Indira Allegra- We Are Oakland

Indira Allegra portrait in Oakland

I met Indira about seven years ago when we both entered a yoga teacher training program offered by the Niroga Institute in Berkeley, CA.  Over the course of the next two years, we got to know each other as we also got to know ourselves through the process deepened our yoga practice.  Indira intrigued me from day one. Her quiet confidence and artistic flare inspired me to discover those qualities in myself.  

When I conceived of the We Are Oakland project, Indira was very high on my list of people to profile. She just has so much to offer her community and society as a whole.  As you'll read in the interview below, she has some knowledge to drop! You will not be disappointed. 

I interviewed and photographed Indira for this project at the end of December. Yes, almost three months ago. Sometimes life gets in the way of the best laid plans, but I am so excited to get this out to the many who know and love Indira, as well as to the new admirers I'm sure she's going to gain. This interview is a bit longer than I'd planned. I didn't want to cut out any of her inspiring words, so I've published the interview in full. Enjoy!!

Indira Allegra portrait in Oakland

What is your name?   Indira Allegra

Where are we and why did you choose this location?   We are on the rooftop of my apartment building in front of my art studio. Right now I can see the cranes by the port. I can see into downtown Oakland.  I’m looking at all of the buildings and where the buildings stop and Lake Merritt begins. I do a lot of my creative work up here and it seems like a natural place for us to collaborate on this project.

Tell me about your life's work.  I am a writer and visual artist. I do a lot of work with visual performance and textiles. So, I’ll craft the textiles that often appear in my video pieces and I’m interested in how cloth acts as a co-conspirator with me whenever I am performing. It’s not just about the body of the artist in the work. I feel like there is limitless intimacy between bodies and cloth. It is that relationship that interests me.

See more of Indira's work, click here:

What is your superpower?   So even X-Men had to go to school to learn how to use their superpowers and to build them. [Laughter] What I feel like I’m in the Jean Grey School for (in the X-Men) is to learn how to communicate with everything in its own language. And maybe by the time I’m 99 I’ll have it figured out. [Laughter] I think that there is a way in which, when I’m weaving on the loom, it’s not just me making the cloth. I am in active collaboration with the boundaries or desires of the fabric. So there are certain things that cotton wants to do that silk will not. There are certain things that paper will yield itself to that linen won't. Much of my creative practice is about how I can be receptive to the ‘wants’ of my materials and how can we work together to develop something harmonious. When I think about being able to communicate with everything in its own language…I’m talking about being in intimate communion with the world. 


Indira Allegra portrait in Oakland

Why do you choose to live in Oakland?  I was born Detroit and when the crack cocaine epidemic hit we moved to Portland because I lost a lot of family members due to drug violence there.  Upon arrival in Portland, Oregon at the age of 7, I quickly realized that I really was 3% of the entire state population. That was pretty clear even as a young child. So there was always this obvious sense of not belonging. I would walk down the street (in Oregon) and people would literally ask me “Where are you from?” and “What country are you from?” As a woman of color in a predominately white environment, there were obviously lots of micro-aggressions that came up on a day-to-day basis that I had to deal with. Oakland is the only place that I’ve lived where no one asks me where I am from and no one questions my right to belong here. And that’s wonderful. 

How did you make it to Oakland?   When I first came down to the Bay, I was 11 or 12 and my Dad had taken my brother and I down here on a train trip. I remember this sense of electricity that I was feeling in my body even as a child and knowing that I had to come back here. In my twenties, I did, I got a job working at Laney College as an interpreter for the Deaf and Deaf/blind and was doing a lot of academic support for students with disabilities.

Back in Oregon, I had been the only black interpreter and one of three Native interpreters in the state. I would literally have Deaf clients saying things to me like “You are too dark I can’t even see you signing.” That's the kind of environment I grew up in. While there is obviously racism everywhere, to be in the Bay Area now is like a refuge.

Are you still working with the Deaf community?   I’m not.  My work and my primary responsibility is to my own creative practice right now. One of the things that happened for me when interpreting was that I was diagnosed with a condition called Ménière's Disease that affects my hearing and sometimes my balance. When I got the diagnosis, I learned that one of the possibilities of the condition is that one day, I too, could become deaf.  So if, in theory, my hearing could possibly have an expiration date on it (and while that is certainly not the end of the world) it does motivate me to focus solely on my own creative work and passion. 

What are you proud of?   I am proud of being able to be in a dynamic partnership for 11 years. I feel blessed.

Indira Allegra portrait in Oakland

What are you grateful for?   It’s a privilege to be able to focus on my creative work and to actually make money that way. And to have enough connection with an inner voice that tells me that I can do it. It doesn’t matter what my class background is or that I am going to be finishing my bachelor’s degree at age 35. It doesn’t really matter if I own a giant house or whatever. I don’t have to measure my achievements against anyone else’s standards. All that matters to me is that I feel like I’m growing and I feel like I’m not stuck in life. For me, that idea of being stagnant or frozen is terrifying. Being grounded is good. Being frozen is not so good. Trees are grounded because they are always open to taking in nourishment and open to giving it back. I want to be able to embody that kind of plant intelligence.

What is you hope for the Spring of 2015?   I’m thinking about other applications of #blacklivesmatter.  I’m interested in how we as black people take a stand for individual self-love and self worth in our own lives also. When I meditate on #blacklivesmatter I think about how I used to be borderline diabetic at one point and how, I had to matter enough to myself make different choices in my own diet, and to learn things that I had never been taught growing up about how processed sugars were affecting my body. I had to move beyond the shame of not knowing about all that. Acting as a grown woman often means having to teach ourselves things that we didn’t come up knowing about with regard to physical and mental health and non-violence - and that’s ok. That's a micro #blacklivesmatter movement for me.

Indira Allegra portrait in Oakland
Indira Allegra portrait in Oakland
Indira Allegra smiling in a portrait.