Meet Spark Grant Winner Danielle Deadwyler

The recipients of this year’s Spark Grants are mothers, art makers, multidisciplinary performance artists. In each of their respective spheres, they seek to shine a light on the cultural impact of Black women’s labor, to investigate the lived spaces of the city we inhabit, and to provide much-needed support for mamas-to-be in marginalized communities.

This week, we’ll be introducing you to each of our grant winners, letting them shed a bit more light on what they do in their own words.

Up first, Danielle Deadwyler.

Deadwyler is an actress, performer, poet and self-proclaimed “conjurer of Southern narratives and aesthetics.” She’ll be using her Spark Grant to support her experimental documentary, BustItOpen, which aims to interrogate what it means to labor as a Black woman in today’s culture.

DWF Mag: For those who may not know, tell us a bit about who you are and what you do.

Danielle Deadwyler: Atlanta is the birth home and breeding ground for me as an artist, inclusive of performance art, theatre, film, television, dance, and creative writing. I was honed in Atlanta Public Schools as a child, bloomed at Spelman College (among other national institutions), and fostered as a professional in the arts of Atlanta for the last decade (+).

I’ve been an avid conjurer of Southern narratives and aesthetic, initiating these pursuits in graduate studies of Black women and sexuality in the South, to my current endurance performance works that center black women’s labor. Additionally, I’ve been privileged to be an actor in Atlanta’s theatre community for years, from the Alliance Theatre to True Colors Theatre company, as well as some well-known television shows and films, such as Atlanta on FX and Tyler Perry’s The Haves & The Have Nots (OWN).

I’m a collaborator at my core, a risk-taker, and Ezra’s mom.

Black labor is the bedrock to American prosperity. I’m creating work, and interested in collaborating with work, that tells the story of how that bed got made…and how it is upheld.
— Danielle Deadwyler

DWF Mag: You're an actress, a poet, a filmmaker, a multi-genre creator. If there was one thread that ran through your body of work, what would it be?

Deadwyler: The impact of labor is vital to much of the work I do. I am especially rooted in the happenings of labor on black women. Labor looks like what they do for money day to day, and what is done just to get through a day. What are the emotional, physical, and psychological negotiations to surviving and thriving [while] laboring in a black woman’s body? Black labor is the bedrock to American prosperity. I’m creating work, and interested in collaborating with work, that tells the story of how that bed got made…and how it is upheld.

DWF Mag: You'll be using the funds to support your experiential film BustItOpen. Explain to our readers what this film is, how the idea for it was born, and why its message is so important to you. 

From Deadwyler’s  BustItOpen

From Deadwyler’s BustItOpen

Deadwyler: BustItOpen is an experimental documentary, chopping and screwing what it means to labor as a black Southern woman. Through the reality of four mothers, historical imagery of black women’s labor in America, and the surreality of a performance art series three years in the making, we break down and bust open the myths of black motherhood and womanhood in America.

BustItOpen seeks to interweave the performance series’ footage with a hip hop-laced sonic aesthetic as application to the project’s visual editing approach. The marriage of three years of performance art footage and a hip hop subcultural editing nuance, the reality of a day in the life of four mothers' present day travails with historical imagery of black women’s labor make for a pertinent and timely conversation [about] black motherhood/womanhood, the labor of the black woman’s body, and the valuation of sexual and domestic labor, all gathered from a Southern purview.

The birth of my son shifted the way I moved in the world; my work, and how I created outside of my body, and who I was created within my interior were viscerally challenged. I have one child, but the impact of becoming a mother pushed me to reassess my own mother’s life with four children, my grandmother’s life with eight children, my great grandmother’s life with more than ten. Black folk know the lineage of the unselfish, unceasing hand of the black mother. I questioned how, if at all, did they maintain a sense of self; what became of their bodies through so much labor; how did they negotiate sexual and domestic labor/solace in times where the reality of their work (historically and presently) went highly undervalued and un-championed. I needed to critically dig into the remnants and scars of these lives for my own well-being and to illuminate the traces of their labor. I believe in heeding the words, the bodies and the narratives of OGs still stepping, and those who’ve ascended. This is an effort to encourage community to do the same.

Black folk know the lineage of the unselfish, unceasing hand of the black mother.
— Danielle Deadwyler

DWF Mag: What impact do you hope the film will have, and how do you see the Spark Grant funds helping you do that?

Deadwyler: I hope folks look around their community and consider the hands that made it, the mouths that speak up for it, the bodies that fight for its existence in myriad ways. Will community rethink where labor begins and ends? Will community begin to reassess the value of the labor of black women’s bodies? Will community seek to advocate for these unsung more diligently, more intently? I hope so.

The Spark grant is supporting the completion of one hand in the work, a portion of the process. The grant so wonderfully enables the art to have a “body”, if you will, a tangible existence. And then comes the sharing of that body…and the Spark grant is keeping the process moving towards the community, towards the consideration of black women’s work in our own communities.

DWF Mag: Where can someone go online to learn more about you and your project?

Deadwyler: I welcome folks to visit my social media

Beth Ward