Interview with Storme Webber
Afuwa Granger: On Sunday, the 11th of April, Storme Webber being interviewed by Afuwa for the Kindling Project. Thank you so much, Storme. So the first section is about demographics. So name, age, Indigenous identity, gender identity, sexual identity and location.
Storme Webber: Duwamish territory, also known as Seattle, sixty-one, Indigenous on my mother's side, Sugpiaq, also known as Alutiiq, from Southeast Alaska. A small village called Seldovia, that's where my grandmother came from. And on my father's side, he was a Black and Choctaw man from East Texas who came here in the 40s. My MATERNAL grandmother moved here in the 20s. My mother came out as a lesbian when she was 16. I also came out as a lesbian when I was 16. I was born to a young mother, she was 19, and I think that's everything - I left home when I was 11 and went into the foster care system. Those are some of my specs.
Afuwa Granger: Okay, and one of the questions was sexual identity as well as gender identity.
Storme Webber: Yeah, I'm a lesbian. Would identify as a lesbian woman. Two-Spirit as well, I identify as Two-Spirit.
Afuwa Granger: What is your method of artistic expression, why is it important to you?
Storme Webber: Well, I think I found a flyer from the other day from 1985 that I had made to advertise, you know, being an artist and I thought I was multidisciplinary before I knew that word, you know? But I think that's very much in keeping with Indigenous cultures and African cultures, which are very spiritually and creative based and centred, for the most part.
So because my grandmother was herself an artist and I witnessed her singing and creating beauty in the way she would create her own regalia and go into the world, I just I became fascinated with her and began studying her. And so the first thing I wanted to do was be a singer. And then that went on for a while, and then learning to read I began to love words and listening to music, listening very closely to lyrics and connecting the spiritual strength and foundation and emotion that came through my grandmother, particularly her singing practice. She sang a lot, my sister reminded me she sang every day. And my cousin reminded me that she was studying with Billie Holiday because she was listening so much to Billie Holiday. And, you know, she also loved Dinah Washington and Ray Charles, but really, really, really soulful, soulful Black musicians. And I think that she found the restoration of a spiritual power in that Black music. So that's been a very powerful source for me as well in my life.
So I guess I'd say that went more through my development because I never sat down and said, "I'm going to be an artist," I just, you know, came to some challenging circumstances. And when I encountered, you know, Aretha Franklin's voice or Gladys Knight's voice or Chaka Khan's voice, I found the strength to make my way through those challenging times. So that was a very important force in my life once I was on my own. I feel like those people were counselling me or saving my life.
You know, when I'd listen to Chaka's voice just go to heaven with nothing to stop that I would think of the possibility of life and living on and it gave me courage. I didn't go to art school 'till much, much, much later. I just started doing art.
Afuwa Granger: What piece of work are you most proud of and why? And are there other artists or art movements that have influenced you?
Storme Webber: Oh, absolutely, yeah, yeah. When I was coming up as a teenager - I mean, first of all, the singers, right. So Aretha and Bobby Womack and Isaac Hayes and Johnny Cash and Bobby Gentry, these kind of people I was listening to coming up; once I got older into my teenage years, I started reading and listening to the record of Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls, like a lot of people from my era, that was incredibly important for me. The way that she told those truths was really, really liberating. Gil Scott Heron because of the amazing musicality and the political acumen and the sharpness and wit. Definitely one of my heroes. Audre Lorde, of course, yeah, so. Now, I do this sometimes when there's a long question, I answer the first part and I forgot the second, will you remind me?
Afuwa Granger: The piece of work that you were most proud of?
Storme Webber: The thing I'm most proud of, yeah. I would say that the large project Casino: A Palimpsest, because it was really the culmination of decades of enquiry, which really began in a sort of a healing journey to think what happened to my family... you know, what happened to my family to cause this progression of events to take place. And I hadn't really grown up with my dad, so I sort of created a way of knowing him through creation and of course, ancestors. Since I... I have for some time, since I was about 19, and I studied with Luisah Teish, who wrote Jambalaya, I have maintained a conversation with my ancestors. So, Casino was a manifestation of those years of study and my evolution as an artist because I've been working for so long. So, I'm really proud of it because I feel that it was very innovative and that it accomplished my vision, which was to present an experimental exploded memoir upon the walls of a museum. So I gathered these photographs and energies and images of my ancestors and I put them together consciously, I contextualized it. Within the physical location of Seattle I considered the earth, this ground had been flooded, this particular place in Seattle, that Indigenous peoples had lived calmly and peacefully when it was water there. That they had been pushed aside, that there had been layers, the name Palimpsest, the word palimpsest, layers of life and living that passed over this place, and particularly once it was made a location of business, it was for marginalized people.
