Forgetting Tree is an ongoing immersive event series scaffolding an ethnomedicine and expressive arts framework to facilitate healing for BIPOC populations in roundtable storytelling environments. Through contemporary circus, dance, live music, ceremony and theatre an interdisciplinary cast of artists collaborate in real time to reverse historic colonial rituals exploiting love, labor, and living systems. Responding to the history of enslaved people’s forced promenade around the “Tree of Forgetting” in Benin, artists work together to unearth and retell stories of inherited and adaptive resilience through herbalism, crochet and braiding, somatic herbalism, polyrhythmic hand clapping, call and response, social permaculture, mask work, and an invitation for audiences to join the counter-promenade throughout the interior of Z Space, San Francisco. Scenic design for the premiere incorporated indigenous ancestral medicine-ways, with curated native plants from the Philippines, Andes, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and the American South to reflect the history and traditions of the participating artists’ ancestral healing traditions.

Led by choreographer-director Jes DeVille (International Association for Dance Medicine & Science), each of the participants utilized a Narrative Medicine framework through GOODFOOT (our proprietary mobile app) to reflect, share, and generate content for the living script. Themes addressed include personal stories and grief-work around displacement, systemic racism, dispossession, migration, marginalization, food insecurity, the right to rest, mental health, disability justice, Indigenous eco-identities, as well as joy for the transmission of intergenerational wisdom. Mitigating the often inaccessible cost of bodywork and mental healthcare services, we challenged the capitalist ideal of payment exchanged for service by providing artists with a monthly stipend to facilitate self-care sessions as well as to direct their meandering creative curiosities without fear of choosing stability over self expression. Mentorship was provided by a guild of UCSF healthcare workers, culture bearers, elders, and celebrated directors within the circus, dance, and theatre communities of the Bay Area, Montreal, and New York City.

Referencing each exercise, artists continue to build a social change ecosystem around themselves and communities through collaborative workshops, donation-based events at local community clinics, somatic movement workshops, classes, and speaker panels.

You can replicate this process of using expressive arts as an essential medicine by:

• cultivating communities of care by practicing interviewing and active listening techniques with elders and youth during this time of economic, environmental, and social shift

• using reflective journaling or storytelling to document and transmit intangible cultural heritage through social media technologies

• leveraging mobile apps like iNaturalist to build relationships with local plant life, identifying and researching the medicines living in your own backyard

• creating containers for intentional rest with and for community members from historically marginalized communities

• research or develop your own rituals, movement vocabularies, songs, or symbols placing special attention on the process of healing, not the product

• work to destigmatize and decolonize perceptions of illness, fatigue, and distress by honoring often unconsidered social determinants of health

booking our teaching artists to share the Forgetting Tree methodology for your healing circle, classroom, corporate or community event


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