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Lela Aisha Jones, 2016 Pew Fellow. Photo by Ryan Collerd.

Fellows Friday: Q&A with Choreographer and Movement Artist Lela Aisha Jones


Lela Aisha Jones, 2016 Pew Fellow. Photo by Ryan Collerd.

Our “Fellows Friday” series focuses on the artistic lives of our Pew Fellows: their aspirations, influences, and creative challenges.

This week, we speak to Lela Aisha Jones (2016) who intertwines personal history, social commentary, and interdisciplinary methods, drawing from, in her x, “the individual and collective lived experiences of blackness.” A 2015 Leeway Foundation Transformation awardee, Jones is an artist in residence at the Community Education Center, and an incubated artist at Headlong. Most recently, she collaborated with Brenda Dixon Gottschild and Vershawn Sanders Ward of Red Clay Dance on The Body Wails, the Body Restores—a performance series that explored diasporic movement practice, social justice, trauma, and restoration.

Lela Aisha Jones FF Q&A: Content Block 1

How did you become an artist? Is there a particular experience that drove you to this choice?

My memories (which I hope tell me the truth) say that I became an artist because of the creative spirits around me. They are of course too many to name. I must acknowledge the contributions of my parents, who are creative and resourceful spirits themselves. They have always provided me with spaces where there was laughter, storytelling, painting, dancing, music playing, history lessons, ancestral lineage respect, and vibrant expressions of life. I became an artist because of my grandmother who I perceived to be someone that chose societal normalcy over mainstreaming her creative endeavors into a professional practice. I saw her constant struggle with emotional pain and anxiety. I told/tell myself it was/is because she wanted to be a writer and never fully realized that dream. I feel like a continuation of those aspirations to be an author. Being an artist became about me finding healthy ways to process my own trauma—the ability to survive.

I am constantly learning to navigate the systems that control whether or not you are perceived as successful in this country. I don’t know if another path, outside of the one that was laid before me, felt like an option to me—especially with my historical narrative and ancestry. Getting to that predetermined type of success became my plight. I am inspired by previous generations that have traversed their own trauma and faced particular individual as well as collective challenges. I contemplate, through artistry, teaching, and raising children, how striving for success could be approached differently for these coming generations. I have more leeway to invent myself with a good amount of social acceptance, because people before me walked their path. They made sacrifices that released my generation and gave us social freedoms from which they were not able to fully benefit. They gave us more resources than they had and room to explore the potential of blackness. These folks inspire me to strive for something beyond survival by creating as many thriving spaces as possible in my life and the lives of others. My struggle is to be more than a survivor, to be healthy, and lay clear trails for others who are searching for a blossoming and unfolding that mere survival may not be able to provide. Artistic practice helps me make sense of everything and keeps me from being swallowed by everything. I became an artist because I need individual and collective spaces to process my lived experience. In artistry it becomes normal to be imaginative and I use this framework of creativity to see how experimentation, justice, equity, and ethics collide and come together.

Lela Aisha Jones FF Q&A: Content Block 2