When I walk up to the windows of Defibrillator’s storefront for Anna Brown’s performance, I am a little nervous. We are co-workers who often cross paths in the hallways of SAIC but have never spoken about our artistic practices. I’m thinking a lot about how much a relationship or lack thereof to an artist informs so much of how we feel in performance.
Upon approaching the storefront she occupies, I am greeted by a woman wearing glasses, a secretary or assistant of sorts with a touch of artist visible by her tattoo.
“Would you like to ask Dr. Brownie a question? “
There will be a wait. Of course. After all, she is a doctor (of Education) in real life, too.
Dr. Brownie looks a little more than intentionally ridiculous, with a pink/blue/yellow colored graduation cap, crochet dress, and humongous matching spectacles on top of her real ones. I see her but can’t hear her through the window while she talks to one of her clients, gesticulating towards her books strewn about the storefront space.
Okay, so this is silly, I think. But I have a real question I want to ask Dr. Brownie, and I want to indulge myself in some therapy today. Should I be really honest and ask her advice on something I really need help with? I know her credentials on the job. How will this affect the performance? I need some wise and honest counsel. Maybe I will risk embarrassing myself.
I need some time to think, so I go to the sushi spot next door to wait my turn, eat, and ponder. I leave the restaurant. It’s been about an hour now.
As I walk back to the storefront, the assistant is looking through binoculars. “Ah, hello, there is 1.5 persons ahead of you now.”
For the first time, I notice the noise of birds chirping loudly over a speaker. I’m rethinking my choice to ask a very serious question. Should I trust her in this setting? I go for a short walk to think it over. I spot Dusty Groove Record Store and know that it will be very easy for me to pass an hour crate digging while I get myself together.
After I get the feeling that I may have spent too much time away, I run back to the storefront.
“Ah, there you are! Have you thought about what you want to ask? Dr. Brownie will see you shortly.”
I step into the door leading to the storefront. “Thank you so much for seeing me today!” Dr. Brownie says. We exchange a few pleasantries that perhaps we are used to exchanging from our office etiquette, but she seems genuinely happy to see me. Okay, I think, maybe I can ask her the serious question.
“I have the feeling something bad is going to happen. Things are generally very good for me right now. But I can’t shake this feeling, and I know it doesn’t make sense.”
Her words are peppered with “hmm…yes…ahh, I see.” A lot of head nodding. Very direct eye contact. I can see her eyes jumping back and forth to focus on each of mine. I notice that her glasses have “Oh, the places you’ll go” written on the stems. I wonder if she went to Seussland in Orlando to get them. I think a little about the time I worked at Universal Studios in high school. I’m talking about my childhood. The colors of Dr. Brownie’s outfit really start to jump out at me. I start to notice the orangeness of her cap, the shape of her shoulders, the pink straps on them. I wonder if she made this outfit herself. At this point, I’m pretty sure I’m rambling a bit.
Dr. Brownie says that I already seem to have the answers to my question, and I know this ominous feeling – what shall we call it, this feeling of dread – does not make sense. I know nothing bad is actually going to happen, but just want some strategies for dealing with this feeling.
We speak about meditation. Walking meditation. Writing meditation. Something to do with my body instead of with my mind. She’s always in her head, she says, and what helps her is to get out of her head. Yes, I will try walking meditation. Dr. Brownie is not as goofy as I thought she would be. I noticed she has not had as much animated talking with her hands and pointing to her books as she did with previous visitors, so I become aware that maybe I’ve made her be more serious in this moment because of what I brought to it. The idea of asking one of life’s questions in a performance after waiting almost two hours for it made me really want it to be a good one.
There is a lot of head-nodding between the two of us.
“Thank you, again, for coming to see me today.”
The assistant leads me to the adjacent storefront window, where she advises me to draw whatever I feel represents my time with Dr. Brownie. There are many multicolored markers and a big pad of paper on the desk.
I draw first a pink sun. I can overhear the couple who goes after me. It sounds like they are talking about the tension between being an artist and being in a relationship. I draw green clouds. A little blue woman. Now they are laughing also about an error in one of Dr. Brownie’s books. Lines of yellow, orange, blue, pink blocks of color stack up through my landscape. They are asking Dr. Brownie how she feels about Dr. Seuss. This is fun.
“Oh, she really likes drawing!”
I look up and the couple and Dr. Brownie are looking at me. Time to go.
I’m happy with my drawing. I realized I haven’t drawn in a long time, and I should do it more often.
Rashayla Marie Brown is an interdisciplinary artist and cultural theorist. Her journey includes radio DJing, researching black British music in London and founding the family-owned graphic design company, Selah Vibe, Inc. in Atlanta, Georgia. Brown holds a BA in Sociology and African-American Studies from Yale University and a BFA in Photography from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). She has received numerous awards, including the Anna Louise Raymond Fellowship, Chicago Artist Coalition’s BOLT Residency, the Propeller Fund, and the Mellon Research Grant. She currently serves as the Director of Student Affairs for Diversity and Inclusion at SAIC.