this project, it really is to make people think twice about what they believe about Black women.”

In the painting, the background is a bright yeloow while the rest of the work is in blue, green and purple hues. A femme figure with butterflies and flowers for hair is blowing out smoke that flows in a long, swirly trail around the figure.
Art by Tiffany Nicole

While the project directly speaks to the needs, joys, struggles and accomplishments of Black women, it holds a valuable lesson for all vulnerable and marginalized communities and for those who have the power to create change within and among them.

“It’s important for the community to be able to define for ourselves what we want and need and what that looks like,” Franklin says. “That’s really important for every community to have that. To be able to say ‘Listen, I know y’all think this, this and this is what we want. But what we really need and want looks like this.’ Even with the greatest intentions, if you aren’t listening to the community that you’re servicing, you never get it right. And that’s with any community. That’s with Indigenous communities, Hispanic communities, Black communities, Asian communities, differently abled communities, our elder communities. We have to listen to what a community wants and needs in order to help them.”

A man in a white dress shirt and blue slacks sits in a chair, showing the camera his profile, by a bright window and is playing the trumpet. We can see a guitar sitting in his lap.
Musician Lorne Lee

Listening to the community is one thing, as Franklin emphasizes. But recognizing the dynamic, unique lived experiences of Black women do not apply as a catchall is another. “Like all people, [Black women] are not a monolith.” Recognizing and existing within the day-to-day life as a Black woman, Franklin’s upcoming project encapsulates her hopes and dreams for her community, utilizing performance art as a means of precisely communicating with viewers.

“The process of the creation of the performance of the piece itself, it really is a reflection of what I believe about Black women,” Franklin says. “Yes, we do have the strength, we have all of those things, but there is so much of us that is overlooked in the name of, ‘Oh, they got it; they’ll be OK. They’re strong Black women; they’ll be all right.’ And generally, we will. But we would like to better. We would like to be more than all right. We would like to thrive and have some of this pressure off — that has nothing to do with us many times.”

Two dancers are in are in the middle of the rehearsal space, with mirrors and windows on either side. One dancer has her legs spread wide and bent, arms widespread as well. The other is facing away, arms above her head, mid-movement.
Dancers Changing FrEQuencies and Briana Sayles

Join us and OKC Artists for Justice at 8 p.m. next Thursday, June 16, to celebrate, honor and listen to Black women through this free, multi-genre performance. The program will take place in Campbell Art Park, in front of and around Chakaia Booker’s massive sculpture, utilizing both Booker’s principles and the physical landscape.


Dancers Changing FrEQuencies and Briana Sayles during rehearsal (photos 1, 3 and 4).

OKC Artists for Justice logo. Courtesy OKC Artists for Justice.

Art by Tiffany Nicole. Courtesy the artist.

Musician Lorne Lee during rehearsal.

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dance music poetry performance performance art free Chakaia Booker outdoors

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