Then there was the gay bar, and I was there as a child. So it was this interesting process of thinking and travelling from what the child noticed from being there, and it's kind of like a residency, wasn't it? You know, the people coming and telling you the big, long stories - and because I'm gathering stories, so I'm the most proud of that. And I feel that, It is still evolving. It was highly unusual that it happened in its way because so many people came to see it. So I'm still sort of understanding what did that mean in mostly white Seattle? What were they seeing? Some people would say, well, that wasn't good art because you didn't disturb them. I've heard comments like that. I mean, people say all kinds of things in the art world, you know what I mean? Over three months twenty thousand people came to see it and during that same time, thirty-seven thousand came to the whole museum. So that means more than half of the people that came to an upper-middle-class museum came, to see that show. And the juxtaposition was sweet because they had the gold-framed portraits, fancy portraits of rich people and the people who had founded the museum next to All My Daddies Were Butches on the wall. So it made this interesting sort of transitional moment just by witnessing that.
And also I had put up a note that asked people to be respectful, to Indigenize the gallery. My curator is so wonderful and we agreed that we could not decolonize the gallery because of the inherent coloniality of the museum. We asked people to Indigenize the space and to be respectful and not take from it. Don't start taking pictures, don't film. But the funny thing is, I would catch white people; I think of this one white woman and she said "oh, I didn't see it." And I was thinking how white supremacy is so funny because it loves to play so innocently, it does such evil. But then when you just catch it a little bit it goes "I didn't see you" you know madam, you're looking at everything - you're eating this. So in a way, sometimes I feel tired as an artist, it's this feeling of being consumed, you know.
So I find that a challenge is how do we balance this. The first time I showed those images, I covered them with lace because it seemed too raw to put them up in Vancouver down there at the Roundhouse and go away, leave them there naked. So I covered them with lace. I'm feeling like that might be somewhat of a time of finding what that metaphorical basis was going forward. But I'm definitely the most pleased with that and centring my grandmother, who has the heart of so much of my whole life. She was she was just thirty-five when I was born. She was was more like my mom. My mom was so young and scared. So it's kind of like lifting her and the whole point of revalorizing my beloved is that I have all these people that I come from that were just thrown to the side by the society, they didn't mean anything to the society. They didn't have money. You know, they hadn't done some big things, but they had survived and they had made the way for me to be on this earth. So. I want to lift them and address the fact that so many want the trauma. So people, the white people really come to me and say well, what is this? I say This is all I have to tell you it’s on that square right there. So I encourage that, you know, to keep boundaries, because one thing about the social media and this is this self-referential thing, is that so much is shared. You know, sometimes it's a little extra. We don't have to tell everything. I remember my grandma from Texas. She said, I don't know tell all I know [laughs].
Afuwa Granger: The wisdom of grandmothers.
Storme Webber: Consciously craft the story is important for me thank you.
Afuwa Granger: There were parts of that work in the book as well? And the CD?
Storme Webber: Blues Divine. Yes. Love those stories like Sinbad and even Grace, you know, you see the music coming in and out. You see the music telling the stories. And there's something about the circle that I find so comforting. Like listening to music when it goes in a circle, I find it very soothing. Something about telling the stories, It's not linear at all, it's sort of goes over here, then it goes over there, then it goes on. The story travels even as it's being told, it's a fun thing.
Afuwa Granger: It's a beautiful pathway. And on childhood reflections, how does the land and water where you're from influence your work?
Storme Webber: Yeah, we live a block from the very water, and Seattle is not as watery as it was when I was growing up. It's different because of climate change. So I feel like it gave me the atmosphere that feels the most, relatable. It's the connection to my Alaskan ancestors. I live next to my grandmothers still down on this water, so I feel like it taught me things that I may not know how to say, but it influences my work. I can feel it. I've always lived near the water, but when I was in Michigan and I'm looking across the prairie I'm thinking "Where are the mountains? Why can I see rain in Kansas this is strange?" So definitely a rooted feeling here.
Afuwa Granger: A sense of a sense of home. How did your gender identity or sexual orientation influence your early years and how has that influenced your work?
