In Conversation with Cy X.
UnBound Bodies Collective (UBB) has been engaged in place shaping, ritual crafting, embodied workshops, and erotic film festivals with a commitment to QTBIPoC artists and communities in Boston since 2017. Their attention to body, place, and space is evident across all of their work and rare in our culture of disembodiment. In this conversation, two members of UBB, bashexo and Kamaria Weemz, engage in a discussion with Cy X, a poetic technologist, conceptual artist, and writer, who studies the way that erotics and space co-construct each other, the objects produced from such encounters, and the somatic possibilities we keep with us. Together, the three explore multidimensional work and discuss how to connect with the vibrancy of QTBIPoC in both personal and collective contexts, embracing the inevitability of change.

CY X: I’m wondering if we can begin by sharing a bit about the places and people (human and other-than-human) connected to the UnBound Bodies Collective. What roles do people hold within this web, and do they change over time?

BASHEXO: Before we orient towards the people and the places, we first wanted to orient towards the origin story of UnBound Bodies because it has to do with people in place.

CX: I love an origin story! What brought these people together?

B: I was in grad school in Boston from 2015-2017 and was trying to get a sense of what the art scene was like for QTBIPOC folks. What I found at that time was a lot of spoken word spaces and traditional art spaces, many of which seemed to be focused on professionalism. I was looking for an experimental, exploratory space where people could show work, talk about work, and play.

I had been in conversation with Kamaria about my longings and yearnings and how grad school was very individual-focused. I was the only Black queer person in my whole cohort and there were lots of moments of disconnect. At that time, Moya Bailey, a professor at Northeastern, would host these parties for Black academics, activists, and creatives. At one of Moya's parties, they invited JD Stokely and were like, y'all should really talk because they're looking for creative connection. Stokely and I met and we were like, why don't we try and start a collective here? 

UnBound Bodies started in about 2017. We were thinking about a way to recognize the tangible nature of being spirit in flesh but also the expansiveness of spirit, of pleasure, and of liberation. We wanted to question, interrupt, and dream. To move beyond the body while still acknowledging and caring for our bodies, while also queering this concept of body as a collective body, as somatic body, as aliveness. Our debut was a curated show of QTBIPOC artists. 

Kamaria Weemz: It was at East Meets West1 in Cambridge, which itself was a collective and a bookstore and also an organizing space.

Mercédes Loving-Manley's Living Altar installation at Malibu Beach, 2021. Photograph by Golden
B: UnBound Bodies was just Stokely and I for the first year and we quickly realized that we needed a lot of help, and we asked our friends—including Kamaria and G, Genevieve Rodriguez2—to support us. Simone John3 came to our first show at East Meets West and invited us into collaboration. UnBound Bodies continues to shift and change and transform based on many variables: the members’ needs, desires, interests, curiosities, capacities, excitements, aliveness.

KW: That first show was a month-long exhibition that presented 3D and 2D work all around the gallery space, but we also had performance artists, so it was really multidimensional.

CX: Multidimensional, yes! That seems to be a big theme, and the collective’s work also seems to touch upon somatic inquiry and embodiment. Was this present early on as well?

KW: Me and janhavi madabushi, my collaborator from Cultivate, a queer healing lab where we did embodiment and somatic practices, held an embodiment space at East Meets West as a witnessing practice.4 The whole idea was to be in this gallery space to explore concepts of UnBound Bodies and liberatory bodies. 

B: It was really important for us to build, and continue to build, things that mattered into the space, and to collaborate with folks, to feed people, and to disrupt this idea of what being with and around work is like.

KW: What moves our communities? That does not have to be sameness or a homogeneous voice when you really open up space for people to channel all the different ways that QTBIPOC folks are creative forces for liberatory imagination in chorus with each other. I think the allegory that we understand of how we connect to people is a lot like a constellation or an ecosystem. There are all these bodies and we already exist around each other, but how do we make those connections and how do we shine in those moments of coming together? 

Part of it, too, is the experiment of being open to the possibility of something transforming. I'm bashi’s partner so even before I was a member, I was stirring some pots and talking to people. It has been a truly wonderful experience for me to have my contributions recognized and to be welcomed.

CX: Thinking about these yearnings to have something new that maybe wasn't being seen in Boston earlier, how were those desires funneled into the form of a collective? Why a collective structure?

KW: I actually prefer to do creative work with multiple people. I find that to be really dynamic and expansive. I can be a part of something that challenges capitalism and white supremacist concepts of rugged individualism. I think there is something to being one of many and acknowledging and honoring that we each bring different geniuses. In the way of somatics, we are each our own soma that has our own spirit, body, and mind.

