On Soft Power: Our 2018 Babes of the Year

Our Babes of the Year awards started as a way to affirm and recognize members of the BBATX community who have worked diligently to push forward the nonprofit's values of arts empowerment, diversity and equality, personal and professional curiosity, collaboration and creative entrepreneurship. In the past two years, we have recognized 16 Babes of the Year (from creatives to entrepreneurs to community organizers), all who have struck out on their own to create autonomy, community understanding and space for others.

This year, we are proud to recognize #bossbabesATX’s 2018 Babes of the Year: Florinda Bryant, Henna Chou and Jessica Soukup.


meet our 2018 babes of the year. first up, florinda bryant.

Florinda Bryant (pictured) with her custom Babe of the Year trophy by  Trophyology . Photo by Jinni J

Florinda Bryant (pictured) with her custom Babe of the Year trophy by Trophyology. Photo by Jinni J

We collaborated with Bryant, an arts educator and theatre organizer, in February of this year, in support of the production con flama. And since then we have had the pleasure of watching her work. From the stories she chooses to tell to the vulnerable resilience she has exhibited in times of community pain and trauma, she demonstrates the profound impact that intersectionality, the arts and education can have on our community. Here are three things we’d like to particularly recognize Bryant for:

  • Her commitment to and preservation of intergenerational relationships in the arts: This year, Bryant brought con flama by Sharon Bridgforth to life, a poetic work that she herself participated in 20 years ago at the beginning of her career.

  • Her ability to foster a community space in times of trauma via the arts: She used con flama as a vehicle for healing and resilience during the package bomb incidents that harmed our communities earlier this year. Her strength, vulnerability and honesty was breathtaking.

  • Her continued work as an arts advocate: This year, she closed a chapter on her work with Creative Action and that work deserves to be recognized. She fostered the development of an organization for years that has provided community support and arts education to so many.

Q: How would you describe who you are and what you do?

Bryant: I am an interdisciplinary performance artist, activist and educator. I am a poet and director as well. 

Q: Your work demonstrates the profound impact that intersectionality, the arts and education can have on our community. Within the context of your work, what does intersectionality look like in practice? What advice do you have for others looking to make their work more inclusive?

Bryant: The genre of theater that work lives in is born from is the Jazz Aesthetic. This particular form, much like the musical genre is about multiple instruments making beautiful music and breaking the rules of itself again and again. I need different instruments to make my work and we’re gonna find new ways to make beauty together. 

My work demands I intentionally search for stories that don't get told. The plays I direct, the artists that I work with are the holders of these stories.  I am a Black woman, my voice, our stories along with others marginalized by racism and the patriarchy require we actively hold space ourselves. This means I had to become a producer to make sure someone was in the room thinking about intersectionality and who wasn't in the room. As an old head (hip-hop term—don't freak out) I am glad that folks are talking about intersectionality more because back in the day they would call you crazy.

At the core of it all my work demands I tell the truth. Sometimes that means I have to scream the truth. I have to be okay with people being mad, disappointed, or hurt by the truth I speak. We gotta say it anyway. No matter where I am, I am always aware of my privileges. I rep the working, trying to stay alive, poor class. I have been blessed with talents that allow me to be in spaces not designed for me and other marginalized folks. I always leave a brick in the door so folks can come in. I guess that would be my advice for others: Leave a brick in the door so others may come in. 

Q: Oftentimes, doing community work can be lonely and difficult. It requires bootstrapping and putting others' needs before our own. What have you learned in those difficult times? What kept you doing the work and showing up?

Bryant: You have got to get you a therapist, honey! Like right now. Take your own advice and care for yourself like you would someone in the community. We are so hard on ourselves. We have to lean on folks, especially our elders. Rest and restorations, homies—get some.

Q: What kind of world are you working toward to? What does your ideal world look like?

Bryant: I don't want much, just everyone to be free, healthy and committed to justice.  

Q: What makes you resilient?

