Local artist Candice D’Meza: ‘Archeologist of the Soul’
Candice D'Meza

Candice D’Meza is a local artist whose body of work spans across theater performance, multiple literary genres, activism, dance, critical pedagogy, ritual, social practice and multiple types of film (documentary, experimental and short).

D’Meza is big on “world-building,” and thus attracted to and a participant in the genres of science fiction, afrofuturism and fantasy, with the spiritual technologies of Pan-African spiritual practices and belief systems.

So, yes, she’s big on connecting with ancestors, the power of imagination and moving above and beyond the confines of racism/white supremacy.

And as her website says, D’Meza’s work has been “featured, grant-funded, commissioned, published, screened and archived at institutions across the nation” at places like The Contemporary Art Museum of Houston, DiverseWorks, PlayBill, Latinx Playwrights Circle, BOLD Ventures Grant through the Helen Gurley Foundation, Rice University, Colgate University, The Catastrophic Theatre, The Alley Theatre, The Ensemble Theater, Stages Theater, Houston Arts Alliance, Red Bull Arts, The City of Houston, Black Spatial Relics, American Theatre Magazine, The Acentos Review, Houston Press, the Houston Chronicle, and various national film festivals.”

D’Meza, a four-time award winner at the Houston Press Theater Awards, including the 2018 win for Best Utility Player, is a proud member of the Actors Equity Union.

Here’s D’Meza in her own words.

DEFENDER: Your website describes you as a multidisciplinary artist, writer, actor, filmmaker and African American/Haitian queer mother of three. Which one of those descriptors are you most proud of?

CANDICE D’MEZA: I think I’m most proud of calling myself Haitian. I grew up with my African American mother. That identity is very close to me. That’s the way I’ve experienced the world. And because my father wasn’t around, I didn’t get a chance to grow up as a part of Haitian culture. So, it’s something I’ve had to choose because those ancestors have chosen me and continued to call to me. So, to call myself Haitian has come through a lot of work and a lot of active choice versus just only birthright. So, I’m proud to also consider myself Haitian as part of my identity.

And I think a mom/artist. Being a mom/artist is something I think is very specific. And my work as a mom/artist means that my children have been a huge part of my creation process. They come with me, they’re part of rehearsals, they’ve come to shows over the years because I single parent. And so, to be able to continue to do it and to basically make sure that these spaces are open for allowing what it looks like to be a mother and artist at the same time, has been a big part of like my personal activism, and a big part of what I’ve come to really value about what I do.

DEFENDER: So, what did the eight-year-old Candace want to be when she grew up?

D’MEZA: Ooh, at eight. Listen, I wanted to be an archeologist because I really was super into history and civilizations. I think I still do archeology, but maybe of the soul, like uncovering varied stories in our own ancestral landscapes. I wanted to act, but I’m from LA. I lived in southern California. So, I was like, “Oh, acting. Everybody wants to act.” So, I was like, “I want to be an archeologist.”

DEFENDER: So how then did you arrive at becoming this multidisciplinary artist?

D’MEZA: That’s a good question. I’m not even sure. If you told anybody from my youth, first, they’d be surprised that my name is Candice because I was Candy my whole life until I moved to Texas. But, they would not be surprised. I am surprised, but they wouldn’t be. I’ve always been artistic and into acting and theater. I’ve always had a lot of energy. So, people always knew that I was gonna be an actor or be in the arts. But the path getting here, looking back has been a lot of… I’ve tried everything I could to not do this.

And then there’s always these little really important scenarios or situations that pop up that kind of push you back in, in a way that ended up being very impactful and kind of life-changing; these little intersections you make that have pushed me here. And a lot of it’s been accidental, to be honest. Like one thing led to another and I could not have predicted that something would’ve opened up. It’s a lot of accidental, on purpose things. Looking back, they seem on purpose, but at the time I didn’t intentionally make that happen. It feels very much like Spirit has been kind of putting me in places at the right time.

DEFENDER: What comes easiest or most natural for you? Is it the writing, acting, filmmaking? Which one?