We have all of these creative resources and a practice of sharing with each other. With Simone’s poetic genius, we're building all of these things—some of them tangible, some of them intangible—and exploring how we can ground them in words. Stokely is always asking what's the vibe, what does it feel like, what is the world we're building, and helping us tap into all of our senses. G is one of those Renaissance folks who can do soundscaping, can touch tech, can build a dock out of wood. bashi has an incredible performance practice. So then you have five people doing that, and it’s like, this world is the making of multiple liberatory ideas, concepts, and hands. And we need many. There are so many forces against Black life and against queer and trans Black life. I actually think that our practice is a part of leveraging imagination to help us shape and understand what is a liberatory possibility.

B: I also want to be mindful of the fact that Boston has a very varied and rich creative history, and there were collectives here that were doing experimental, radical work, like the Combahee River Collective in particular. Thinking of infection not just in the disease sense but also infectious joy and possibility and dreaming and world-building, those roots were already here in Boston and for whatever reason they just weren't really present or well-nourished during 2016 and 2017. 

KW: We use the passage "We Are The Ones We've Been Waiting For" from June Jordan's poem, "Poem for South African Women," as a reference point and an anchor for Roots + Futures. This project explores QTBIPoC futurity, liberation, and active archiving.5 We were trying to imagine what it would be like for us to open up this collective and have it surround community members, specifically Black queer elders and Black trans femmes. We wanted to get really specific around how we honor and celebrate and hold glorious space for these community members. We did that by making living altars for each person so we can keep opening and expanding that circle around them. This way they could have that experience in their soma while they're here and not after something happens, not after we miss them. 

B: I feel like the practice of collectivity and collaboration happens on many different levels. In many ways our practice does this sideways, backwards, present, forward, diagonal and in these really beautiful ways allows us to have multiple types of partnerships and collaborations. 

Eva Wu was the person who dreamed up Hot Bits6 and invited us into a curatorial process in 2017, but Stokely and I were like, if we do it, we are just going to show QTBIPOC work because that is our focus and that is not something that Philly7 was doing at the time or now. It's been important to have collaborations but also really stay true to what feels most meaningful and alive to us.

KW: We made this space we thought was really juicy and supportive and then we ended up getting feedback that folks were uncomfortable at different times and didn't have a place to go with that discomfort or that trigger. So from that feedback, we transformed the film festival to have workshops that were survivor-centered for the QTBIPOC community leading up to it. This way we could start building that community relationship and even question: What does desire mean to you? What's the landscape of pleasure? What are the tools that we have when there are barriers and how is UnBound Bodies accountable to holding those spaces?

Mercédes Loving-Manley's Living Altar installation at Malibu Beach, 2021. Photograph by Lauren Miller

There's this common thread of transformation. Some of the initial spaces you all collaborated in or did activations in are not present anymore. People have shifted in the collective over the years and you all have engaged in different collaborations as well. Altars are also sites of transformation and tending. There was something you said, bashi, about being aware of and conscious of multiple timelines, being in the past, present, and future and also being with the diagonal. How do you do this work across many timelines simultaneously, especially as there are different agreements that might change across time, space, and groups? How do you negotiate on the individual level and the collective level and are there any practices that support you all in that? 

B: This is an ongoing learning project. We just held this rest and restoration retreat called Quench for QTBIPOC creatives and activists and healers a few weeks ago on a farm called The Food Project, and we collaborated with a bunch of folks who we had been in community with in different ways, but we had never collaborated together. What we learned from that was it's important for us to build in the time to make sure that we're not just saying the same words, but have similar definitions for care, process, and intention. In collaborations that are very new, how much more space and time do we need to get to know one another and to ground with each other and share what's coming up and what the expectations are?

Maybe at the beginning the capacity was X, but now that we're midway through, we're realizing that it's no longer X anymore. How do we shift and respond to capacity and to our bodies’ needs and the resources that we have available to us, not only in terms of financial resources, but energetic and spiritual and mental health resources? Things are constantly shifting and changing in collaborations when you're dealing with elements that are really intangible like energy and spirit and creative processes. So we really try to stay present, whether that's by doing breathing exercises together, doing somatic grounding practices that typically Kamaria will lead us through, or us all feeling more comfortable to be like, “Wait, let's hit pause, something doesn't feel right,” instead of pushing through it.

In a conflict, whatever the rub or disconnect is, it's about working through all of those different dimensions. One of the key elements for us is intentionally building time and spaciousness and rest and reflection into the space where we're not only just asking for feedback from our participants, but we're also wanting to debrief with our partners and our collaborators and our collective members about how things landed.