Bryant: I have made peace with failure, not being able to do it all. I have learned how to use the word “no.” I have the best friends a girl could have. The communities we pour so much of ourselves into will pour back into us, if we let them. I try to stay open and ask for what I need. Resilience rocks many looks. She could be me taking a nap, not combing my hair, rocking a meeting, winning an award, all those things.  My heart beats, my veins flow with the blood carrying my ancestors’ prayers. Damn right, I'm resilient. So are you!

next up, henna chou.

Henna Chou (pictured) with her custom Babe of the Year trophy by  Trophyology . Photo by Jinni J

Henna Chou (pictured) with her custom Babe of the Year trophy by Trophyology. Photo by Jinni J

As our team has come to know Chou and better understand the context of her work within the experimental music community, it's clear to us that her work is a testament to resilience. She has diligently organized, included and worked to make more space for voices of the marginalized in electronic music. Here are three things we’d like to particularly recognize Chou for:

  • Her work with Church of the Friendly Ghost: over the years, she has cultivated an experimental music space that brings together music makers, lovers and appreciators from all over the globe.

  • Her work as a multidisciplinary creative: Over the years, she has created bridges between the community and more traditional arts spaces, and this bridge has invited new voices in, instead of gatekeeping them out.

  • Her collaborative approach to music-making: As an artist her practice has been characterized by collaboration and community-making. It’s a model for enjoying others and appreciating each other’s talents.

Q: How would you describe who you are and what you do?

Chou: I am a first generation Taiwanese-American person who has lived in various locations around the U.S.  Since I was little I have always known I would like to be an environmental scientist and feel that nature demonstrates many critical concepts that we can all benefit from being aware of.  Becoming a musician in the sense of truly playing as yourself in synthesis of all your experience and individuality is a work in progress and I am enjoying this process. I along with a team of others strive to create a forum for exchange of ideas that are cross-genre, forward thinking, inclusive and diverse for Austin audiences.

Q: Your work demonstrates the profound impact that intersectionality, the arts and education can have on our community. Within the context of your work, what does intersectionality look like in practice? What advice do you have for others looking to make their work more inclusive?

Chou: Surprising instances of inclusion, as well as rejection, in unexpected contexts have placed me by chance in settings of cultural variation and thereby encouraged me to further explore possibilities. I believe the "art" world and the "act of living creatively" advocates for a new "ethnicity" in society where communication between differences is encouraged rather than action based on isolation/fear/unfounded biased judgement and other elements of "old world thinking" which were necessary for survival in ancient times.  In practice, it's just taking time to have the conversations that lead to building a more inclusive and diverse community, but to be realistic we have to acknowledge that it is indeed very time-consuming and there are no short cuts.

For non-commercial sound, I think it's interesting for participants to consider the existing tools available methods of communication (i.e. written composition / listening response / conceptual idea) as well as the very specific scales of the local, regional and global settings and how to work within specific parameters to create a new vocabulary for modern music. 

In the adventure of experimental music, innumerable fun collaboration possibilities are available when you can objectively combine the abilities of people of different experiences and backgrounds in a forum of listening that may be different than say, entertaining at a party or at rowdy social events. I find this angle of creating experiences for our peers to be synonymous to the mission of advocating for a more cohesive, understanding, empathetic, patient and inclusive setting of global harmony.

Intersectionality requires an open mind in both choices made in creative curating as well as willingness to reach across walls administratively. One cannot be everything all the time, and as many of us have learned in our experiences as performers slash curators, sometimes you have to take a back seat in certain roles in order to accomplish others. The lessons you will learn in being able to see things from different points of view will have a positive impact for you in your practice of improving in the various aspects necessary to be a good team player. 

Q: Oftentimes, doing community work can be lonely and difficult. It requires bootstrapping and putting others' needs before our own. What have you learned in those difficult times? What kept you doing the work and showing up?

Chou:
I think for many who also take part in this lifestyle, the act of doing has a sense of activism and creates its own reason for existing. Through micro-successes and many failures, we are able to optimize the activities in a custom manner for the environment and situation our organizations exist in at a specific point in time. There are no short cuts in achieving the results of understanding the trial and errors for each community at a certain point in time, which is specific to their locale set among the cultural global landscape, and sustainable solutions often take longer to discover than short-term metaphorical bandages. Somehow one must appreciate what they have learned and see the silver linings in each situation. 

