InspiHERed By spotlights phenomenal women in the Black queer community—everyone from artists to activists. Each week ELIXHER features someone whose personal journey and individual craft inspire us to dream bigger, laugh harder, and love deeper. We caught up with Iman Crutcher, a 26-year-old artistic director and co-founder of Chicago’s Earth Pearl Collective.
ELIXHER: Who is Iman?
IMAN: I am a hyper-active, Leo/Virgo, overachieving, polyamorous, womyn-loving-womyn, risk-taking, walking contradiction, sex-positive, a-little-too-happy-too-often, space cadet, old soul/kid at heart, two-spirited, sun child, that drives life with no hands, eyes closed and mind open, artist.
I am a native of Chattanooga, Tennessee and very proud of it. Everything that I am today is largely because of my sweet southern upbringing. That southern charm has been truly tried as I have bounced around big cities but has kept me very humble.
I have had an exciting stage life performing everything from West African dance to classical ballet and opera to slam poetry. That eventually led me to explore the world behind the scenes directing, choreographing, and producing. I am currently in a Master’s program at Columbia College Chicago for Live and Performing Arts Management.
Even with all of that dedication to the arts, I still have a soft spot for working with youth and have always held jobs as some sort of youth organizer, counselor, teaching artist or mentor. I never saw anyone like myself (queer, black, womyn) growing up and want to make sure I am very visible for the next generation to see and ask questions of and not be ashamed of who they are, what they want, or how they feel.
ELIXHER: What is Earth Pearl Collective?
IMAN: Earth Pearl Collective is an assemblage of cutting edge queer, black womyn dedicated to creating performances and events that enhance and promote the visibility of queer, black womyn. We strive to work with womyn who have expertise in all different fields both artistic and academic.
Now I have to be sure and explain how broad the terms queer, black, and womyn are. Queer includes bisexuals, lesbians, and free spirited individuals who are open to the variety of possibilities of a partner. Black is a word we are trying to reclaim to represent the African Diaspora. Even though right now our collective is made up of all African Americans we are welcoming to other races/ethnicities that acknowledge their African heritage regardless of what their perceived race is. Womyn (with a “y”) is the feminist spelling of the word separating us from our male counterparts at least in name. We include biological, trans, and gender non-conforming womyn, because we understand that gender is fluid and we want to explore all of the different aspects of womynhood in our work.
We produce a monthly variety show that highlights the talents of local queer, black womyn and provide spaces for vendors who cater to us to sell goods at all of our events. This is an initiative we plan on going to other cities to produce as well, to build a network. We also have a monthly book club, group outings, panel discussions, volunteer work, and support other similar orgs in the area by promoting and attending their events. On a larger scale we will be producing relevant plays and concerts for the general public to tell the stories, dismiss the myths, and build awareness about issues affecting our community.
ELIXHER: What inspired you to create the collective?
IMAN: I was not seeing the work I wanted to see in other social justice and arts organizations. None of them felt inclusive enough for me, and I felt like there was one thing or another I had to leave behind in order to feel I was truly a part of them. They weren’t sex-positive enough, or artistic enough, or I had to pick to play with the femmes or the studs, or they just were not telling my story. Though I support all of the wonderful work they do, I wanted to do it my way, and found other womyn who had the same vision, including my two partners Natasha and Katrina.
ELIXHER: Describe what drew you to your particular craft.
IMAN: I have always enjoyed performing and directing. I remember as a kid putting on full circus performances and plays with our friends and presenting them to my parents for the grand finale. It’s just something I did. My mom, dad, and sister are all artists so me singing the entire “Grease” soundtrack with full choreography at the dinner table was applauded more than it was ridiculed. Live performances just feel right. Always have.
ELIXHER: Where do you get your inspiration?
IMAN: Life, pure and simple. I see something every day that inspires me to write a new play, or create a dance concept. I hear conversations on the train that I turn into poetry before I even get to my stop. It’s a non-stop machine of ideas in my head. It’s actually overwhelming sometimes.
ELIXHER: What scares you?
IMAN: Success, funny enough, scares the heebie-jeebies out of me. I am always on a journey to get it, but what happens when I finally do? I keep raising the bar so that I never find out.
ELIXHER: What frees you?
IMAN: Good company. The more I surround myself with people who I can be my complete self around the more free I feel. Earth Pearl helps me realize how freeing that is every day.
ELIXHER: What makes you proud to be a part of the black queer community?
IMAN: We have so many people, ideas, and laws against us, yet we are doing amazing things that not only help our community, but that open the minds of people all over the world. We are icons in theatre, fashion, dance, photography, pretty much every artistic expression there is. I have so many people to look up to and learn from that I feel I have only scratched the surface of what I am able to accomplish without having to feel like I have sold my soul.
ELIXHER: What changes would you like to see in the community?
IMAN: I would like for us to stop putting up arbitrary boundaries for ourselves. Society has put us in a small enough box and I hate that we feel there are so many more we must stuff ourselves into to be accepted by the already marginalized “gay” community. I would like to not be held to traditional heterosexual norms and roles when I am neither heterosexual nor traditional.
ELIXHER: What’s next for Iman and EPC?
IMAN: What’s next for Iman is one and the same with what’s next with Earth Pearl Collective. I want to make EPC my life. We are trying to get fiscally sponsored so that we can start applying for grants for some of the amazing projects we have coming up. The next one specifically is a same-sex domestic violence project where we want to produce Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” with an all black female cast and south side Chicago setting. Eventually I would like us to have several of these multimedia artivism (art+activism) projects in our arsenal to tour on a regular basis.
Lastly we want space. We want space where we can come to read, study, laugh, play, and produce relevant work. Where other queer black companies can call home, rent affordably, and build community. Q-block is the name of this project, a concept brought to me by co-founder of Earth Pearl Collective, Natasha White. When we are all able to come together and put our funds, ideas, and drive together this will become a not so distant reality.