Storme Webber: Yeah, I think I think I was born really Two-Spirit like the things that I like to do, and just because my grandmother was taking the largest role in raising me and because she was completely comfortable with a Two-Spirit child. I never had any sort of oppression because of that, I was very fortunate. And my mom, too, it didn't bother her that I was more tomboyish. She was a lesbian, you know. Oh, I was so lucky in that way. I didn't have that evangelical Christian family oppressing me. We were in this country, but they weren't like part of the whole American dream, you know, my mother didn't work traditional work. My grandmother didn't work traditional work. We didn't have the breadwinner guy. It was like growing up outside the culture in a really good way. I mean, there were hard things. But in that way, I appreciate that being free of, you know, the gender roles, around capitalism, etc. That was a blessing.
Speaker 3: And what role did art play and how has that influenced your work?
Storme Webber: Art was like a lifesaver, you know. There was a lot of trauma that was inherited and experienced from my family. It was a family of mostly my mother and my grandmother, so Native women. There were other sisters and aunties and cousins around, too. But the nucleus was those two Native women. Like I say, my grandmother was devoted to music and she played music, my mother also loved music. And so that's how art came into our family first it was through Aretha. It was a saving grace because, you know, there were times that were very, very difficult. But you know, I could just play that record like 10 times and it just eased something around my heart. So that was, I would say, my first study of art were those brilliant musicians.
I remember the 60s. I remember that generation of rebellion and protest. And that definitely influenced me as an aspiration, something that one should do, you know, that people should be concerned with improving the society and the culture and with unity. So I would say that influenced my art when I came into a Black lesbian and lesbian of colour community in the Bay Area where I moved to when I was young. I immediately gravitated to the artists that were doing Black women's performance music with poetry and studying. So very much inspired, without being formally in college, just like setting up my own course of study in the power of culture in all these different manifestations definitely influenced it. It's funny when you think about how long you've been doing it, I don't know if you've had this feeling some time of looking back. And going "wow," this is why we came here, because we just walking this walk for this decade. It's such a blessing.
Afuwa Granger: Yeah. there's a gift to that, that looking back and to see the arc of your growth, to see how much you've grown, it's really beautiful and valuable.
Storme Webber: It is. And inspiring to say let's just carry on. You know, we came all this way. So I'm inspired to now learn new and collaborate with younger people that have more technical capacities and knowledges to share with me. And I'm so looking forward to sharing what I have been feeling so that's what I'm looking for right now.
Afuwa Granger: Yeah. On Indigenous identity, what aspects of your Indigenous identity influence your art practice?
Storme Webber: Well, I read something lately from Ma-Nee Chacaby. I'm not sure if I'm saying her name right, but she's a wonderful writer from there in Canada. A Two-Spirit Elder and I read her book when I was doing one of those residencies up at Banff. And she said something that really was resonant for me, and she said that the role for Two-Spirit people is to keep the fire going in the village. I feel like there's a connection between making art and our family and our community, and it should be something that is healing, inspiring, helps people as we struggle against all the things that we're struggling against at the moment. You know, we've just come out of four-year despotic rule, but we're not free; we're still struggling so much against fascism and racism and all the oppressive forces that are so frightened of us becoming the majority of the world. Of course, we've always been the majority of the world. They are just sort of catching onto it. So I would say it affects me in that way that I feel that it is not just for me, it is something for community. It is something that should be of service.
Afuwa Granger: Art isn't a European model of this sort of singular, egotistic artist. You are in a community and you are fed by the community.
Storme Webber: Yeah, I'm trying to be a socially engaged artist in my practice for certain. Yes for my singular story, but if I can tell it well enough it becomes larger than my singular story. I think of the kids that were in my community as a child. You know, honestly, a few of them did not make it. Because it was very hard, you know. So I feel like, It's a way of sharing the blessing to try to bring in other voices and to not say "okay I'm the genius voice, I need no one else." That feeling of wanting our nation around us, right?
Afuwa Granger: Yeah. Do you feel that you carry their stories too? Of the ones that didn't make it?
Storme Webber: I do. I do, I do, yeah, I do. I was just working on a new piece and I'm kind of more explicitly addressing certain woundings and pains that we had experienced in ways that I hadn't really think of. It's been a process like when I was younger, I would just put things in there and then later I'd say, oh, no, that's too much of a thing to tell. I find it takes a certain kind of persistent gentleness to tell some of these stories because they're hard. But I don't know if that answers your question, you can always ask me another question because, you know, I ramble [laughs].
Afuwa Granger: Storytelling, it's the pathway, right? What cultural teachings around gender and sexuality do you feel comfortable sharing and how do they relate to your art practice?
