Mexican artist Laura Anderson Barbata’s practice, though often rather tall, is firmly rooted at the intersection of art and community, a site she regards as one of great power. Barbata began stilt walking as part of a varied artistic practice. After studying sculpture and printmaking, and creating works that blend graphite drawings, papermaking, and site-specific installation, she took a trip to the Venezuelan Amazon. There, she offered a skill trade with indigenous communities—papermaking for canoe making— thus beginning a decades-long relationship with the Yanomami, Ye’kuana, and Piaroa communities. Through her bookmaking collaboration with indigenous communities, she connected with local stilt dancers, seeding a new phase in her work.
Since her first stilt dancing collaborations in the Amazon, Laura Anderson Barbata has gone on to work with stilt dancers in Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, the Amazon, and New York. The photos in this monograph linger primarily on her ongoing collaboration with the Brooklyn Jumbies, a group of stilt dancers focused on celebrating African and African-Caribbean culture. Their contribution to the Occupy protests, “Intervention: Wall Street,” included six of the Jumbies lumbering past the NYSE in oversized suits, while Barbata danced around in the street, doling out chocolate coins. The sudden delight and awe of witnessing stilt dancers juxtaposed with layers of cultural critique are characteristic of Barbata’s work.
The book’s title, Transcommunality, a word not addressed in the text, is surprisingly at odds with the artist’s immediately accessible and marvelous work. No doubt there is a great deal of intellectual intent behind Barbata’s practice, but emphasized above all is her gratitude for her communal practice. In interview texts she speaks many times of the hope to “honor and elevate” those who participate in her projects—a metaphor particularly elegant and appropriate, as she literally raises people six feet into the air.
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