Performance poet based in London. Hackney born. Tottenham bred. Mission: to be immersed in the world.
I have been involved inwriting and performing for 25 years and have completed my one woman show, "Security" in a time of walls, fences, boundaries and high insecurity.
The book of Security is available on Amazon
I'm published in the Ken Saro Wiwa anthology - "Dance the Guns to Silence" and The Apple and Snakes anthology - "Velocity"
I have recorded with artists such as Pops Mohammed, Julie Dexter, Busi Mhlongo and Gumdrop
In February, I was nominated for the Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowship. I can’t deny I would have been really ecstatic to have won the £15,000 award, as well as the have had a multitude of opportunities such an ward in the world of literature affords you. It would to tide me over in the most difficult months of a freelancer’s year,
But during the drought, it was really interesting to be able to blue-sky dream a lot and envision yourself into action.
I have been wanting to conduct oral history work and play with aural engagement with VR, poetry and storytelling. This short trailer evidences it so…
So I dug through my audio archive and smiled at the memories of times I’d spent, working with live poetry, sound scoping and audio. I have come back to it, I have always loved radio dramas and have had a few opportunities over the years to exercise that oral imagination muscle. Here is the sample I sent to the Jerwood Compton Poetry Prize fellowship. (I must say I was very pleased to see a fellow poet and friend Raymond Antrobus as one of the winners. Go Raymond!)
The 5 minute Playlist
1) In Other Words – Zena Edwards and Jamie Woon – a commissioned collaboration for Apples and Snakes Poetry Organisation’s 25th birthday celebration
2) The Deadline – A commission by the BBC radio 4 for the Verse Illustrated Series. A working girl suffers from insomnia because that deadline looms.
3) Bloodlines – Commissioned by Apples And Snakes Poetry Society for BBC radio 3. Twin Sisters are estranged because of family tensions after both their parents die. A trip around Africa hopes to mend their relationship. But no one can predicted how distance and grief cannot override the call of blood ties.
4) The Fury Project – Opening soundscape Commissioned by UK Arts International in Partnership with The British Council South Africa
5) Healing Pool – Zena Edwards and Truba, Randolph Matthews, Henrik Jensen and Mauricio Velez
It was with great pleasure, I collaborated with the brilliant minded Mandana Seydfinnipur to create “Home Speak” as part of the School of Oriental and African Studies ‘Language Festival 2017.’ Seydfinnipur, director of the Department of Ancient and Dying Languages wanted to shake up the SOAS Institution for a moment for International Mother Tongue Day.
In an age of miscommunication and #alternativefacts, it is becoming increasingly important that we have words available us to effectively communicate our experiences and ideas for better human connectivity. Language enables us to communicate our most complex intellectual thoughts and our fundamental human emotions.
So, in partnership with SOAS Spoken Word Society, I ran a workshop which used the arts works of Mary Kuper & Eveling Villa entitled ‘Metaphors We Live By.’ Continue reading “Home Speak@ SOAS – Happy International Mother Tongue Day!”→
The Writery for Freeing Writers
For the past year or so I have been collating tips, techniques and quirky writing prompts to help stay inspired for my writing. When I think about what it means to be a free writer I refer to the writing exercise of free flow, some quality free association –. Imagination is valuable to us. It is crucial for a healthy mind. But sometimes it can get flabby as a muscle, can calcify because it is stuck in one motion of ‘thinking’ (?), Or it might need a prompt to encourage focus because of all the distractions the hectic-ness of life can bring. Sometime we just need little help to ‘free-up’ as creatives.
The prompt, tips, tricks, quotes, images are designed to shine a spotlight in the creative creases of your grey matter, to be dowsing sticks that find that gem of an idea floating in the creative slip stream, to be Frankenstein’s life giving machine, a jolt the heart of the imagination into action.
Its become a healthy collection, so I decided to open up the archive for those who feel they have a creative block at the moment, are a bit bored of their style and want to try something new, or if you just need a kick start. Have a browse and comments and requests are welcome!
Our imaginations have never been so challenged in the 21st Century. Have we ever been as cornered by thoughts of our collective mortality outside the age of enlightenment in relation to the global economic and political climate as we have been over the last 16 years. Science has promised us the GM cures for disease, our continued life on this and other planets as well as bionic bodies, cryogenics freezing and the growing of body partsin petri dishes and on the backs of mice.