D’MEZA: I’ve never thought about that. What comes most natural? Creating a world comes natural to me. So, if I’m in a particular theater play as an actor where the material is really rich and I can create a world, I’m going to really feel good in that process; feel more ease. If I’m writing or creating a project and I can build the world how I want, and it’s just me to create it, that will also feel more natural. I don’t know that it’s always the artistic discipline that’s easiest, just the process of it.

DEFENDER: Which is most challenging?

D’MEZA: I find film to be a particularly challenging medium. I find traditional playwriting to be a challenging medium. Film is challenging [because] there’s so many layers to consider. So, it is challenging, in a really generative way.

DEFENDER: Can you please tell us about your workshop “Writing as Ancestral Connection”?

D’MEZA: I had a chance last year to study with Dr. Malidoma Some, and to learn about the Dagara and how they practice in that cosmology. Very transformative. His book “Of Water and the Spirit” changed my life. That [book] actually informed one of my projects, “Fatherland.” That’s when I was able to study with him and learn some different rituals. So, “Writing as Ancestral Connection,” I used the five Dagara elements. In the West they have four, but Dagara have five: earth, nature. It’s earth, nature, mineral, water and fire.

I lead people on a guided exploration of those different elements to see what wisdom is revealed to them through the elements. And every time I’ve done it, when people share what came up for them, I’m always amazed because there’s always overlap. Like the elements say similar things to people, which is not surprising, but it is. But it’s still surprising when somebody says, “During this section, this is what the tree showed me.” And somebody else is like, “Me too.” And they’re not of the same race, in our understanding [of race], not the same culture, but having the same experience with the elements is always mind-blowing. And there’s always this wisdom for the collective that gets shared. Like the water told this person something that I definitely needed to hear. So, those workshops, I don’t know how I came up with it, but they do whatever is needed to be done to bring out whatever medicine people need. And then when we share together, I’m always on the verge of tears when I hear what happened.

DEFENDER: What are your current projects

D’MEZA: I have a play commission with Catastrophic Theater and it will go up, I believe in May 2023. And it’ll run for I think four weeks. And it’s called “A Maroon’s Guide to Time and Space.” It’s gonna be strange. I love that theater. They have been so instrumental to my journey. They produced last year my “30 Ways to Get Free” project, which is now three short films, all based on how Black people could get free. And it’s important to me that they’re not trying to get free of racism because I don’t even wanna center white supremacy at all. It’s not even in the world. I don’t even care about it. I don’t even wanna talk about it. There’s more to us than that.

And I was so amazed they [Catastrophic Theater leadership] were like, “Yeah, whatever you want.” That project [with the three short films], there’s one called “Alien Abduction” about a teenage girl who’s pregnant and is also like an astrophysicist genius and creates a device to connect to extraterrestrials so she can get abducted because earth is caught in a time loop of repeating your parents’ mistakes and mistakes and mistakes. She’s like, “I can jump out of the time loop and my daughter can have a different life.”

DEFENDER: What about “Is God Is”?

D’MEZA: “Is God Is” by Alicia Harris. She is a phenomenal playwright, phenomenal writer. I can’t even say that enough. She’s genius; fully a genius. But “Is God Is” is a revenge play. And I loved it because I just love anything that puts Black people in worlds where they’ve typically belonged only to white people. Like only white people get to imagine themselves in an expansive world, where they get to go on a whole revenge story and nobody judges them, nobody says they should have been like Martin Luther King and turn the other cheek. Like, white people get to be judge, jury, executioner. And I love anything that completely is like, listen, we get to make a world of our own imagining. We get to set the rules. And as “Is God is” is twin girls go to avenge themselves and their mother for what happened to them and in the world there is no rule that says they can’t do that. And I love that. And, it’s pretty brutal. But people watch “Kill Bill.” The watch “Dahmer.”

DEFENDER: What initially inspired your activism/artivism?

D’MEZA: The current trajectory I’m on right now of being really focused on creating worlds for Black people to live, where we don’t even have to deal with racism, [it’s] just, this is the world we live in, especially in science fiction, like that type of world, started with two things. I used to have conversations with a playwright in New York. He said, “I’ll never write a play where Black people don’t win. Never gonna do that.” And I was very inspired by his commitment to that. Black people aren’t traumatized in anything he’s gonna write. Black people are gonna win. Period.

