Xochilt Ramirez (left) and Zaynab Mohammed collaborated with a drummer, a guitarist and a filmmaker to produce Beneath the Surface, an artistic response to the Cold War Bunker at Touchstones Nelson. The two women share a pandemic bubble, hence the lack of physical distancing in the photo. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Xochilt Ramirez (left) and Zaynab Mohammed collaborated with a drummer, a guitarist and a filmmaker to produce Beneath the Surface, an artistic response to the Cold War Bunker at Touchstones Nelson. The two women share a pandemic bubble, hence the lack of physical distancing in the photo. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Nelson performance responds to Cold War Bunker

Beneath the Surface, by Zaynab Mohammed and Xochilt Ramirez, will be launched online March 24

Two Nelson artists are tying the past to the present with a unique video response to the Cold War Bunker located at Touchstones Nelson museum.

Last year, Touchstones asked writer and poet Zaynab Mohammed to create a performance piece inspired by the bunker.

Mohammed visited the bunker, started writing a poem about it, then asked Xochilt Ramirez, also a writer, to collaborate with her.

“Zaynab wrote the poem,” Ramirez says, “and then she said, ‘Why don’t you dance with me for this’ and I was like, ‘Oh, wonderful, except it is a very long poem, and I’m not a professional dancer.’”

But she agreed anyway. They continued to develop the poem and included acting as well as dancing. But for the dance they needed music.

“And so Zaynab came out with the brilliant idea inviting Shayna,” Ramirez said.

Now they had voice and dance with Shayna Jones playing cajón, a box-shaped hand-drum.

Then they decided they needed a flamenco guitar to go with the cajón, Mohammed says, because “flamenco is music for freedom and liberation,” so they recruited Jesse Pineiro.

It was becoming clear that the original idea of performing the piece live for an audience in the bunker would be another victim of the pandemic, so they brought in filmmaker Carlo Alcos.

That is the crew that created the film Beneath the Surface, premiering online on March 24.

The Cold War Bunker, located under the Nelson post office, is one of more than 50 such secret structures build across the country in the early 1960s. The idea was that in the event of nuclear war, community leaders could escape nuclear fallout by retreating to the bunker and living there until it was safe to emerge.

The Nelson bunker has recently been restored and opened to the public by Touchstones Museum.

The first time they visited the bunker, Ramirez found it “creepy. I don’t like being in there.”

Mohammed says she found the bunker relevant “because I lived in a country (Lebanon) where there was a war and people would go down to the bunkers when the bombs would go off, or would go down to the lower floor.”

Ramirez says the bunker was built out of fear of a Russian bomb, “but now we’re scared of something else. And there is always something to be scared of. And the population just keeps living in fear.”

And who will be protected first, from whatever we are afraid of at the moment? The white men who are in power, just like in 1964, she says.

“That’s who the bunker was built for. So it is a metaphor. It’s a dance of meaning.”

For Mohammed there is further significance.

“It was a dream come true, because I got to work with all people of colour. I haven’t had that opportunity, ever. And so having Xochilt and having Shayna and Carlo and Jesse, it was refreshing. It was really refreshing. And it felt like a door just opened for what’s possible and how other voices could be represented in more unique and different ways.”

Beneath the Surface will be launched online by Touchstones on March 24 at 7 p.m., followed by a Q&A with the artists, on Facebook Live.

Related: Take cover! Cold War bunker opens to public in Nelson


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