But in the race to reach the forever disappearing finish line of immortality, and despite the intricate and omnipotence of the interweb of handsfree communication and connection, we have never been so connected to each other and yet so disconnected. Our Continue reading “Human Code Computer Tongue”→
For the last 6 years I have been involved in Voices That Shake as a writer, poet, project developer and facilitator. Our next course is ‘#SurvivingTheSystem.’Each time we do an intensive, I am invited to write a blog.
Why Surviving the System, Shake!?
So Shake is back!
We have been on hiatus for nearly 8 months and we’re back with a new Shake intensive course. #SurvivingTheSystemtakes a birds eye view of the planet, zooms in and looks at the streets of everyday living and reflects on our lives as individuals. Examining the current and disturbing issues of our time, it seems we are in for a future of more difficulty after an already bleak few decades now. The political shift to the right in favour of big business and property development, with the marketing machine of mass media, many of us find ourselves numb, in shock, and emotionally, mentally and spiritually brutalized. When we look to the institutions and structures meant to be sources of security, we find them to be disrespectful and uncaring. Abusive.
We are coerced and forced to accept cuts to education and healthcare.Gentrificationandimmigration prejudicemanifests as cultural cleansing and violence, post-Brexitwhich clumped migration, immigration inefficiency and refugee status’s into one dangerous xenophobic national security and economic risk. In the west, many young people who see themselves as the future working generations are looking at their parents and forbears asking “ What the hell were you thinking?” post Brexit. The sentiment is rooted in deep disappointment and mourning from the the violent severing from the opportunities of belonging to the European block.
“Legacy” – Writing to make footprints that won’t blow away on the wind
This goes without saying when it comes to the arts.
I have been involved in youth arts (via writing and performance mainly) since 2000 and its youthful voices that re-imagine our worlds, the physical and emotional world, the fighting and resting world, the dying and living world. A world forever in creation.
When we have creativity in our lives we can anticipate wizened voice resonating with plenty stories behind simple words we might hear. When we must practice our creativity (and if you intended to make it a career) why not look to the purpose of why you would want to use the word, spoken or written as a medium to represent you, your life and sense of purpose. Continue reading “Legacy – Step One in Being a Freelance Artist”→
Birmingham with Beatfreeks on Wednesday 27th July.
“How do you find your inspiration for your work?” is the most frequently asked question I get as a writer who performs her work. I can’t deny I am often stumped at the question. I trawl my brain for the one thing but it just doesn’t work like that. I’m only sure of a couple of things though – the world is full of inspiration and my gut and my heart have conversations all the time about the abstracts – love, conflict, relationships, frailty, resilience, environment, discrimination and power. Or that centrifugal spin of a coffee cup falling. That tense exchange through eye contact on busy public transport. A door held open for an Elder. The truth out of the mouth of babes. Continue reading “Verbalisation with BeatFreeks at BRep”→
Looking forward to running this session in a couple of weeks!
Engaging with art should be sensory experience, especially when an image is politically loaded. When we see politically charged images we often get lost in abstract ideas of justice, inequality or discrimination. To be able to transfer a visual image loaded with cultural specificity, to the page in a written form that reflects the image, takes a visceral experience. We must be able to have a moment with a painting, photo where the gut overrides our intellectual processes and poetry enables the viewer to see beyond the abstract.
I consider the poet at essence a social commentator who reframes and re-imagines the world. So, writing in response to controversial contemporary images, artworks and photo-journalism, participants will explore metaphor and codification in visual culture, interrogating mainstream media’s use of image and its role in narrative and culture creation as a consequence. Continue reading “Ekphrasis in Action – Seeing the Word.”→
Take a moment. Sit with that question. Bullet point your conclusions on a piece of paper and ask yourself, “could that change tomorrow?”
Every second of the day we are asked to believe in something. Something nor from us. Particularly as women. Often we are asked to believe in something that is the antithesis of who we are. Our political opinions, how we feel about our bodies and their sensuality is tightly bound in deflated bubble-wrap and tied off with barbed wire. Not much wriggle room without painful consequences. The sexualisation of our bodies and diminishment of our intellect pits us in a batle of unbalanced compromise as nationalism subsumes our multiplicitous gender identities into unachievable and fantasized cultural archtypes. We seek “fraternité” in our friends, neighbours and family, and if we find rejection there, we seek solidarity in online communities, or in magazines “for women”. We look for any space where we may feel accepted, appreciated for who exactly we are regardless of our shape, colour of our skin, or sexual self-identification.