And, second, having conversations with him around the time that George Floyd was murdered. I was living in Third Ward at the time, and I went to the march downtown. There were thousands of people there. And thousands of Black people, I might add, were chanting and unison, “I can’t breathe.” I was vexed to my soul because I thought, what an affirmation in mass, the energy of all, that we are conjuring a world where we cannot breathe. That shook me. And I thought if we were gonna really be active, we would go against what they’ve said and conjure a world in which we breathe easy and free; unimpeded. Breath is free. My breath is unlimited. I never stopped breathing. So, I started to write because I thought, this is a crisis of imagination. And if you tell people, stop looking at it, it’s almost like you’re saying ignore that it exists. And I’m not saying ignore that it exists. I’m saying look at what is there, but don’t let your imagination be limited by what they say or what you see. What is real should only be the beginning point and not the end point. So, I started writing “30 Ways to Get Free” because I thought, if we wanna be free, then we should spend our energy imagining what that looks like.

And it’s actually a hard exercise to be like, “How could we get free”? I was trying to just write 30 different ways it could happen. An alien can abduct us. Which I’m still dealing with. I still think it’s a possibility of let’s build a whole world in space. F*ck Earth. Then I thought, two men in prison, Harriet Tubman pops up in a dream, gives them an iPhone and says, “Answer when I call.” And I was like, “Well, what happens next? I don’t know.” But hey, it’s a transdimensional underground railroad. So what I do now is I’m very focused on, “I will not be limited by what is.” So, if I see what is and it bothers me enough, I’m gonna make art to go above it.

Sometimes that’s ritual. Like with what I’ve learned is you use ritual to go above and over it. I don’t even need to deal with it. I’m not gonna hit it from the front. I’m gonna just ritual and go into a realm where they’re not at and go above and over them. Or I will make a world with aliens. So I use ritual and sci-fi and all that as now the activism to try to help. Ritual is actively to push things forward. I put it under art because people will be too afraid sometimes if I come at you and say, this is a ritual from a spiritual technology in Vodu. Or this is in spiritual technology from Burkina Faso. And then they’re scared. But if I say, “Hey, we’re just gonna kind of pour a little liquid out, and what ancestor do we remember fondly and how might we ask them for assistance? And it feels less intimidating if I put it that way. That is my way of kind of intervening in spaces that feel unmovable. And I feel like hitting racism and white supremacy from head on, it’s monstrous. You can’t hand it head on. They expect that. It’s built against it. But they’re not expecting in the spirit, to go above and over. And I hope to inspire people to think big by using art and fantasy to be like, “Oh, it’s cute, but also like for real, think about it.”

DEFENDER: Because some activists do get burned out, what continues to fuel your activism?

D’MEZA: Yeah, burnout is real. My ancestral practice is a big part of helping release. I do have children, and so in some ways I can’t let myself get burned out because I still have kids to raise and be present for. And so some stuff I’m like, if I can’t tend it, it doesn’t mean that it won’t be tended. I can do what I can do and other things have to be for another lifetime, another incarnation of mine or other people to in time and space help pick up. And I call the ancestors down to pick up stuff I can’t pick up. Like, “I can’t get that. You are gonna have to raise up the people who can.” Hopefully, they’re there. I just may not see them.

Sometimes it feels terrible to be like, “I have to wash my hands with certain stuff.” If I look at it and I can’t hold that, what I’m looking at, I don’t look at it. That sounds terrible, but if I can’t hold it, I can’t look at it, until I have the capacity to go to my ancestors to help me or when they can show me the way in which I can hold it. But if I can’t hold it, I can’t help it. And so that helps me not get too burned out. I can’t read certain articles. I won’t watch certain videos—the latest thing. Because racism is just that. It’s a life energy suck to keep you constantly fighting and drained. And I’m like, “You’re not gonna drain me.” I know you’re here. I can’t deal with whatever latest thing you’re trying to siphon my life force and my fear and my anger towards right now. I don’t have. So, you’ll have to find another way or not. Maybe not. Don’t find another way; just leave me alone.

FOR MORE ON D’MEZA

Website: www.candicedmeza.com

Email: candice@candicedmeza.com

Writing as Ancestral Connection Workshop: https://candicedmeza.gumroad.com/l/writingasancestralconnection