Home Is Where You Lay Your Head: Stories of Identity and Homeland

Home Is Where You Lay Your Head

Home Is Where You Lay Your Head: Stories of Identity and Homeland is a community engagement project based around storytelling, conversation and healing.

This project started in 2016 is part of an existing, exploratory, project titled Learning How to Fly. It is dedicated to my mother, Helen Marie Jacobs, a member of the Lumbee Nation of North Carolina–the largest Native American tribe East of the Mississippi not federally recognized by the U.S. government. The Lumbee Nation has fought  for recognition for more than 125 years.

My mom died on April 7th 2000. She took with her, her history, her stories, and her understandings of an Indigenous woman coming of age in the Jim Crow South.

Home Is Where You Lay Your Head

I will provide an intimate space (a temporary shelter, a home away from home) to share my experiences around identity and home from the perspective of a mixed-race Native American woman. A woman who is coming to terms with her relationship to her people and her understanding of them, while healing the past and forging her new identity for the future. This shelter, inspired by my time at Standing Rock living in a tent at the camps, also parallels and references  the refugee and migrant crises happening all over the world in present-day.

My focus is on indigenous people denied identity, civic rights, land, traditional culture preservation, language, and opportunity from a hegemonic oppressor.

Through photographs taken over a span of seven years, my conversation will include the B’doul Tribe of Petra, Jordan who were forced to abandon their semi-nomadic life for the nearby settlement of Umm Sayhoun. Social interrogations also commented on are the Palestinian struggle for statehood, the impact of neo-colonialism on Greenlandic culture and identity post-establishment of Home Rule, and the historic gathering of tribes and allies at Standing Rock, North Dakota to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline. Lastly, I will touch upon my people, the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina and their fight for recognition by the U.S. Government.

This dialogue through photographic images with visitors will be an exercise in self-expression, which will strengthen and empower my voice. It is my aim that such gesture will engage others to share their own stories around home and identity. It will also provide an opportunity to inspire new work based around these exchanges and topics.

Home Is Where You Lay Your Head: Stories of Identity and Homeland is part of Reroot, an exhibition at Smack Mellon in Dumbo opening in November. My performances will take place December 3rd and 10th from 1-3 PM.

Sacred Space Rituals

As part of a three-day workshop at the FISH FACTORY CREATIVE CENTRE for preteens from East Iceland. I designed a series of three sacred space rituals that all the attendees were invited to participate in each day.

Alters for the Four Elements

I placed alters in the room at North, South, East, West and Center coordinates. All was invited to add to the alters. I shared my insight about the elements and they shared theirs with a particular focus on Iceland. We discussed the characteristics of each, our natural affinity for a particular, and the wholeness of them all. Children were especially keen on talking about animals and the element that represented them. Over the course of the workshop I photographed the alters individually.

North is the earth element. It is the color green. It represents midnight and winter. It is the place of greatest darkness. It is caves, mountains, garments, groves, and plains. The characteristics are strength, wealth, body and form.

South is fire element. It is the color red. It represents the moon and summer. It is the place of greatest heat. It is the sun, stars, deserts, volcanoes and lightning. The characteristics are courage, will and passion.

East is air element. It is the color yellow. It represents dawn and spring. It is the place of greatest light. It is the sky, wind, high places, vibrations, and clouds. The characteristics are breath, wind, music, and intellect.

West is water element. It is the color blue. It represents twilight and autumn. It is the place of the setting sun. It is fog, tides, snow, lakes, wells, rivers, oceans, and rain. The characteristics are compassion, feelings, dreams, intuition.

More photos of the FOUR ELEMENTS ALTERS.

Dream Catcher and Dream Box

I added to the room a giant dream catcher and a dream box and asked attendees to write down there dreams on sheets of paper and slide them into the box without writing their name. I discussed with the children the story behind the dream catcher and the importance of recognizing and verbalizing their dreams in sleeping and waking life.


Medicine Wheel

I added to the room with local crystals and rocks creating the shape of a medicine wheel that included the Earth, Fire, Air and Water alters. I asked the children to come up with an animal for each stone that best represented its position to the alters in the wheel. For example if it is a stone between water and earth to find an animal that possess both of these characteristic, for example a polar bear who lives both in water and on land. We also included animals from Icelandic folklore and stories.

More photos of the MEDICINE WHEEL.