Storme Webber: I'm inspired and supported by the fact that in Alaska Native culture, there is an [Indigenous language] world and we were called Aleut before we were called Alutiiq. And then we are called Sugpiaq, our original name. Kind of confusing. But we are Sugpiaq people the Unangan are more from the Aleutian Islands and they're also called Aleuts. But they have a word Achnucek that means Two-Spirit. So I know that I'm in the tradition.
My grandmother, I would say she was Two-Spirit both my grandmothers in ways I could see them as Two-Spirit my mother was Two-Spirit. My father was Two-Spirit and bisexual. So all of this really long family tradition of people that are non binary. I guess that relates to everything in my life, because I kind of live and I have lived for a long time as both. Just because I kind of pass, I don't try to. But so I kind of live with unearned male privilege [laughs] I just spend it all over the place. Because what are you going to do? Like you're walking down a dark street with and someone says "whats up man" you're going to say "whats up" you know, you're not going to say "hiii" not that I even talk like that, but, you know, so I kind of pass and does that affect my art practice? I have played around with that. Like what does that mean? I didn't go deeply into the drag king thing, but I was around that community. And I think it's interesting to sort of point out how much we socialize in female bodies and how much we're held back just because of those perceptions. So it also made me feel in a deeper way, that I had more to do to help defend female bodies because I could pass.
Afuwa Granger: On gender and sexual identity, how has your gender identity or sexual orientation influenced your art?
Storme Webber: Don't exactly know how to answer that, to be honest, I guess I would just say I just always had a queer framework. Like when I was a kid and I'd watch movies on TV and I'd see a woman and a man kiss I'd be horrified. So that means I was socialized into queer standards of love and relationship. And, you know, not that they were all perfect, but just that I was trained up in a different way. I was accustomed to a different way so that I began from there. And I've always been completely and totally comfortable there. So if anything, I hope that that would come across.
Afuwa Granger: Do you identify as Two-Spirit? And/or LGBTQ and if not, how do you identify?
Storme Webber: Yeah, I definitely as Two-Spirit, I definitely do. And I identify with a lot of the ideas around it with gender fluidity and with serving the community. I don't know who knows the actual definition coming from Alaska Natives or who has told me, but it's just sort of a way of trying to be a good person. I'm always somewhat of that, like trying to be an honest person, trying to be an ethical person. I remember I read this book that was about the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, and there was a man from one of the villages who might have been my grandmother's village, and he said we didn't care about the corporations. The richest man in the village was the one who had the seal liver and shared it with the people. So there was something in my family that came from Alaska that is like that, that it's been like that. That's how my mother was. That's how my grandmother was. They didn't put all the glorification on the money, you know, we had to chase money because we were poor, but there was something of that generous nature and that feeling that we have to share with one another and it's OK and it will keep circulating amongst us.
Afuwa Granger: Yeah, that feeling of the transience of like, trying to possess something. How is your identity as an LGBTQ, Indigenous Two-Spirit artist consequential to your art?
Storme Webber: Well, I find a lot of people wanting to talk about that aspect of it, so I feel like that identity is one of those somehow inspirational and consequential identities at this moment and in transitional time that we're in. There is something that is teaching people and maybe giving them a liberatory feeling. That's part of the conversations I have throughout my practice, especially these days, seemingly often speaking to that trying to explain it.
Afuwa Granger: And onto mainstream art scenes as an Indigenous artist, what is your experience with mainstream art scenes?
Storme Webber: Yeah, well, I did this solo show at the Frye art museum, which I say is very upper class; free admission museum, but I had never been there as a child. The difference between classes is quite remarkable. Somehow, though, in my life I've had these extremes like being in foster care from age 11 to 18 and yet winning a scholarship to Lakeside School, which is where Bill Gates and Paul Allen went. Because I was just fortunate because my grandmother taught me to read before I went to school and I started reading and reading. So because she had prepared me in that way by the time I got to Lakeside, they took me in. So I've had those odd experiences, too, with the Frye Museum and Seattle Art Museum.
It's really an amazing process, I'm working with museums at this time, and they're in a transformational period themselves, so I think we need one another. It's a lot, I don't come from a family that said, what do you want to be when you grow up? That said, what are you going to study in college? That said, are you going to college? [laughter] I just it just didn't. So it's a different experience.
I can't say at all that I'm not strategic. I don't sit and go "How do I say this? What's the word I should use for this?" I feel like my practice is I'm trying to listen, I'm trying to listen, I'm not trying to listen to what people are saying so much. It's like that poem, Sweet Honey made a song. It said "listen more often to things than to beings" so I'm trying to listen to the feeling that I've done the right thing like I don't feel that I'm in competition with anyone. I'm in competition with myself, to feel that I have given my best, that I have taken the time to do it. I think of a wonderful friend from London, Jean Binta Breeze. Do you know her work?
