Illiana Harris

What was the first thing that first attracted you to creating art?

The first thing that attracted me to creating art was being able to use  movement as an emotional expression. The ability to use my body to express  myself without the use of words is invigorating. I love that dance movement is  diverse as an art form; it can be viewed as beautiful, entertaining, controversial,  inspiring, effortless, complex and rough. There is no one defining movement  which is dance, it is all movement.  

What is the main medium you work in? Why did you choose it? Or did it choose  you?

My main medium is dance. I believe that dance choose me first because I  believe it is a gift from the ancestors, God and the universe. A gift that allows  me to continue to tell our stories, pay homage to our past and inspire dreams  for our future. But, before I was fully aware of the gift, I think I choose dance  because as someone with ADHD I found movement beneficial; it helps to focus  my thoughts and centers me in a way few other things do.

As a Black artist, what is the most important thing you do and why?

As a Black artist, the most important thing I do is tell our stories. I provide a  historical reference which acknowledges the presence of our ancestors. I  advocate and bring awareness to the present issues of social injustice  throughout the world and in the arts. I tell stories that inspire dreams for the  future which will ultimately shape our world.  

Do you consider the diaspora in your work? If so, how does it manifest?

Yes, I do consider the diaspora in my work. It manifests by giving a voice to  the ancestors, telling their stories, acknowledging their presence and  contributions to this world all through the powerful use of movement. When I  am working on a piece it is almost as if the ancestors are speaking through me  with messages of hurt, strength, pride, love and resilience. The Diaspora ties  me to my past in a way that is life affirming and life giving.

What work has inspired or does inspire you the most?

I am inspired by work that has meaning. To quote Merce Cunningham, “I don’t  want movement for movement sake.” I believe meaningful work can bring  about change; it causes people to reflect on their beliefs, choices and decisions  by confronting them to think critically, reassess and potentially change.  

With your unique voice, what do you wish to say to the world?

With my unique voice, I wish to say to the world that I was here, my ancestors  were here and we have significantly contributed to this landscape known as  America. We are the past, present and future.  

What do you want the answer to be?

I want the answer to be a world which embraces everyone, acknowledges and  respects our differences. We are all uniquely made to contribute to the world  and make it a better place. It would be nice if others would embrace our  uniqueness and acknowledge our truth.  

How do you know you’ve succeeded in speaking your truth?

I know that I have succeeded in speaking my truth when the audience is silent  immediately following my performance because they are contemplating the  intricacies of the piece. But, later the audience can’t stop talking about the  piece as they share their views with others. A successful piece, inspires  conversation, self-reflection and choices which will ultimately shape the world.  

What is the one thing you would like people to know about what you do that no  one would know?

I would like for people to know that my work makes me vulnerable. I don’t think  most people would know that. Since my work is very much influenced by  history and my lived experience, I am allowing the audience a glimpse into my  soul. To quote Katherine Dunham, “ We aren’t pushing Black is beautiful we are  just showing it”.

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