Artist Residency at Ilulissat Kunstmuseum

On May 6th-20th,  I am an artist in residence at the Ilulissat Kunstmuseum which features the works of Emanuel A. Petersen and of contemporary Greenlandic, Danish and foreign artists. This beautiful building that I am so privileged to be living in and working in was once the residence of the “Colony Manager” in 1923. Here lived five different colony managers and later a trading company. In 1995 it became an art museum which is the first for Greenland. There also is a group of women called Seqineq (sun) who meet regularly in the museum to paint the surroundings. On the property there is a garden which is as old as the building an important resource for the residents. The curator and the residency program manager is Ole Gamst-Pedersen.

The project I am working on is about identity and connecting to ancestors, from a mixed race perspective of White and American Indian. Specifically coming from a tribe (Lumbee Indian) that is not recognized by the US government and the complications that come with this. I was curious to find out what it was like for those in Greenland especially those that are half Danish and half Greenlandic, their struggles with identity. How does the culture and traditions live on after colonization? Is there similarities between the struggles of Native Americans in the states and the Inuit struggles in Greenland? The more I found out the more questions I have. Visit my website lauraarena.com for more about this project.

I spent my endless days of light looking out the window watching the boats move in an out of the harbor. Introducing myself and my project to large groups of museum visitors. Drinking coffee and learning about Greenlandic/Danish ways from Ole and his beautiful wife Trine. Living in an art museum with painting of icebergs and old ways of the past. Taking long hikes where Icebergs are made, visiting the local businesses and being equally scared and intrigued by the sledge dogs all around. Greenland is a strange, beautiful, and somewhat a dangerous place. A place I am more aware of my own fragility and the true force of nature.

For more information visit http://www.ilukunstmus.gl/en/.

The Spiral Dance Installation and Ceremony

Coming together at sunset with a view of the sea, at the Fish Factory Creative Centre in Stöðvarfjörður, Iceland, I hosted a ceremony along with Sif Yraola. We joined together in The Spiral Dance – a Meditation on the Ghosts of our DNA, along with the beat of a drum, thanks to Tom Allon. We explored our inner DNA and the mysteries it holds of those that gave life to us and walked before.

I created a sculpture of old nets used for drying fish, relics of the fishing industry of yesteryear, found at the factory. This sculpture is approximately 10 ft. tall with more than 600 candles and composed of 200+ nets.

A tribute to our DNA and to our ancestors before us. My intention to create an atmosphere for movement, ceremony and contemplation. The shape, similar to DNA, also happens to resemble the symbol of my ancestral tribe, the Lumbee Indians.

Questions we pondered;

  • What is DNA?
  • What is passed on through our DNA?
  • How are “survival instincts” passed on through generations?
  • What other kinds of experiences might be saved in our DNA?
  • Is it possible that DNA holds important memories of our ancestors?
  • Can our DNA reveal experiences of previous generations long before our present time?
  • Reveal fears? Reveal trauma? Reveal blessings? Reveal patterns?
  • Can this information be accessed by us, here and now?
  • Have there been times you instinctively knew information without learning it?
  • Have you ever known about a historical event without physically being there?
  • Have you experienced deja vu?
  • Have been to a place for the first time that is completely familiar?
  • Felt a strong connection to something without clearly understanding why?
  • Met someone you just seem to already know?

During the ceremony we stopped and looked into each others eyes and then we moved together in unison.

We are the past as much as we are the future. We need to listen to our inner DNA. To conduct our own personal research and to find out for ourselves; to listen to the voices, feelings, sights and experiences of our ancestors. Their joys and fears are within us. In that way our ancestors are with us always.

Fish Factory in Stöðvarfjörður, Iceland Artist Residency

I am an artist-in-residence at the Fish Factory Creative Centre in Stöðvarfjörður for the months of March/April 2016. In March, I am with two other artists, Lana Schneider, a visual artist from Belgium and David James Andrew, a poet from England. In April, I am with Morgan Murphy, a visual artist from USA and Sine Lindholm, a visual artist/architect from Denmark.

Stöðvarfjörður is an extremely remote village in the East fjords of Iceland. See how remote it is. In 2011, the Creative Centre was established when an abandoned Fish Factory was acquired by the founders, Icelanders, Czech, Irish among others. They began the journey of creating a thriving, creative, community with a focus on the arts, craftsmanship and music in this beautiful place.

The Creative Centre is an ongoing collaborative project supported by volunteers, the surrounding community and a very determined staff. All based on sustainable principles and alternative methods and includes a recording studio, performance space, wood working space, sewing station, studios and more than I can mention.