Q: What kind of world are you working toward to? What does your ideal world look like?

Chou: An ideal world for the artist would include a spiritual and financial situation for them to work in where they feel appreciated, respected and safe. 

The practice of aiding each other in creating such environments helps advocate for similar feelings throughout other work and leisure situations of cooperation in one's lifetime.

Being able to explore ones artistic side helps each person appreciate the complexity and nuance of their own being as well as others.

Q: What makes you resilient?

Chou: I guess curiosity of what comes next and the ability to creatively maintain hope keeps a person standing through difficult times.

and last but not least, jessica soukup.

Jessica Soukup (pictured). Photo by Jinni J

Jessica Soukup (pictured). Photo by Jinni J

Since our team met Jessica at the Unity in Color: Austin shoot a year and a half ago, we've watched her work. From the release of her book, to the countless community events and creative endeavors she has lent her voice, support and advocacy to, as well as the organizing she has done on Texas State's campus to advance equality and trans visibility, Soukup demonstrates the profound impact that intersectionality, the arts and education can have on our community. Here are three things we’d like to particularly recognize Soukup for:

  • The publication of her book “He/She/They — Us:” Through the publication of her book, Soukup has helped others navigate the language and cultural nuances of creating and sustaining more inclusive spaces for LGBTQIA+ folks

  • Her work as an arts advocate: Soukup has worked to create bridges between academic thought and the arts community. She regularly sits at the intersections of many communities to share your perspective, offer support and bring activism into arts spaces.

  • Her work at Texas State University: As an active staff member at Texas State, Soukup has lent her time, expertise and labor toward making the campus more inclusive and safe for students.



Q: How would you describe who you are and what you do?

Soukup: I am an transgender intersectional feminist activist, educator and speaker.  

I start with the goal to make a positive difference in the world and then seek out things that I can do to achieve that goal.

Q: Your work demonstrates the profound impact that intersectionality, the arts and education can have on our community. Within the context of your work, what does intersectionality look like in practice? What advice do you have for others looking to make their work more inclusive?

Soukup: Whenever I'm talking about the LGBTQIA+ community, I feel it's so important to highlight my own privilege and attempt to point out how my experience cannot be assumed to be typical. The people I speak to often show up looking to satisfy a requirement or get a checkmark next to their name that will list them has an ally to the LGBTQIA+ community. Instead of giving them a list of definitions to memorize I work very hard to speak about the people and the diverse experiences and outcomes tied to our intersectional identities.

I encourage everyone to tell their story because stories are powerful.  Make sure, though, to help your audience understand that each of us has a different story.

Q: Oftentimes, doing community work can be lonely and difficult. It requires bootstrapping and putting others' needs before our own. What have you learned in those difficult times? What kept you doing the work and showing up?

Soukup: Always remember that not all victories have to be your victory.  Rejoice in the successes of the womxn around you and strive to lift up others because that is a victory.

Q: What kind of world are you working toward to? What does your ideal world look like?

Soukup: Too much of our society is constructed on the idea that someone else has to lose in order for us to win.  Instead of winning and losing, I would like to see all of us participate in each other's joy and happiness.  We can take care of everyone.

Q: What makes you resilient?

Soukup: I think everyone who has at least one marginalized identity experiences days in which your defenses against micro-aggressions and systems of oppression are overwhelmed. I feel like I'm ready when that stuff is coming at me from the racist screaming on TV carrying a tiki torch, but I'm unprepared and feel violated when it comes from people I consider my allies and people I count on to protect me.  I am motivated to create more spaces like these #bbatx meet-ups where we all can let our guard down and just feel safe and welcome and affirmed. That is what drives me to keep pushing forward. Its spaces like that which make me resilient.


We’d like to thank our 2018 Babes of the Year for sharing their light with us. We encourage you to check out our affirmations for 2019, which have been inspired by their work and the work of many others in this community. Stay you. - team #BBATX

Jane Claire HerveyComment