Local Performance Artist Sadiqua Iman Finds Healing Through Art

by Chamidae Ford

Art is often thought of as the expression of oneself. A place where you transfer your emotions into music, paintings, or written words. But for Sadiqua Iman, an artist of many outlets, art represents a place for healing. 

Native to Chattanooga, Tennessee, Iman says Seattle offered opportunities for artistic expression that she couldn’t find elsewhere. 

“When I got here, I fell in love with the opportunities,” Iman said. “I’ve traveled around a lot just for my career and for life and have found — to be able to penetrate and get grants and do original work which is one of the things that I love doing, more original work in devised pieces, you pretty much had to either sleep with everybody, be related to everybody, or pay everybody in order to even get your foot in the door. When I came to Seattle, I had tons of ideas and when I put them out there, they were accepted, they were funded, they were supported, and it was like, ‘Oh shoot! So this is what it’s like to actually be able to work as an artist and not feel like you are just kind of throwing your soul out there for free?’ which I have definitely felt in many of the places that I lived.”

Photo by Chloe Collyer

One of these opportunities is as an Artist in Residence for On the Boards (OTB), a local program that supports performing artists. With OTB, Iman has begun a series in which she views Black art and responds to it through movement. This idea was inspired by her time with the University of Washington’s Black Embodiment Project.

“I got a chance to take the Black Embodiment Project and really learn and give voice to the fact that there aren’t many Black reviewers of Black art, and critics of Black art are very, very, very few and far between. So this whole class was based on giving us ways to talk about the art that reflected us as opposed to it always being viewed from this outside lens. And it really stuck with me,” Iman said. “And as a performing artist, I was like, how can I give voice to art reviews without using my voice — just through my body?”

Photo by Chloe Collyer

Iman’s first installment was in response to the exhibit at The Frye, (Don’t be Absurd) Alice in Parts, by Anastacia-Reneé. Through her movements, you can watch how Reneé’s art impacts Iman. Iman explains how the emotions she felt are reflected in the movement of her body.

“If I go in and I look and I think, ‘Oh, this hit home’ — responding from that place. If I go in, and I’m like, ‘Whoa, this is inspiring’ — responding from that place,” Iman said. “I embody my experience. I immediately start moving, I’m a healer by life path, so I’m always addressing ‘where does this sit in the body?’ and wherever I see that it sits, that’s where the movement begins from. If it hits me in my heart, it’s probably gonna start as something from the chest. If it’s very cerebral, it’s probably going to start something in the head. I literally embody the spirit of the work that I’m seeing and dance through how it makes me feel.”

For Iman, this series also sparks an element of community and emotional vulnerability. Her performances are rooted in experiencing rather than judging. 

Photo by Chloe Collyer

“[Anastacia-Reneé] giving me permission to embody [their work] was very powerful. And it’s something that, as I’ve been reaching out to the other artists that I’m moving forward with, is a permission, which is different than the white critique. Because they just go in and they say, ‘I’m just going to consume it and take away.’ Whereas when I go in, I’m going to go and embody and let that inform what I have to say.”

Performance art has long been a part of Iman’s life. One recurring performance character for Iman is Namii. Described on her website as “Femme-Daddy-Fancy Boi,” Namii has been a longtime character who was built out of coincidence. Iman was directing a show and had to fill in for a sick costar and created them out of necessity — Namii was born. Ten years later, Iman continues to experiment through this character. 

“Namii is my burlesque drag queen persona. He, she, they use all the pronouns because they do all the things,” Iman said. “Namii started off masculine. We started off more in the drag queen world and just because I’m dual in my identity, I was like, Namii doesn’t have to — to be one-sided. Namii can actually explore both. So I started really playing around with gender fluidity and sexuality. And what does it look like for someone to come out with a full beard and a suit and end with tassels on their breasts and a thong? We just tear everything that you think that you know about gender and performance and challenge it. We say, ‘Hey, but what about this? What if this is the reality too? Because it’s my reality.’”

