‘Archipelago’ Combines Okinawan Myth, Yaqui River Valley History

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Denise Uyehara and Adam Cooper-Terán (Photos by Abraham Cooper)

SANTA MONICA — “Archipelago,” a new multidisciplinary work by Denise Uyehara in collaboration with Adam Cooper-Terán, will be presented Friday and Saturday, Feb. 17-18, at 8:30 p.m. at Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica.

Through a nexus of video, monologue, music and ritual, “Archipelago” remixes ancient origin myths of Okinawa and the history of the Sonoran Desert’s Yaqui River Valley, situating them in contemporary times.

Uyehara is an award-winning performance artist, writer, and playwright whose work has been presented across the U.S. and in London, Vancouver, Helsinki and Tokyo.

For over two decades she has investigated what marks us in our migration across borders of identity through interdisciplinary performance. She is a recent recipient of the MAP Fund, the National Performance Network Creation Fund and a grant from the Asian Cultural Council.

A founding member of the Sacred Naked Nature Girls, she conducts workshops for artists and a wide range of communities — LGBTQ, women, people of color —  and is a frequent lecturer at colleges and universities.

Cooper-Terán is an acclaimed video artist and performer from Tucson, Ariz. Well regarded as a prolific collaborator among musicians, photographers, painters, poets, filmmakers, sexpressionists, and circus troupes, his work has appeared across the North American continent, in Europe, and the Middle East, in the form of video installations, telematic rituals, and performance spectacles.

In 1959, when Cooper-Teran’s mother was two years old, her Yaqui village of Batuc in the Sonoran Desert was flooded by a giant dam that had been erected by the Mexican government. This led to a mass exodus of hundreds of families who had lived in the valley for generations, submerging their stories, history and culture underwater. The apex of the stone church, jutting out over the flood waters, is all that remains of Batuc.

Every several years, during Holy Week, the waters recede and the last surviving villagers return to the valley, mourning and celebrating the memories of their village through song and dance in the town square.

In 2003, Uyehara visited her relatives in Itoman Village, Okinawa. They took her to the caves where they hid during the Battle of Okinawa, and also to the animist, pre-Shinto and pre-Buddhist sites of worship and burial. She observed that Okinawans today live in the shadow of the U.S. military, which never left the islands, while struggling to maintain their cultural heritage.

She found herself a walking contradiction — carrying a U.S. passport but of Japanese and Okinawan decent. In addition, Uyehara revisited an ancient oceanic myth in which a brother and sister survive a great flood, becoming the progenitors of Okinawa.

“Archipelago” investigates the metaphor of water that winds through early origin stories from the Ryukyu kingdom and the history of the Yaqui River Valley. It harnesses the cultural resonance found on “islands” – those situated in the desert and those found in the ocean. The performance sheds light on how these cultures have survived as islands — geographic or metaphoric in nature — in the midst of colonization from surrounding forces.

Tickets are $20 general, $15 for students and seniors. For reservations, call (310) 315-1459 or visit http://highwaysperformance.org. Group and individual discounts are available. For more information, call (310) 991-3698 or email [email protected]

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