Shake!: What began as a small pilot project has now become a movement of over 100 young people artists, campaigners, activists and community organisers.
Since 2010, the Voices That Shake Youth Arts and Activism Project has been on a incredible journey raising awareness around the true democratizing of power, community rebuilding, well-being and healing justice, creating safe spaces for young socially conscious creativity, and art as a medium for dialogue. The trajectory has brought them to the brilliant point of being the first ever UK delegates to attend the Allied Media Conference (AMC) in Detroit this week.
We only have a few hours, though to make a pitch to you for a little bit of your help.
Please watch this video (mainly because it better hearing about the value of this visit from the young people themselves) and see where your generosity will be a part of helping 8 young people learn new skills in community organising, as well as sharing their knowledge of arts activist work in the UK.
Thank you for your time and Big Thanks for your support
I was invited by Jonzi D, creator of Sadlers Wells’ Breakin’ Convention join a collaboration with Redbridge Drama Centre. The commission was to devise and develop a spoken word and dance piece to tour schools and community centres in the Redbridge area to raise awareness around substance abuse and sexual exploitation in youth culture. The two more often than not come hand-in-hand leaving many young people vulnerable and disoriented. Education is always the key in order to empower young people to make sensible decisions about drug and alcohol consumption and the vibrant youth cultural today.
I initially met with Redbridge Young people Theatre company to discuss what was most important to them when it came to youth culture and tackling social issues such as sex and mind altering substances, and friendship figured as a high priority.
Support networks, loyalty, allegiances and informally adopted “Fam” seemed to be the key element of well-being for young people who knew which risks were rife in their spheres of social engagement. They combat hyper sexualisation, hyper masculinity, cyber bullying and ‘drag culture’ (insistent body and intellect shaming often through social media). In combination with education or employment pressures, family responsibility clashing with personal freedom and development, young people in their teens through to early twenties often fall prey to addictive substances whose potencies are intensified through dangerous concoctions and mixing in order to ‘fit in’ and/or appear cool and current.
I also met with Fusion NELFT – drugs and alcohol service for young people to get a clearer idea of the impact of these substances on the mental health and well-being of young bodies, minds and relationships in many other settings outside of the youth groups. Employment success was low and familiy tensions ran high as the substance drove rifts between users and their family members.
I was also surprised by some of the cultural sub-divisions in the demographics of substance used among young people.Focused on the Redbridge area, stats revealed problematic alcohol consumption was high amongst mainly white males and Asian females. Amongst white females, MDMA and Ketamine were the drug of preference, where as cocaine was of high usage amongst Asian males. All partook of marijuana but it was a predominant amongst African and African-Caribbean groups.
Criminalisation of youth presents very serious issues for young people who often find themselves misrepresented in the media. The negative stigma of drug possession and/or consumption is compounded by gender and race. The sexualisation of young women intensifies with drug use, and with mainstream narratives on rape culture the increased chances of sexual exploitation in exchange for drugs or risky encounters leave them open to sexual disease or molestation. The story was going to be a hard but an interesting challenging one to tell.
“You’re too much, too big, too open, too tall, you’re hands are too big, you’re too conscious, too choosy, too negative, too bold, too brash, too timid, too dark, too skinny, too direct, too sure of yourself, too placated, too self conscious, too doubtful, too strong, too humble, too black girl, too black, too man-ish, too white, too maverick, too unconfident, too emotional, too ambitious, too…too..too….”
These are some of the contradictory descriptions people have felt confident enough to say to me. Too many have a judgement and see nothing wrong in telling me so without a filter.
As a woman of African descent, my very presence and body seems to be an invitation to pull out a censor from the depths of insecurity and, with a flourish of a branding iron, singe my skin and consiousness with their armchair psychoanalytical judgement.
So many mixed message and tags I have had to navigate through the many versions of myself through one life time, many of them said during my formative years, or when I have been most vulnerable, or even feeling confident (a space which is oft times an uphill struggle to reach.)
