Loose Canons: Sonya Renee Taylor
Loose Canons is a series in which we invite artists we love to share five things that have informed their work. Meet the rest of our Loose Canons here.
Sonya Renee Taylor is a writer, spoken word performer and activist. Hailing from the US, she came to Aotearoa in 2017 as an Edmund Hillary Fellow – a three-year fellowship for leading entrepreneurs and innovators to deliver projects with a lasting positive impact on New Zealand.
“Your body is not an apology” – a spontaneous comment Sonya made years ago to a disabled friend was the spark which ultimately ignited into a poem, a social media community, a magazine-style website and most recently, a book.
In The Body Is Not An Apology, Sonya makes the case for radical self-love. By radically changing our relationship with our own body to one of love, we are forced to reconsider our attitudes to other bodies different from our own. In a funny, warm, no-nonsense tone, the book delivers a convincing case that such a transformation from judgement to love can be the key to broader radical change and social justice.
My mother, Terry Lyn Hines
My mother passed away in October 2012. I think that my first lessons about loving myself and believing in myself, trusting myself, being embodied – all of those lessons came from her, from the way that she existed in her own body and the ways in which she saw her children as the best parts of her. The things that she did not feel like she could accomplish, she was sure to instil in us that we could.
I think we’re fascinating. There’s so much that is rich and quirky and hilarious about us. So much that’s profound and challenging and intriguing. And then there’s so much that’s awful! Terrible and cruel! The contradiction that is humanity is really fascinating to me.
Language – and words themselves – light me up. The fact that they have the power to create and destroy in their full capacity is fascinating to me. It makes me always want to be looking at how I can shape language to do the most work in the most economical and inspirational ways. Words do things. One of the things that’s been really beautiful since moving to Aotearoa is starting to learn a bit of te reo Māori. It’s such a poetic language. The first time someone told me that the word for internet is ‘ipurangi’ – ‘rangi’ is the heavens, and ‘ipu’ is a bowl, so really it’s describing how all the knowledge of the world is held in a container – I was like, this is amazing! The fact that language can do that is phenomenal.
The pursuit of beauty
I love beautiful things. I find beauty everywhere. I find beauty in our fallibility as humans. I find beauty in the tough things. There are beautiful things in this parking lot I’m looking at right now! I think that the world is always offering us the perspective of beauty if we are willing to be open to it. Within my quest in life is to illuminate beauty.
How I understand myself, the labels that the world has given me and the labels that I’ve chosen to accept – all of those things are where I write from. Romare Bearden, who was a famous black painter in the early 20th century, was once asked: in what ways is your blackness related to your art? And he was like: it is all of my art; all of my art comes from the fact that I am a black man and the way that I see the world is infused by that, everything I create is from that lens. And I think that is so true for me. I am a black, able-bodied, CIS-gendered, fat woman. All the things that the world does with that, or says about that, and all the ways that I live and embody those identities, inform my work. The goal of my work both artistically and organisationally, through activism, is to create a world where all of our bodies have the ability to thrive and live powerfully, and to be seen as the glorious instruments of beauty that we are.