Nicoletta de la Brown takes care of herself so no one else has to. The shaman, self-care enthusiast, and performance artist is a master of all things ritual bathing, meditation, and breathing.
Fresh off performances this summer at the Walters and the Smithsonian, de la Brown explains that her sometimes nine-hour durational performances are energizing and feel like meditation for her. “When I am finished, I am recharged,” she says. “I’m not really in my body at that time.” She continues, “I consider the performance I do to be therapy for myself, 100 percent. Everything I do, I am doing for the 15-year-old girl inside of me. When I speak to people, I’m speaking to her. What [audience members] are asking me for is affirmation, confirmation of value or self-worth. I’m not asking people to confirm that I am valuable, I am doing that for myself when I am talking to myself. What that 15-year-old needed to hear I probably need to hear too.”
She has been performing for her young self for years on a subconscious level. But de la Brown noticed it three years ago after she was hit by a car and had to take nine months off from her regular life to recover. It was while her body was healing that she started talking to and making space to hear her younger selves.
She explains that when she is performing, “I’m talking to the 15-year-old but I’m listening to the 7-year-old. The 7-year-old didn’t need anything—she’d run around in a tutu, happy. I listen to her and I speak to the 15-year-old.” About her accident, de la Brown jokes that she went through the recovery so no one else has to, and summarizes: “You can pause your life at any moment, everything is going to be okay.”
De la Brown first conceived of her recent performance at the Walters as a way to take up space that doesn’t represent her visually, and historically wouldn’t allow her entrance as a Black Latinx woman, but it evolved into a more public-facing “spirit art” which will change with time, letting other people rest and reconnect in public space. Growing up in New York, de la Brown went to Catholic school, which was a magical place for her.
She moved to Baltimore to attend the Baltimore School for the Arts and visited the Walters frequently. In her performance there, she wanted to connect with the women in pain represented on the Gothic Altar in the gallery. “Women are spiritual leaders,” she wanted to remind her audience. “We do connect with things that are bigger… because we’re nurturers in general, people forget that work is being done.”