Photo by Chloe Collyer

Iman is not just a performer. She is also a director, writer, activist, and healer. She has directed several plays, is the artistic director of Earth Pearl Collective, and co-founder of Niles Edge Healing Arts.

“What I’m learning is that even though they are all many different aspects of myself, they are still all very much myself. More than anything, all of them come from a healing place,” Iman said. “When I’m writing, I’m writing from a healing place, a place to either my own healing or to encourage someone else’s healing process. The same thing when I dance, even in my burlesque — it’s how can I engage you in a way that you’re not used to engaging? How can I make the uncomfortable, comfortable? Which to me is a part of the healing process. When I’m directing a show, I do that with my cast. I make sure that outside of the lines, and the set, and the costumes, how are these people’s hearts and how is the script going to change them after this show? As opposed to, ‘Yyeah, I think it’s going to be a show.’ No, if you can go and do this much character work, let it do something for you so that you’re not going out there just giving your life away to an audience every night. So even in my direction, I’m coming from that healing place and as an activist, that’s just choice. That is the healing.”

Iman also has a wellness business, What You Knead Massage and Wellness, which has allowed her to find art in physically healing her own body and her fellow artist’s bodies.

“I actually had some personal health issues that I was dealing with that completely tore down my faith in Western medicine due to my treatment, and the aftercare, and the diagnosis, and the medications,” Iman said. “I was like, ‘Tthis is nonsense. This makes absolutely no sense. What are they doing?’ So as I started doing my own study to heal myself, and I was able to take that and work with a lot of different artists who I’m around because everyone was kind of dealing with the same things. So my clientele ended up being mostly artists, mostly Black women, mostly queer folk. And it just started making more and more sense as I got deeper into my healing work and got deeper into my performance work. When I’m working with somebody maneuvering their muscles on a massage table. It’s the same thing that I’m doing when I am flirting with somebody as Namii on Sunday Night Sugar Shack. As an energetic person, I just started feeling how intertwined they were.”

This relationship of letting all her identities work together is a newer way of life for Iman — a point she is happy to have reached.

“Honestly, I just recently stopped separating everything out,” Iman said. “Finally. And it feels really, really, good. I give youth more credit about the work that they do. And I hold myself to a standard that doesn’t need to be separated. I make sure that anything that I do and put out there, I’m proud of that. It shows the best parts of me or the parts of me that need to be revealed for whatever lesson or whatever healing needs to happen. And so having that kind of discernment allows me to be all of me.”

Photo by Chloe Collyer

Through this lifelong journey of healing, art, and all the ways they intertwine, Iman has found support consistently through her organization Earth Pearl Collective.

“Earth Pearl Collective has been my backbone through all of this,” Iman said. “It allowed me to produce; it allowed me to write grants in order to bring other artists on. It allowed me to perform. It opened doors for me to be part of conversations as an arts administrator and as a producer that I wouldn’t have been able to do on my own. With the organization around me, people were able to see me through my organization. And truthfully for me, even though Earth Pearl Collective is founded on the basis of queer Black female identity, it actually ends up being something for everyone because of that understanding of, ‘Oh, we want to talk about women? We can talk about that. Oh, do you want to talk about [Blackness]? We can talk about that. Oh, we want to talk about [being] queer? We can talk about that.’ And it’s all in one place. So I appreciate the fact that Earth Pearl Collective grounded me so that I can be in so many different spaces and be able to speak to multiple oppressions and multiple privileges and show that through art.”

Chamidae Ford is a recent journalism graduate of the University of Washington. Born and raised in Western Washington, she has a passion for providing a voice to the communities around her. She has written for The Daily, GRAY Magazine, and Capitol Hill Seattle. Reach her on IG/Twitter: @chamidaeford.

📸 Featured Image: Sadiqua Iman (photo: Chloe Collyer)

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