The Who am I? Project

The Who AM I? Project came about as a result of my experiences both as a woman and as a woman in the arts. I discovered that as an actor and producer I was choosing plays rooted in this cultural war of (in) equality. These stories began to deeply affect me as a woman. There is a false belief that I am truly equal. In my 21st century mind it is ridiculous to think that I am not equal to anyone, that I, a strong capable smart human being am somehow at first glance assumed weaker or less than.

The word feminist kept repeating itself deep inside. Why had I rejected being a “feminist”? Who made me believe it was a bad word and how did I fall into that trap? I began to embrace being a feminist (Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, cultural, and social rights for women.[1][2] This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. A feminist advocates or supports the rights and equality of women), and realized that what I had been doing was denying myself everything I believe in; equality for all, the end of exploitation. It is here I started to find the root of understanding.

I began to look around me at who I was working with and at every turn I found amazing, strong, smart women with voices to be heard. I started collaborating with people who empower and inspire me to become a better woman and human being.

I delved deeper personally to explore who “I” was and how I was representing myself. I had to honestly face the mirror and reveal to myself all of the layers I had allowed to build up. The layers of who I think I am, who I want to be seen as, what I want to look like and realizing that I have forgotten WHO I AM. I have become the representation of a powerful woman masking a deep seeded pain of imperfection. The imperfection I have been taught every day with every ad and every image that proves I’m not enough.

The reality: It’s all lies. Lies we have been taught by society over and over, so much that it has become so ingrained in us, in our parents and in our friends. These lies have become invisible scars just under the surface, an armor to remind us that it is too dangerous to reveal our truth. Though I fight it, I know that it is our nakedness and our vulnerability that is our beauty and strength.

These past 3 years have been a true exploration for me asking the question over and over, Who Am I? Who am I under the layers I have shielded myself with and hidden behind? The words I see and hear when I look in the mirror are harsh and mean, pushing the beauty back thinking I am keeping myself safe. But instead of being who I want to be; powerful and honest I have projected lies upon myself.

Then something changed. I started seeing pictures in my mind; words and movement. I began to write poetry again and essays, words about my inner journey and what I seek. I began painting again and going back to my roots as an artist bringing together in my mind’s eye words, pictures, movement and sound. I started blogging and journaling and taking leaps of faith believing I was headed in the right direction.

I realized that words and silence are equally powerful and dangerous, they are a connected yin and yang. Both can cause pain or exhilaration. Over the years I have found myself frozen in silence as I looked in the mirror and heard the brutal words slowly appear upon my skin carving over my body, etching my fears like scars invisible to all but me. These scars sit on the surface as I try to hide them beneath fashionable and hopefully flattering clothes filling my life with the fodder of consumerism and unrealistic perfection. Being a woman is exhausting. I am working personally to swipe away layer by layer the “impressions” of me to reveal my light; I want the same for all around me. I want to remind us that in the end we are all human, all pure, all beautiful and alive.

As I thought of this I thought of how we all hold in our inner light, our creativity, and our true voice. Poetry magnifies our words. I began to see the words of our connected experiences surround me in black and white sharing a common thread. We all ask ourselves at some point in our lives…Who Am I? We seek to know ourselves like no other and we are always growing, always learning. I want to ask the world to ask themselves, “Who Am I?”, then ask them to share their answer with all who connect in this one place, their truth shared together on the walls. There are no rules, only the truth in the moment, in the place where we share and heal our scars.

The foundation of this work stemmed from an exercise I gave myself as a writer. I utilized Langston Hughes as a muse to discover myself and my past and how it was showing up in my present.

This poem is the foundation of The Who am I? Project:

Who am I?

Who am i?
An elder
a woman
a girl
a child
an infant
who has been shown the world
and taught
I have no place in it unless I have
the perfect hair
breasts
thighs
color of skin.
Un-allowed to hold an
equal place among men
without judgement
and assumption
that I am less
or unable to
Hold power without ugliness
or be seemingly unfeminine

To be thought
that I want to be a man
that I cannot BE a woman
with power
and BE feminine and soft
I must choose my identity
in fear
I must decide to be hard or soft
to be welcomed
to be liked
admired
respected
to be cherished by the world
Or…

to be myself
As I am
Hard and soft
Weak and strong
My identity tied in knots
My head wrought
with questions
Reaching for answers
in a place without
Acceptance of truth
a mannequin
a doll
a toy
That I am not
Will not be
Not even for myself

I ask again

Who am I?

I AM
an elder
a woman
a girl
a child
an infant
who has been seen the world
and taught myself
that I am more
than the sum
of what the world
Wants to create
I am flesh
And brains
And love
And power
I hold the key to life
None would exist without me
I hold the choice
To create
or not
Yet I am humble
I am that who
you turn to for comfort
for forgiveness
for nurture
I am
your mother
your sister
your child
your lover
your wife

Who am I?
I am human
Equal to all
See me
Vibrant and full of life
Nourish me
Respect me
Love me
For you and I are
One in the same

I choose to love
In spite of
disparities
Knowing my
Resilience and strength
that my patience
Will win in the end

In Time
All will see and know
That life is more than
What we are
It is who we choose to be

© Nichole Donjé

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