Cara Hagan: Where Ritual and Civic Practice Meet

The Berger Institute teamed up with the Gould Center for Humanistic Rights to invite Cara Hagan to the Athenaeum on January 29th, 2024. 

Cara Hagan, Associate Professor and Program Director for the MFA in Contemporary Theatre Performance at The New School, describes herself as “a mover, maker, writer, curator, champion of just communities, and a dreamer.” She believes deeply in the transformative power of art, challenging traditional notions of time and physics in the pursuit of liberation. Hagan’s work spans various mediums, including live performances, on-screen films, art installations, poetry, books, and numerous other forms. She emphasizes that the end result is just as significant as the journey of creating the work itself. 

Cara started her presentation with a poem, “Welcome to you and your body,” setting the tone for an exploration of the relationships, interactions, and experiences of humans in various spaces. She accompanied the poem with an evocative short film “Cygnus,” portraying a solitary figure dancing gracefully in a shallow lake, symbolizing the beauty and movement of the human body. 

Following the poem, Cara prompted the audience to utilize their bodies together, starting with clapping, stomping, and humming, to create a symphony of sounds that echoed throughout the Athenaeum. Afterward, she invited the audience to collectively synchronize seven deep breaths, raising their arms over their heads when inhaling, and lowering them while exhaling in unison. These simple yet profound actions engaged the audience in a shared artistic expression, illustrating Cara’s concept of civic engagement through collaborative artmaking.

She illustrated the power of her approach with another example of her work: a recent art installation called the Altar for Black Lives, which emerged in her North Carolina community following the tragic murder of George Floyd and others due to racism. Through the act of memorializing the victims, the installation provided a platform for her community to collaborate, express, and envision a more peaceful and equitable future. 

Cara delivered a unique and interactive Athenaeum presentation never seen before. The Berger Institute and all members of the community who attended her presentation deeply appreciate Cara’s use of art and movement to engage others in reimagining the world we live in. 

Racism takes years off our lives, ritualism attempts to take some of that time back.

 –  Cara Hagan