Afuwa Granger: Yes. Yeah, I've seen her. I saw her in Jamaica in Montego Bay.
Storme Webber: She's wonderful. You know, I've been blessed to work with these wonderful artists that I'm not near now. I think of all of them and how they carry themselves from where they were oppressed and find the joy in what their culture said. I think of all the people that I have been so fortunate to know and to carry on and be in community with.
Afuwa Granger: That actually flows really beautifully into the next question, which is what has been useful to you as a Two-Spirit artist in terms of solidarity and support from non-Indigenous artists?
Storme Webber: Mm hmm. I started some small things in Seattle. But when I first moved down to the Bay Area, Luisah Teish was very much an ally to me. And I got connected with some organizers of organizing around at the time at Black lesbian events. Actually, I think the Two-Spirit group was just hadn't started yet. It was starting down there, so. Everywhere I've lived, I've been fortunate. I moved to New York, I had an amazing community there. Susana Cook is from Argentina. She’s a wonderful playwrite and I worked with her. Then I moved to London and in London, I was able to work with African artists, Caribbean artists, Afro European artists, you know, people from everywhere. So that's shaped me a lot, I'm so thankful for it because now it's really difficult and impossible to travel internationally, isn't it? I think I mentioned to you earlier when I grew up here in this country, you know, people I was like "what are you? what are you mixed with?" They want to know all this stuff. Once I got to London, I don't remember one Caribbean person ever in their life asking me "what are you?" [laughs] because people know everybody is everything. It's likely that and so it was such a feeling of acceptance that it was such a feeling of coming home in a strange way. One of my first feelings of coming home to someplace that was not even my home, but I felt very much at home in that community. So, if you get a chance to check out Ajamu, he's doing a lot of documentation of that community in the 90s, that is and even before.
Afuwa Granger: That’s wonderful, yeah. Where I'm from in Guyana, when I was growing up, people who look like me, you know, someone's calling you, they'd be like "hey family" because you must be related, right? you know, you could be anything. So they just call you family, that looks like family.
Storme Webber: You know, I love it. I don't think they say it as often, but it was just one of those things where it always made me feel. At home and in my home.
Afuwa Granger: Exactly, yeah. What do you feel comfortable sharing about how art scenes can better support Two-Spirit Indigenous artists?
Storme Webber: This is an amazing question, so pertinent right now. First of all, I want to just congratulate Louis and yourself and just the real brilliant and clear way that you have conceptualized this project and described it and laid it out and made it very understandable. Because it's also important to have things in writing, we all learn in different ways, you know, and so much is happening. So I really appreciate that foundational work.
It occurred to me like the more marginalized a person is, the more you need to help them. So we're going to help Black artists, we help them this much then. Plus they’re women, OK, helping more lesbians help them more. Plus our Indigenous peoples, help them more. You know what I mean? Plus, they grew up poor, help them even more. You know, all the things in larger levels of support. I mean not just money. Right, but like if people need support around technology, that's important, right? Yeah. If they need support around making their visions actual, that's really important. And I think that we have to be careful at this moment because Black Indigenous people who bit the flavour of the month, the funders are coming up with more. So I think we have to be cautious and be very, very, very clear about who wants to engage us and use our name to generate grants. And it's a complexity, isn't it? You know, we live in a dire system and people are nervous.
So, I have been recently making more space. I've been longing for more spaciousness and long times to be quiet and think about a thing and not be rushed. If you don't put your boundaries up, they will have you using all your creative time describing what you already did, which can't give you time to make the next thing. So I think our time and our energy becomes very precious. But I think my ultimate goal is that we should live in a community that is my ultimate dream, we that we better learn how to understand one another and communicate with each other so that sometimes we can really be in community, even physical units and everyone having the space to go off for their precious solitude, but that we know that we are actually connected. We are becoming older, but we have people to help us. We have intergenerational people to do this thing and that thing. We're sharing our skills and our wisdom and our energy. And that's my dream.
Afuwa Granger: It's a beautiful dream and one that we used to live not that long ago.
Storme Webber: Indeed, that's right.
Afuwa Granger: Does your art practice involve or include non-Indigenous artists and how does this impact your work?