KW: We're also on this learning curve of asking for support—inviting in other artists, like sharon bridgforth, who held some visioning sessions with us, or asking another somatic practitioner to come in and help us with some transitions and in our [somatic] shape.8 We're also trying to make more time for, like you said, rest and recovery, but also points of celebration so that those can also sustain us.

We all have different practices we do for our body and spirit and we try to share those with each other. bashi is a priest of Lucumí and many of us have ancestral reverence practices and I think that really holds us down. We like to invite in those guides, those protectors, because we know that we can't do this alone, nor do we want to. We often make an altar space where we're doing some work. It's not just asking for help. It's also setting down offerings and making sure that those folks, those spirits, those entities are also sustained. 

CX: How does desire show up in your commitment to continuing to do the work, even in the hard times? How is desire present in the visioning sessions or in the invitations to collaborate?

B: Desire feels like a pull and a push and something that really motivates and shapes my work individually, as well as our work collectively. Making room for QTBIPOC desire and all these really amazing and juicy articulations is a part of the excitement, part of the medicine. I feel like we often talk about epigenetics in terms of trauma, but I'm also thinking about it in the context of desire and joy and wisdom and knowledge and connectivity, and all of those things already being there. What are some of the keys and the ingredients that help us connect and deepen our relationships with one another, with ourselves, with spirit, with the land?

Desire for me is like a force, the thing that activates. One of those desires, to be really specific, is to explore aliveness, and specifically for QTBIPOC folks, the different manifestations and expressions and sizes and ways in which that is present in our lives and how that can be amplified when we're together. And how it can ripple out and be medicine for not only this particular moment in time, but the past and the future simultaneously.

It is a force. It is a life force. It is a seed and a flower. It is a phenomenon that unlocks and opens in these ways that we weren't even aware of at the very beginning. We are getting more comfortable with fumbling through it and experiencing it and it not being perfect. And being more and more okay with things not necessarily being what we may have envisioned or being exactly what we envisioned but staying present enough in the moment to be in partnership with desire itself as the phenomenon. In the same ways in which we're partnering with other QTBIPOC creatives, we're partnering with the phenomenon and the energy and the possibility and the medicine and the wisdom of desire.

1 East Meets West has been on an indefinite hiatus since 2019

2 G or Genevieve Rodriguez is a multi multimedia artist + builder and member of UBB

3 Simone John is a poet/writer + visual artist and member of UBB

4  A witnessing practice invites small groups (2-3) of folks to move and be witnessed. Each person in the group will take a turn moving to some music while the other 1-2 folks witness their movements and take care to be curious without judgment or narrativizing their movements. Once the mover has completed, the witnessing folks can share (if the mover wants to take in a reflection) what they noticed. It is a practice of taking each other in, paying attention to how we express ourselves, and allowing for intuitive movement to guide what wants to be revealed. For QTBIPOC folks this can be a powerful practice that invites in agency/bodily autonomy, consent, and an invitation to be seen, NOT scrutinized or invisibilized.

5 This influential line is found in June Jordan’s book "Passion," published in 1980.

6 Hot Bits Festival is a mostly QTBIPOC volunteer-organized queer porn film festival held first in Philadelphia and later in Baltimore and Boston.

7 When UBB was invited into collaboration to host in Boston, they agreed to if they could host a QTBIPOC only lineup, which was not being done in either of the other Hot Bits host cities at the time.

8 Somatic shape refers to literal, embodied shape—in this case, of our collective. When we try to understand our shape/shaping, we are trying to bring awareness to how our collective soma (mind/body and spirit) has historically been shaped and responds, where there are conditioned tendencies that might be informed by trauma (interpersonal, institutional, and systemic oppression), and where there is aliveness/choice. Some ways we can understand that are in our range and limits of connection, holding conflict as generative and potentially complex, and having deep compassion for where the limits are individually and as a collective. Some ways that we can recognize this (going back to the body) are in terms of where there is extreme contraction (shutting down, tension, blockages, loss of center, stilling, numbness, etc.) or extreme opening (hyper-alertness, emotional flooding, overwhelm, loss of center, etc.), and where there is aliveness (ability for flow, suppleness, choicefulness, adaptability, boundaries, awareness of our center). Our conditioned tendencies, which are the survival mechanisms that have thus far kept us alive (fight, flight, freeze, appease, disassociate), while they are innate skills, take away our choice to be responsive instead of reactive when they are automated and prevent us from meeting the present moment clearly. We are trying to understand where our shaping is moving us towards our deep love, values, collective vision, and where we might need to disrupt some of the conditioning that keeps us disconnected, confused, and counter-purposed in our collective movements, and asking how we can better witness and support each other as a long-term collective study in practices of care and creativity.