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Christa Bell has her own method of sexual healing.

"My mom cannot listen to me talk about pussy, and my father thinks I'm going to hell," Christa Bell says.The spoken-word artist is sitting across the table from me at Espresso Vivace, explaining why her parents refuse to attend her shows. The middle-aged white guy sitting next to us glances over, then pretends to be absorbed by the work open on his laptop. Bell doesn't seem to notice—or maybe she just doesn't care."For me, the church, hip-hop, media...they stand for the same thing the Washington Monument stands for: a big-ass phallus," she continues, loudly.Laptop guy has had enough. He shifts uncomfortably in his seat. Even I'm tempted to suggest we take our conversation elsewhere, but she hasn't even gotten to the good stuff.I stumbled upon Bell's work accidentally last December at Hidmo's monthly hip-hop showcase, Ladies First. Unfazed by a modest turnout, Bell took the floor to preview her one-woman show CoochieMagik. What followed was a five-minute-plus manifesto on "pussy," "cum-dumpster," "meat curtains," and "origin of species" titled"1,001 Names for Coochie (and All Names for Coochie Are Holy)."Her performance left the room drunk with empowerment, and I decided to maintain the feeling with a stiff drink. As I waited to catch the bartender's attention, Bell sashayed up to me and smiled warmly. "What's your mama call coochie?" she asked, her tone similar to that of a barista asking if I have a milk preference.My mother is a subdued woman from Yokohama, Japan. She never talks about coochie. Bell nodded understandingly when I explained this to her. Unlikely as it seems, she's familiar with the hush-hush on women's nether regions and sexuality in general.Bell grew up in a family strongly tied to the Southern black Pentecostal Church. Her father was a preacher in West Seattle and demanded she attend church up to six days a week. Other demands: no television, no makeup, no skirts. Bell found her voice during an oppressive upbringing by writing copious amounts in a journal.The budding artist left Seattle after high school to study creative writing at San Francisco State University. After earning her degree and spending some time traveling East Africa, Bell returned here and immersed herself in the local poetry scene. She won Seattle's 2005 Poetry Slam and likely would've taken the national title but for a pesky time penalty. (She exceeded the three-minute limit by 10 seconds).Primarily influenced by black poets and hip-hop rhythmic elements, Bell's sound is a dichotomy: refined like Maya Angelou, but coarse enough for late-night TV. And though she no longer goes to church, it's evident she's a preacher's daughter—some type of message is evident in almost all her work."WordMedicine (Hip-Hop Hates Women)" criticizes the genre for hailing rappers like 2Pac and Biggie (whose lyrics often brutally attack women) as gods. Also on Bell's shit list is the stubbornly popular Nelly, whose tasteless music video for "Tip Drill" depicts him throwing money between dozens of naked women's legs. At one point Nelly grins and swipes a credit card down the crack of a woman's ass."I can't even begin to explain how disgusted I was with that," Bell says. "There is so much history of the black woman's body being commodified and owned by others. That gesture was not only degrading to women, but to [Nelly], because it showed just how little political awareness and analysis he gave to his own culture."When I first started performing, my work focused on my experiences as a black woman, how hip-hop experiences the black woman, and where I fit into all of it. But after a while, I began to feel passive. I got tired of responding to hip-hop. I decided to address what change women could make themselves, and that answer seemed to be to confront the shame and low self-esteem they had toward their own sexuality."CoochieMagik is perhaps best described as a spoken-word musical comedy that addresses misogyny, self-hate, and the politics of sexuality. Having spent close to a year smoothing over any glitches, Bell is set to debut her act throughout the Seattle area and in New York beginning this week. Bell says her core audience will consist of women and "men attached to women." As for Dad, he still objects to dissertations on cum-dumpsters. Mom might be starting to get it."She called me the other day and told me she was eating mapussa," Bell says. "At first I didn't know what to think, but apparently it's a Guatemalan dish. She laughed and said I'm the only one she could ever say that to. I'd say she's slowly coming around."ehobart@seattleweekly.com

 
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