Storme Webber: Yeah, I have worked with non-Indigenous artists. I had a really powerful experience working on Casino: A Palimpsest at the Frye with Miranda Belarde-Lewis because she was Indigenous. In so many ways she completely understood what I was talking about. I didn't have to explain very much to her. We could walk to the gallery putting sage down before the gallery opened, and it wasn't the feeling that she was so interested in what I was doing and asking me questions, you know? So I think at times it can be incredibly powerful to work with other Indigenous artists. Yeah, there's something very special about it to me. I'm so thankful that there's a real awareness of Black Native identity right now that did not exist just a while ago. Yes, so I'm very happy to see that transformation. You know, different generations express themselves differently. And I can say that I'm just happy to see the transformation. I'm just happy to see it. So it feels like we're evolving. It feels like a large number of us are evolving, and that gives hope, doesn't it?
Afuwa Granger: Yeah, and it just means that you can collaborate on a level where you don't have to be answering basic questions.
Storme Webber: Yeah, I welcome allies you know, and white people have a lot of work to do, like just be an ally but don't come seeking your education that's on you. There's so much education out there and I welcome anyone. We're all getting these real big lessons, but we have different lessons, you know.
Afuwa Granger: And on to Indigenous art scenes as an Indigenous artist, you just talked about working with the Frye but are there other experiences with Indigenous arts themes?
Storme Webber: I would say my favourite experiences with Indigenous art scenes, to be honest have happened in Canada. I was part of 2016 Indigenous artist residency with our mentor artists were Nadia Myre and Bear from A Tribe Called Red. Oh my gosh and Ursula Johnson and Joi Arcand and Glenn Gear. Just like this really incredible collection of these Indigenous artists it was just the most wonderful collection of people. And it was such a traumatic time because it was the election. I was there for the election. So the people were so supportive and so loving. I can't remember everyone's name. And then I went back again, Janet Marie Rogers led a poets and storytellers residency there, and we were able to collaborate with the songwriters and there was just something about a culture that is not in such competition. As in the States, that I just saw relaxing. I don't know how to explain it but it just feels like here, the grant system is competitive. There's not so often just to support; here I like your work here, here is some support. It's more competitive. So you're meant to present yourself in a certain way, there's a model for it. But I felt I felt a more comfortable way and I felt it in London as well when I went over there. I went over there in 1990, the Greater London Council was just sort of phasing out. So they still had a great kind of socialistic programs for community and it just makes it better. I'd say I felt good up there. I felt that. And when I went to the Slow Wave Festival, it's just an anticapitalist sort of conscious design that I really appreciate. I think the capitalist system here has gotten very inhumane, it affects everything.
Afuwa Granger: I think it poisons people against each other and it's really hard.
Storme Webber: It really does. You know, and down here we're seeing like these anti-Asian attacks and there's a fellow who's kind of trying to build this up as a benefit for Black people to be mad at Asian people and I'm just like, come on yo. This is not it. You're doing the work of white supremacy. Are you thinking of that? You're actually doing it and you're probably being paid to do that, so. This poor place, we can see what happens, this is an interesting spot at the moment but we try to keep positive and do our work and hold the vision of what can be better. I had a friend who passed recently, H. Len Keller, who was the founder of Black Lesbian Archives in the Bay Area. And she used the term, which, of course, I can't remember, but she was talking about the ways in which we used to live as if the society we imagined already existed. And I moved down there when I was about 20 and I thought, yeah, we kind of did do that. I was coming from a place where I was raised in a family that wasn't a part of this American dream in a certain way, so I was already used to doing that, living as though. And so we were just we were living as though and I'm inspired by the young people. I feel like that they're changing, they're changing over what they're looking for. They see what's not working in this system. And I have a lot of empathy and good feelings for them, you know, so faced with challenges like no others, but they are exhibiting a lot of vision, vision and a lot of strength. And that's amazing. So I start to think of the next generation. What can I do for the next generation? You know, how can I leave?
Afuwa Granger: Yes, how can we lift them. And what has been useful to you as a Two-Spirit artist in terms of solidarity and support from other Indigenous artists?
Storme Webber: I wanted to mention a really positive, positive group down here called Yehaw it's pronounced. There's actually an article in the new magazine for the Museum of the American Indian on Black Native Identity. And so a lot of the organizers of that project, they did a large show a couple of years back and Union Station down here in Seattle are interviewed in that article. And they're doing really positive work around Black, Native identity, Black and Indigenous solidarity. They gave a call for Indigenous artists, and they took something from everyone who sent it in. So that was amazing. Yeah, it was a huge show. Just incredible. If you just look up that name you will see that this sort of really collective and important work that they're doing. And of course with the lockdowns and that we've just been online with each other. But I'd say they're doing really transformative work and I'm sure there's more to learn from. In an interesting way all these challenges do seem to have inspired the reaction of more art, which I'm so thankful for that.
