MEET MEGHA BARNABAS
We take a moment to share a dialogue with Megha about what inspires her work as a performance artist, channeling feminine power, how home is a radical space of calm, what she is yearning to experience and how dinner with her ancestors would be the most beautiful dream.
Tell us about a notable memory from your upbringing, relating to anything, maybe something that continues to shape the way you think today?
Throughout elementary school, I had a pretend restaurant called Dakers underneath the staircase in my family home’s basement. I thought that Dakers sounded like a very respectable white American name for a quality family restaurant. I took on the persona of a sassy waitress named Karly Harley. I would wear nylons and pumps, an apron and a hairnet. Play is still important to me-- it is a mode of creativity and freedom that informs my performance.
Tell us your “New York/Brooklyn” story.
I grew up in a suburb outside of Rochester, New York called Webster. Webster is a conservative, mostly white, football-and-cheerleading kind of town. I began to feel confined by the conventions of Webster in middle school and knew I would eventually leave. When I moved to New York it was a real switch to Technicolor.
Your creative mediums of choice are choreography, film and performance, does one inform the other?
I feel most confident in my work as a performer, it is the medium I have explored the most and the one I feel most at home in. Most of my work as a choreographer and filmmaker has stemmed from being asked to collaborate on particular projects, usually music videos. As my performances become more and more like short abstract musicals, I often think of making stylized videos of them---a sort of minimalist Indian-American version of Bollywood, but that hasn’t happened yet.
What performance was particularly special to you?
The most recent performance I did called “Ephipora” felt particularly special. It was a two-woman show incorporating song, movement, dialogue and music that I did with my friend and musician Cameron Mesirow aka Glasser. Cameron is fun to write lines for and we have good chemistry on stage. She writes music to the song lyrics and melodies that I write and the whole process is a dreamy, harmonious pleasure.
What’s provided inspiration for your performance pieces?
Most of my performances on some level have been Goddess-worship-oriented. My movement is directly influenced by the Indian Classical dance Odissi, but I edit and re-work the ancient steps, bringing in jazz or vernacular-dance-style improvisation. I am interested in the archetype of the Apsara (cloud and river spirits in Indian folklore that enact fertility rights) and also the real-life Devadasis who were Indian temple dancers, priestesses and concubines. I am interested in the Black Madonna, orishas, fertility cults, demonic possession and ritual healing. My performances are always inspired by Shakti, the power of the feminine, the embodiment of serpent energy as a primal creative force. But I also try and have a sense of humor about the whole thing so my head doesn’t pop off in front of an audience and all the blood, etc.
This summer you've split your time between a home in Far Rockaway and your home in Brooklyn, what to you creates a home?
Yes I have been so lucky this summer to be able to escape to Rockaway almost every weekend. It is a dream to be so close to Prospect Park in Brooklyn and so close to the ocean in Rockaway. At home, I can have a degree of control over the lighting, the coziness-level, the moral laws, the quality of the plums. For me, home is also a radical space, not in a loud way, but in a soft, quiet way---the plants hum, the objects speak.
What is something you are yearning to experience or learn?
I work a full time job as an archival producer on documentaries for a media company so I am always yearning for more time in nature away from a screen---more time for cooking and art-making. I want to learn more about Vedic philosophy and Tantra, as well as further my studies in ancient movement-based healing modalities like yoga and Qigong.
What is next in your pursuit of creation?
I am hoping to teach movement workshops in New York like the one I most recently taught in Marin County called “Inward Ornamentation,” hosted by Asia Wong as part of her Second Sunday Movement Practice series. In that workshop, we engaged the ornamental gestures and shapes of Indian classical temple dance as healing tools. So the performative becomes yogic and the decorative becomes utilitarian. In addition, we used the ancient yogic tools of asana, mantra, mudra, and pranayama in a more open, improvisational fashion – so in turn the yogic becomes performative.
Maimoun comes from the Persian language word meaning to welcome guests into your home. If you could invite anyone to dinner in your home, who would it be?
This is a serious response, but I would like to have dinner with my ancestors. On my Indian side many generations ago there were traveling musicians and Christian preachers that I would like to meet. I would also invite my Indian-side grandfather John Barnabas, who I have heard so many stories about and my Irish-side great-grandmother Veronica Coggins, who I am told was a Fitzgerald-worthy flapper. And of course, I would like to invite the people I have loved in this life who left too soon.