Battle of the Beasts, 2018, featuring special guests Jennifer Shahade, Vanessa Sun, Silas Jackson and Christopher Louis, Boston Sculptors Gallery, Boston, MA
“Kledia conceptualized the Battle of the Beasts performance where she featured Jennifer Shahade and Vanessa Sun playing a chess match. She also invited two male athletes in corporate attire to be the loaders of the match until she decided to push one away and even the playing field. The themes of feminism, empowerment, backlash, mythology, family, and community took shape as we created new work for the show.“ - Donna Dodson, artist
“Two men stand facing each other on a pristine chessboard, the captains of the arrayed pieces, staring each other down across the glaringly bright space—decked out like office workers, each one taking himself more seriously than the other, dueling self-importances like two mirrors facing each other so that the reflections upon reflections have no real endpoint.
They start to move the vanguard pieces, laboriously lugging the heavy pawns across the checkered board, moving among the pieces like tree trunks in a dense forest. No bird’s-eye view of the game for them—they’re in the thick of the battlefield, panting, more disheveled by the move, their shirts and ties littering the tiles like leaves in autumn, but they continue. (Wait—aren’t there women’s voices here, and aren’t the strategies informed by the mental labor of women calling out from somewhere? Ah, who cares? Certainly not these men. Ask them afterwards, especially whoever wins, and he’ll gladly tell you he alone moved those heavy pieces across the board.)
In the wings, off the game-board, a woman lifts a weight, ignored, unthanked, the clanging of her barbell echoing in the void. She toils away, watching the men move the pieces, until she decides to drop her weight and march into the thick of the game. A tussle. One of the men, she shoves away, breaks his grip on his piece, and knocks him down. Now it’s her piece. She moves it alone.
The game continues, while she continues to work—not unseen on the wings anymore, now moving her pieces, until the man calls her from across the board. Going to him, she assists, unthanked, moving a piece too big for one to move alone. She’s tired (between her every move she returns to her anonymous toil off the board,) but helps anyway: not because she’ll be thanked or acknowledged (she won’t,) but because otherwise that piece wouldn’t move. The man knows it, and she knows it. But the fiction still lives, for now. The man still sounds angry at her for needing her help.
And the pawns keep moving. The rooks keep moving. The strategies continue to unfold. Until it’s time for the Queen to break ranks and move onto the field. The man wants to unleash his most powerful piece. And it’s a big piece—too big to move alone. The man angrily calls for help—expecting it now, entitled to it.
But the woman ignores him. He calls again, struggling with the heavy piece, lost somewhere in the thick forest of pieces, across the wilderness of black-and-white. And she continues to ignore him. Finally, he’s quiet, lost somewhere in that wilderness. The game is over—it ended the moment she decided not to keep the pieces moving. The strategies fell apart. The game collapsed when her help couldn’t be taken for granted.
Because the machinations of society are impossible without the contributions of women, and the more women are empowered to act and contribute, the more is possible.” - Silas Jackson, special guest and author