In the past, the clothesline was a place where a community’s women met to hang laundry.
It was also the space where women could socialize and share their common struggles. By doing so, the clothesline transformed from the space of a domestic chore into a means for empowerment and identity.
“When you looked at the clothesline, you could tell who lived in the house, the ages. You could tell whether there was a man there or not… It was a communal place,” said Nnenna Freelon, the creator of The Clothesline Muse, a new theatrical project.
Freelon and her collaborators uses jazz vocals, paper art, and dance to as a way to pay tribute to the domestic labor of past generations. Freelon is a Grammy-nominated jazz artist whose music career has been celebrated the world over. But The Clothesline Muse gave her a chance to look back at the lesser-known work of her predecessors.
“This is an opportunity for me to do research on what it took for my mother, my grandmother, and my great-grandmother to keep house,” said Freelon.
“And there’s no Grammy nomination for raising good kids, for keeping the house. So we’re hoping to bring light and to place this on the stage in such a way that it says this too is art,” she continued.
As the Clothesline Muse is a celebration of history and family, Freelon invited her own family to collaborate on the project. Her daughter, Maya Freelon Asante, created the set and projections that play throughout the show. Freelon Asante’s mother-in-law Kariamu Welsh choreographed of the performance.
“Being submerged into this beautiful production, I found joy in creating quilt-like pieces that go up on the clothesline using the clothesline as an art tool,” Freelon Asante said.
Though Freelon Asante belongs to a generation that never used a clothes line, her participation in this project reframed her perspective on her family history.
“[My grandmother] used to always say that she came from a family of sharecroppers who never got their fair share,” said Freelon Asante.
“She was waiting for someone to do this honoring, to lift them up,” she continued, referencing the current project.
The Clothesline Muse is a work in progress. Freelon hopes to turn it into a national tour over next year. Click here for more information about a November 21st preview showing at the Durham Arts Council.