Getting past categories

A cabaret night at Patrick’s undermines conventional stereotypes about minority women

Greg Corradini

Juliana Pegues, creatively speaking, might come from the accent that rolls off her mother’s tongue.

Chances are, if you ask Pegues and the minority artists performing in “Our Voices” where they come from (their ethnic backgrounds), you’ll get a variety of imaginative responses.

“Obviously, there are political answers for questions like, ‘Where are you from?’ ” said Pegues, a performing artist, poet and facilitator of “Our Voices.” “Maybe, I’m going to break down my ethnic ancestry or tap into what emotionally comes up.”

Or, maybe she won’t.

For such a dubious ethnic question, geographic replies only serve one purpose. The minority artists featured in “Our Voices” at Patrick’s Cabaret have multiple purposes, political and personal. The two-week workshop leading up to their performance trained them to examine their own experiences for both.

“Part of the creative process is tapping into what we think as people of color, but not always coming at it from a political approach where everything is boxed up,” Pegues said.

The workshop exercises helped Vidhya Shanker improve her creative writing and produce her unnamed performance piece.

Her monologues, spoken from different characters’ points of view, dissect the general alliances and problems minority communities living together face.

While her piece lends some time to the Hindu and Muslim conflict affecting the South Asian region, she said other aspects of her monologues focus on the tensions that occur in cultural appropriation.

Shanker, a University alumna and Minnesota Women’s Press columnist, said there’s a history of distrust between some blacks and recent immigrants from Africa and South Asia.

“A lot of South Asians, to prove themselves not prejudiced, will appropriate hip-hop language, mannerisms and clothing,” she said. “A lot of it, I think, is not a full understanding of what it means to adopt someone else’s language and clothing.”

“Our Voices” is also a forum for artists who are just beginning to find their voices.

Although she has written for years, spoken-word artist Sarah Agaton Howes will perform some of her poems for the first time.

Howes, a youth organizer, found inspiration in writer Sherman Alexie for his ability to capture the tragic humor of American Indian reservation life.

Like the rest of the artists in “Our Voices,” the current political context affected Howes’ writing.

She most recently helped teenagers from the Freedom School organize a candidate forum for school board elections. And she has a message for all artists (minority or not) who think that there isn’t a reciprocal relationship between politics, art and community involvement.

“They have to be connected,” Howes said. “Because if you just go onstage and spew all this stuff but you are not ever willing to do anything about it, I don’t really know what that means.”

“Our Voices: A Night of Performance by Artists of Color”

When: 8 p.m. Friday – Saturday

Where: Patrick’s Cabaret

Cost: $6

Contact: (612) 724-6273