What these comments do is deny me a safe journey into my full Self as a Woman of African descent. They deny me multi-dimensionality. They have been attempts to diminish and control.
Now I am older my first response is does this person commenting give a shit about me? If not, my second response is mind your own business. If what they say comes from a place of caring, I’ll consider their comment, but even still my *instincts* are my best friend, my North Star. My loved ones – old and new – have evolved into flag raisers asking me to pay attention. “Thanks for the heads up – what you saying instincts?”
But we must take care how we use the words “you should” and “you’re too” because they have the power to derail folk from their paths into fullness.
Each to their own journey.
[Source: Shame. The person who shared this did not name the author with the post.]
I am sharing this Facebook post from a choreographer, artist and brilliant thinker friend from Nigeria. It was the passion behind his words that pulled me to do a quick google search about this New Artists Village space he speaks of. I understand why his fury flames.
“On Saturday, the Artists’ Village at the National Arts Theatre was demolished based on orders from the Director of the National Arts Theatre.
The government’s position is that the Village had become a hive for illegal and illicit activities. The artists on the other side dispute that accusation and claim the government has less than pure motives for their actions including possible commercial use of the space versus the current free art space.”
Collectives of artists create homes that become their sanctuaries, their laboratories, sacred spaces of communing and creating, hubs for innovative and dextrous think-tanking for new worlds through art, pathways of resistance and artistsic bootcamps to decolonise of minds and heal societies are conjured in those homes. The bricks and mortar of these homes hoard memories and songs for the future. They can be gentles spaces. Spaces for fury and tough love when they hold up mirrors to those who oppress the already oppressed in the name of free thought, freedom of expression. Artists are not (and/or should not be) afraid to chastise and be chastised if the integrity of their work has dubiously become a manipulative tool for oppressive, repressive or stagnating status quos. It is rigorous critique that keeps things fresh: let’s keeps it moving. But ultimately, spaces found and nurtured by artists are formidable in their power to inspire and it is those powerful fountain well-springs of inspiration that frighten the status quo.
I have been attempting to vocationally reconcile my love for photography and painting, sketches and imagery with my love of poetic writing and and would be more fitting than to run a masterclass on Ekprhrasis. I’m also in the headspace that art has work to do and I want to see incorporate politically charged with art with writing. Hence, Ekphrasis in Action Poetry challenging metaphors of 21st century visual culture 2016.
The social climate renders pretty much everything political so exploring metaphor in contemporary social, political and cultural visual mediums, how do we as poets use imagery and storytelling to create moments of counter-culture and codify re-imagined culture in our language and poems?
Writing in response to controversial contemporary images, artworks and photo-journalism and through discussion, this session will unpack metaphor and codification in visual culture, interrogating mainstream media narrative in it images and culture creation. The aim is to generate creative writing that is reflective of the poets voice as a social commentator and writer of the century.
(Ekphrasis: Greek:- Ek – Out. Phrasis – Speak. It is a rhetorical device in which one medium of art tries to relate to another medium by defining and describing its essence and form, and in doing so, relate more directly to the audience, through its illuminative liveliness. A descriptive work of prose or poetry, a film, or even a photograph may thus highlight through its rhetorical vividness what is happening, or what is shown in, say, any of the visual arts, and in doing so, may enhance – subvert, reframe – the original art and so take on a life of its own through its brilliant description.) Continue reading “Ekphrasis in Action – An Out-Spoken Masterclass”→
On 25th March 1981, 25,000(!) people of African descent from all over the UK marched through the streets of London (imagine this) on Black Liberation Day as a staggering response to the deaths of 13 young people in who attended a birthday party in New Cross today in 1981.
“MINDING THE PERCEPTION GAP”
– a 9 part video critique and commentary of UK arts and its issues of ‘diversity’ – Case study Exhibit B
I have never embarked on a homespun project like this before. Filmed in my front room over a week with shifting light. As the week went on I became a little obsessed with the content. I had been frustrated and concerned about the hiccups in my artistic vocational trajectory and what my next moves were as an artist in the UK for a while. I felt I had been moving laterally for a few too many years. In fact, in the draft box of my wordpress account I had an edit of a blog post called “Race in the Arts” started in 2012 attempting to articulate my troubled sentiments on being an artist of colour in the UK. Then in 2014 came ‘Exhibit B’ and the #BoycottTheHumanZoo campaign. What I had needed was an aggressive catalyst and the events unfolding around the campaign were certainly that.