Afuwa Granger: So, yeah, we have to go harder in the direction of togetherness.
Storme Webber: Yes and just in general, I'd say about the Indigenous community here in Seattle, one great thing I would say about them is that they're really accepting. We have a long tradition of living together and Black Natives and Chinese Natives. I think that there's just something easeful that happens here. When you get into these Indigenous spaces that I completely appreciate. We don't divide ourselves by sexual preference or gender expression. Yeah, so I love that.
Afuwa Granger: How do you offer support and solidarity to artists whose lived experiences are distinct from your own?
Storme Webber: Well, for many years I have always brought other people into any invitational spaces that I've received. I've always seen that as part of my work going back to the Bay Area, I started inviting other musical collaborators from other communities to work with me. In 2007, I founded Voices Rising LGBTQ Arts and Culture. So we have produced many, many, many events during that time involving all different peoples with special consideration of mentoring, bringing in emerging artists with established artists into each show. So encouraging that sort of support and knowledge sharing. I look forward to doing more, because we're just actually beginning our programming again. I had worked on a project that wasn't specifically queer, but I felt as though by working on that project, I was in line with Two-Spirit tradition of keeping the fire in the community going right. So I created the production of a quilt that represents Black history from Seattle. So and it's both queer and non-queer and as many things from the preacher to the sex worker who raised money to open up her own business. But I don't have to say that about her being a sex worker. I know because her family might not appreciate that, but I actually do know that that's how she got her start and, you know, the lesbian trumpet player. So I made certain to represent us in there. But just in the way that, of course, we're here.
I really feel like we have to reject these liars, these white supremacists who say we've never gotten along. We've never known each other. Oh c'mon we've been living together all these years shut up, you know. I'm kind of a mixture of very much of this place. I'm just kind of trying to represent that feeling. And I know that I won't be here forever, but I'm trying to amend the grand narrative of this place so that hopefully we will stop telling these halfway ridiculous stories. One great thing I said, which may be not so large to anyone else but the Wikipedia page for the space; the Casino, which is a physical space, was intended to include my story.
So here is the Wikipedia, which has nothing to do with necessarily my doing, but somehow it says this was a place built such and such. So here we have the story of my mother and me in the basement of this dark club when we were invisible to the city, and all the people who are now ghosts who were there with us. So that to me is pretty incredible. It's really naturally evolved that I'm sort of interfering with history, you know, sort of just interrupting this historical narrative.
Because without stories, nothing matters, like we watch these movies and everything blows up and we don't care unless there's a good story. You know, we watch these movies where nothing happens, but it's such a good story. I just want to I just want to do good and do my best at that. I feel that I need to be honest and to be loyal to that impetus. To try to speak not just from my own little personal experience, but what those ancestors didn't get to say. Because they really returned to me and I found photographs of ancestors just in the public realm. It's been incredible because we look so much like them. The Alaska state records, I found two relatives in Alaska state record photographs that had never been in my family, but I looked and I said, wait a minute, who is that?
So I'm looking at myself somehow and literally found them. I literally had to pay the state of Alaska to get a good file of it. And I'm supposed to tell them if I use it. It's funny that, like we were just in the Pendleton store and it said if you want to use the Pendleton to sell it, ask us. And I'm laughing, thinking y'all never asked the Native people if you could make all these five million blankets and sell them for a thousand dollars each and tried to say, we must ask you. I don't think so [laughs].
Afuwa Granger: Does your art practice involve or include global Indigenous artists and how does this impact and influence your work?
Storme Webber: I feel like that's a process I'm engaging in. I feel as though since 2017 things got very hectic with the Casino project and I've been swept into a lot of projects, a lot of projects. And I'm sort of finishing up a couple of the things that I have at this point and then just thinking, yeah, I want to take some time out. And I want to make those connections more real and more engaged. The people that I felt so wonderful to connect with when I was in Canada, I can't say that we've maintained at that same level. So I'd like to do more globally because I do feel like this is the moment of transition. It feels like either those who want the earth to live will win or the others will win. You know, it sort of feels that way at the fundamental level. So I'd like to do more collectively. I'd like to do more in conversation and not just feel like here's my one little voice, here's my one little voice, I'm going to compete with the other one little voice. So it's not so compelling for me, actually.
Afuwa Granger: At the end of the day, it's not about winning. You know.
Storme Webber: Yeah, we need one another, we need to find ways to really join our forces at this time because there are evil people out there trying to join their forces and we're stronger than them. But we need to be together as well.