In many ways I am surrounded by “my people” at the Creative Centre. Even though the landscape is remarkably different from mine in New York City. It is all familiar. Artists creating community. Artists serving community. Artists serving artists. Artists building artist spaces. I feel quite at home here, inspired by the magnitude of this project and by the individuals involved. My time spent is a time of personal, spiritual and artistic growth. I am extremely grateful to share this experience through this project and with the community here.

Sherlock Holmes & the Internet of Things

Sherlock Holmes and the Internet of Things

I am pleased to be part of Sherlock Holmes & the Internet of Things, a prototype of the Columbia Digital Storytelling Lab that experiments with shifts in authorship and ownership of stories while exploring the ethical and political implications of ‘Internet of Things’.

The ‘Internet of Things’ is positioned to be the largest deployment of connected devices, dwarfing PCs, tablets and smartphones combined. The opportunity this presents for laying storytelling over the physical world is exciting. Stories that can aid the discovery, personalization and connection of people to places and things.

Sherlock Holmes & the Internet of Things focuses on four design principles;
1) THE TRACE the importance of being able to see a trace of your contributions within the story
2) GRANTING AGENCY balancing team and individual tasks enable participants to see where their decisions and actions impact the experience
3) THEMATIC FRAME designing an emergent space for Sherlock Holmes inspired creations provides a common foundation
4) SOCIAL MOVEMENT through a kind of serendipity management we can design moments where participants “bump into” unexpected points of collaboration

Sherlock Holmes & the Internet of Things is world wide endeavor; includes meetups in close to 20 cities, collaborators from over 60 countries and 250 participants within a pilot massive online/offline collaboration (MOOC), which was developed within the Film Program at the School of the Arts and is powered by the Columbia University School of Continuing Education (SCE). MOOC is an effort to create a dynamic experiential learning space that bridges the physical and the digital.

This MOOC will create an experiential learning environment that mixes theory and practice to reimagine the world of Sherlock Holmes. Over 10 weeks, participants will engage in lectures, teamwork and project based learning that explores the future of storytelling. Together teams design and build smart storytelling objects, which are plugged into a massive connected crime scene with locations around the world. The goal of Sherlock Holmes & the Internet of Things is to build a massive connected crime scene consisting of smart storytelling objects. This fall teams will create, design, build and test prototypes that will be plugged into a number of crime scene locations around the world. The first crime scene will be staged at Lincoln Center during the New York Film Festival September 26th through October 11th

Sherlock Holmes & the Internet of Things

About the Columbia Digital Storytelling Lab
The Columbia Digital Storytelling Lab designs stories for the 21st Century, building on a diverse range of creative and research practices originating in fields from the arts, humanities and technology, never loseing sight of the power of a good story. Technology, as a creative partner, shapes the ways in which stories are found and told. In the 21st Century, for example, the mass democratization of creative tools — code, data and algorithms — changed the relationship between creator and audience. The Digital Storytelling Lab, therefore, is a place of speculation, of creativity, and of collaboration between students and faculty from across Columbia University. New stories are told here in new and unexpected ways.

For more information visit
Columbia Digital Storytelling Lab
Sherlock Holmes & the Internet of Things Global Challenge
Sherlock Holmes & the Internet of Things featured at Convergence as part of the New York Film Festival

AIR Vela Straža Artist Residency – Šolta Island, Croatia

I took part in a focus group in preparation for an artist residency program “AIR Vela Straža” located in old Yugoslavian Military barracks high up in the hills of Šolta Island in the Adriatic Sea south of Split. The residency, still in its planning stages by artist, and assistant professor at the Academy of fine arts in Zagreb, Marina Bauer and artist Ivana Ognyanovac with collaboration with Green Action a leading non-governmental organization for environmental protection in Croatia. Green Actions hosts several workshops over the summer for activists and young people to come together to discuss and problem solve challenging environmental concerns.

Stone walls in olive grove in  Šolta Island, Croatia
Stone walls in olive grove in Šolta Island, Croatia
Destroyed Old Stone Walls
Destroyed old stone walls to make way for contemporary gardening in Šolta Island, Croatia

The artist residency adds a new layer to Green Action’s programming providing 15 artists the opportunity to work in a remote, natural setting to contemplate and work in response to local environmental issues including the destruction of local, old stonewalls to make way for contemporary gardening or inspired by topics covered by Green Action, such as solar energy.

“AIR Vela Straža” is a two week artist residency, the planned dates for 2016 is July 19th – July 2. Artists will be invited and have an opportunity to apply late winter or early spring. More information will be announced next year.