(If you don’t know the art installation Exhibit b, take a look at the Video 2, Part 2 – The Set Up below). Continue reading “Perception, Power and Race in UK Arts”→
What does it mean to be an Artist of colour, an artist on African descent in the UK?
Late 2014, I wrote a blog post in response to the South African theatre-maker Brett Bailey at the height of the UK controversy over his piece, ‘Exhibit B’.
A year later, wanting so much to create something around how black and brown artists are censored in many spaces and at many levels in the process of a piece’s inception to its full production, I made an explorative film about the discrepancies and damage being done to the arts in programming an artist like this.
‘Diversity’ and representation are just the tip of the iceberg in the ongoing and stuttering discourse about race and the arts in the UK.
Writer, performance artist, project developer and educator Zena Edwards scratches below the surface to speak about *perception* and its role in the “diversity” conversation in UK arts.
Full video exploration – Wednesday 18th November 2015
When Virtual Migrantswere set to devise a new production, “Continent Chop Chop”, directed by Amanda Huxtable, performance poet, editor, activist and fellow Shake! core team member, Simon Murray asked me on board but in video presence.
“What is CONTINENT CHOP CHOP?
‘Continent Chop Chop’ is a touring transmedia production linking narratives of climate change to the broader issues of poverty, race and social justice. Using interwoven narratives portrayed through music, poetry, and projected imagery, it will ask:
Who controls the narrative of climate change?
What are the connections between climate change and poverty?
How does the wider climate of austerity and scapegoating
of migrants connect with climate change?
And why should anyone care when they don’t have enough to eat?”
I’ve been to enough climate justice and environmental activism events now to notice that pervasive lack of representative diversity. Whatever diversity means. To de-mystify: spotting the person of colour, young people, those dis-abled by society is a sub-conscious action that can only be prevented from becoming normalised if you go in to these events with a mission to make a point about the lack of diversity. It often agitates the room in two ways, a) people embrace it and make all the right noises towards addressing the issue. Or b) people get defensive. (Learned something new just recently – aversion racism)
The Poetic Debaters Project has been quiet for a while, however, the praxis of PDP has been vibrant.
I have been using Poetic Debaters pedagogy to facilitate workshops since the projects pilot launch in the summer of 2014 and Tale of 2 Cities initiative is a prime project for using strategies of truth-seeking and diplomacy to interrogate the pros and cons of gentrification that is rapidly consuming the city of London at a rate that is surprising and outraging many.
Tale of 2 Cities is an initiative produced by Muenda O Kamara from Big Creative Education looking at the fine line between regeneration and gentrification which seems to have evaporated and there are many stories to tell about the contentious transition – jagged cross-fade from one world of local social cohesion to another – corporate and property development profit.
Social media can sometimes be such an aggressive confrontational space we often take our passion to market and trade verbal blows in intellectual or all out slanging match style. But what happens when the subject touches a genuninely raw nerve that so distresses that you feel like an open wound.
This happened when Ceil the Lion, lured from the boundaries of a Zimbabwe national park, was shot, beheaded and skinned by a Detroit dentist. Cecil’s killing appeared to be receiving more of an outpouring of outrage and than the murder of Sandra Bland, #SandraBland, a black woman found dead in a cell after being arrested for a tenuous traffic charge.
Memes were posted timelines and pages lambasting those who, whether black or white seemed to have time to mourn and express more outrage for a lion over a black woman. I had posted on Cecil just the day before.Sandra a couple of posts two or three days before.
More often I ignore self-rigtheous finger wagging and “sheeple” name-calling that masquerades as humorous pokes in the ribs, but this time those memes got under my skin. They were talking about me placing my own life as a sub-creature to a Lion. I had posted regarding the death of this majestic cat as a reflex to the most confusing group of feelings coursing through my body.
2012 and 2013 floored me with death. My Grandmother passed away. 8 months later, my Grandfather passed. Along with 4 men I knew who all took their own lives. One was in their 50’s. 3 of them in their 30’s, early 40’s of which one of them told “Zena makes sure you get your happy and I need you to understand this cos I’m not gonna be around any more next year.”