Afuwa Granger: How do you use your art to address social and cultural issues?
Storme Webber: I consciously use my art practice to uplift the voices of others because I acknowledge that I don't know everything, I know my certainty. What's been medicine in my heart, perhaps, is stepping out from guilt and shame, and inspiring others to also bury these things that might not be the most beautiful of things and find the beauty. As Billie Holiday found the beauty in such tragedy. You know, something that my grandmother represented or identified with, that she could make such beauty from such heartache. And I have done more explicitly political work at times. Yeah, I just consistently uplift. I did it before the pandemic struck, we had done QTIPOC hip hop showcase that had, you know, a trans-Filipino person and a Two-Spirit person, and a Mexican American trans person and just all young people. So this is a joy for me. There's no way I don't know how to do that.
So I just want to make a way for you to come in and do that. And at the moment, we're getting ready to relaunch some programming with Voices Rising. And I'm just thinking of ways to understand what the community wants. That's the part of my work that is just to be of service. I have the part of my work that is to tell my personal story. But then I've always also had the side of my work, which is to be of service. And that service includes lifting other artists that I know are brilliant that just don't get the opportunity right. Because there is colorism, because I did go to Lakeside because I know how to talk to you, because I lived in London, you know what I mean? Because I'm obnoxious, like whatever the reasons are [laughs] because I can be very forceful to go find these things and make these ways. And then I want to say, everybody, come here. Here it is, I found this way. So I sent, I've seen and some of my work has been to be a cultural scout. To go forward and to get these opportunities. And like, I just got a big project last year and I was able to pay out like $30,000 or more to community. And a lot of that community were elders, 30 to 40 thousand dollars of that money went back to community. It went back to elder QTIPOC activists who did this work, who don't necessarily have any pension coming from that work. So that was really positive. Yeah, I really appreciated that opportunity, I feel like I do that.
Afuwa Granger: I feel, though, as someone who is lucky enough to interact with multiple of your exhibitions, and I think that your individual artist voice is also a service. It's that thing about, you know, when when you strike a chord on an instrument, all the other instruments that are tuned to the same frequency resonate. The way that you tell the story and the way that you explore being part of what I think of as fractured histories, histories that have been deliberately elided. It really inspires me as somebody can't go back on paper more than three generations, and it's tough to not feel like there's an abyss there to feel like there's. That made my DNA like I can follow that line and draw on the power of my ancestry. It's so liberating, just really freeing. So I know you think of it as like this is your work off to the side. But I think it's actually all of it.
Storme Webber: It’s the same thing, isn't it? It's absolutely, absolutely, absolutely is. That is my wish is that it would also maybe point to that our ancestors just love us. We all have some of those ancestors, we don't have to call those ancestors, just leave the shady ones. You know, we don't need them. We don't wish them bad. We just don't invite them, that's all. So, you know, you speak to those who love you because we are them. We are them, you know, and what we do then they do. And they went through these times when I think of them and they didn't have online therapy or Chani Nicholas [laughs] or anything. They were just out there and just everything coming at every moment. So they did their best, they are so there. You know, the magic Nanny of the Maroons, you know, there's so many to catch a bullet for. We come from magic people you know so being aware of that. That's the heart of it, and like you say, it's not separated, it's all the same thing, it's all the same thing. I think I think I'm at a place of just trying to really look and see what next, you know, what not to waste time on and what to focus on because time becomes ever more precious.
Afuwa Granger: In closing, is there anything else you'd like to share?
Storme Webber: I would just like to thank you so much for your kind energy and your time and your patience. And I would like to thank Tory for her continued labour on the tech thing, of which I have absolutely no use whatsoever. Hey, Tory, you know, I thank Louis for just the thought for preparation, it's really informed me. I'm actually looking at that preparation versus a project that I'm in right now that I'm feeling that I have to withdraw from because it does not have that mindfulness, I want to say mindfulness, and it's delicate. So anyway, I just found it very inspiring and I learned a great deal from the whole process. And I'm sure I will look at it again and again and not just as a model of how to do really powerful, ethically rooted and incredibly well-thought-out work. Really impressive. But on both your parts, really.
Afuwa Granger: This is Louis, I feel so grateful that they included me and so happy to speak to you again and again. it's just been such a gift, this whole project and this process, it's been lovely.
Storme Webber: Thank you, thank you so much. Blessings and I look forward to seeing you again soon and have a brilliant Sunday. I hope you're done for the day.
Afuwa Granger: The rest of the Sunday for me is just more and more art-making.