Grief. And depression – my own and in the context of the suicides of men in their maturing prime. This was the most intense sense of grief I had ever felt. So intense Continue reading “Mind Meandering – Mourning Self”→
Shake! Rides again. As a core member, co-devising, structuring and facilitating Shake Youth Art, Activism and Media project, I decided to get personal in promoting the next intensive course – #FoodFight.
Here is the blog entry for the project’s blog using personal experiences with my vascillating relationship with food.
Thursday, 2 July 2015
Thoughts on Food Fight – Shake Summer Intensive 2015
POEMS, FILM, MUSIC, ART AND ACTIVISM, SHAKE! NEWS, #foodfight, #Shake2015, BLOGGING,
When the team was asked (I volunteered) to write a blog about the war being waged on our food systems for the next Shake Intensive course ‘#FoodFight’, I started to consider my own relationship with food, what I have personally seen with regard to changing attitudes and patterns of behaviour around food, and found that reams of questions poured out of my finger tips as I typed.
2013 and my finances were particularly low post-London 2012 Olympics. If you had not been recruited with some kind of an Olympic themed large scale poetry project or spoken word education initiative, 4 months of your existence in that year was like being left out in the cold with your face pressed against a window while the party raved inside because you weren’t on the guest list. So, in November, broker than I had been for a very long while (2003 and just starting out as a poet), this freelance artist had to be scrupulous with her food shopping. Continue reading “Food Fight – Shake Youth Arts Actvism and Media”→
Recently, I was commissioned by the British Council to interview two poets from South Africa. What was interesting was learning two very different approaches the service of spoken word or poetry in performance can offer the artist and the people who encounter this rich literary form. Mongiwekhaya is a subdued, potent spirit. His quietly considered answers focus on his thoughts about arts and community engagement producing work that is esoteric in its political and social commentary. Thabiso aka Afruakan’s enegry is spark driven to build networks for repurposing and trading the craft for an arts infrastructure to support artists to continue their chosen vocation. Both were very spirited and inspiring skype conversations that ran well over the 30 minutes time we’d put into each of our diaries.
“I was raised by my Grandmother from birth. I spoke with her words and her tongue and walked the streets of Witbank Township. But one day my parents returned from their travels overseas, collected me and took me up into a silver bird, and we, my sisters and I, were laid on a new earth. No one spoke my grandmother’s tongue. The child that spoke with any and everyone, found himself a ghost in a new place. He told himself little stories to remember himself. But eventually he told himself new stories. In English. And was reborn as someone new.” – Mongiwekhaya
Playwright, filmmaker and Royal Court writer Mongi Mthobeni (pen name, Mongiwekhaya) is a hardwired storyteller and the above quote wasthe story he told at the opening question of his interview with Poet and Writer Zena Edwards, when did he know he had chosen his life and career in the performing arts. His natural gift manifests itself today through directing and visual storytelling and his short film project, “Speed of Dark”, reveals a mentoring quality to his creative process when he engages with young artists too.
“Speed of Dark’ is adapted from a dance piece called “Open Happiness”, embracing the wonder South Africans felt about the construction of South Africa’s Underground train – The ‘Gautrain’. I started by introducing the young movement artists to the prolific works of Tom Waits, rich with storytelling. Then introduced them to the theatrical form of the French Buffoon and clowning, the ritualistic shamanic performance of repetition to compound the feeling of awe South African’s felt in a time of economic transition.” Continue reading “Writing Two Poets – Mongiwekhaya & Afruakan”→
Thank you all for the phone calls, notes, emails, tweets and Facebook message of support we have received regarding the racial abuse we were subject to on Monday 25th May, 2015.
On what was supposed to be our break on a Bank Holiday, it was with great shock and much sadness that we were called to work to see a disgusting piece of graffiti scrawled upon our very own walls. It was a disappointment to us to realise that someone could go out of their way to be so disrespectful and to have the gall to express such prejudice in public. There is no place in this community for such prejudice whether race, religion, sexuality…. NONE! London is such a cosmopolitan city, which makes it so special.
What we know and stand by is, that the culprit(s) actions do not represent the general feeling of the Herne Hill community.
We have received so much support from so many that we really and truly feel inspired and hopeful in a situation which frankly left us bewildered, violated and down-heartened. On the very day it happened, we had one very kind neighbour lend us some sheets to cover the obscene language, and since then a stream of well wishers checking that we were OK. We have been inundated with encouraging messages to focus on the good that we are doing, rather than the negativity of the incident. We appreciate your continued support.
To thank you all for your support, we have an open bar on Thursday, 4th June from 1800-2000 – we are putting on some entertainment by inviting the hosts of our comedy and poetry night, to put on an event of fun and laughter.
We look forward to seeing you and THANK YOU again for all your support.
The Dee Dee’s Team”
The above letter is from the owner of a Bar in a well-to-do area of London called Herne Hill. For mainstream media the racist intent of this attack has disappeared down the ‘blackhole’ of invisibility and erasure as most outcries and reports of racism do. Remember, it took almost 20 years for Doreen Lawrence to receive some sort of Justice for the racist murder of her son Stephen Lawrence. And all too often when racism is called out, those on the receiving end ie. the Black and Brown folk, are challenged for calling ‘the race card’ or ‘reverse racism’. This blog post is not the time to go into the depths of this distorted perception and psychology of what racism actually is as, right now, I want to speak about how this bar is symbolic of a complex set of issues that require a level-headedness almost devoid of emotion. Yet to the contrary, this attack seems to be all about rousing angry emotions. Dee Dee’s team have remained dignified and have moved with integrity every step of the way to reach a conclusion in favour of justice and equality.
I did not know of Dee Dee’s until I saw a Brixton Buzz article online about the racist graffiti. I went down there because a friend was performing with her band and to show some solidarity at the same time. When I heard what had happened and a few of the events leading up the graffiti appearing, I was appalled (and hurt for them) and came back the next day to talk to the manager and owner to (maybe) get a few words, documenting yet another incident of racism in a “post” racist UK. They gave me an extended 2 hour interview I thought might last just 30 minutes. And I’m grateful for that, as they had been talking to no press because of other complications around the investigation, trapping them under the threat of “incitement of racial hatred”, the police have told them. I shall explain in later blog. It’s incredulous. So they didn’t have to trust me. I’m a stranger, rocking up with a camera and a recording device.
Since, I have come to appreciate the Love people have for this space and as an artist, I understand the value of space. Gentrification is killing spots like Dee Dee’s. Let that be duly noted. But this is overt and aggressive prejudice. This event adds another sinister edge development programs are not considering. But they should.
There is no obscuring the nastiness of this appalling display of bigotry, not even behind the black paint that now covers it. However, despite this, the media managed to find an angle to deflect attention away from the harm and damage done to a people and their property that did not deserve it, shifting the focus to an initial possible suspect, the police say they are no longer investigating and who I will not give any more air time. Click here to read more. The owner of Dee Dee’s has expressed great concern for his staff – will this happen again? Will it be a physical act upon one of his staff as opposed to property, if there is a next time?. Something does not sit right.
There are conversations on social media you can follow here, also here, and here, about the investigation and the statement by the initial possible suspect in general – police are not pursuing the culprit, an obvious hot lead has not been investigated, Why did a local school headmistress say that the graffiti was a photoshopped fabrication? There are so many unanswered questions I will go into on a later post.
But right now, with an indomitable spirit, Dee Dee’s are opened for business as usual and on Thursday 4th June made a special event of performance and a 2 hour open bar to thank all their supporters. I went. It was heartwarming to see locals and some who hadn’t been before relaxing, enjoying the vibe and speaking out against racism.
Nuff Respect Dee Dee’s. More Power to you.
Listen to testimonials from those who came to support on the day.
Song: ‘She’ written and performed by Sian Roseanna Facebook & Twitter: Sianroseanna
Here we go again
Here we go again having to justify our existence
Here you go again with your colonial irrelevance
White spray on black walls
As if we our skin was still
a canvas upon which to paint your hate
But you underestimate the power we create
with words, with song
And Laughter, a joyful throng
Come together with Love for Unity
that rights a wrong
In the balance of karma
And in the light of knowing
the darkness in which your hate dwells
I wish you well, because as Marley says,
‘Oh, Time alone, Time will tell,
you think you’re in heaven
But you’re living in Hell.”
Last August I was officially jettisoned into the world of community engagement through the arts. I’d already done worked on a project called End of the Rainbow with All Change and Nitro working with families trapped in a refugee loop hole of “no status” where they are not eligible to claim benefit but also not able to work because they do not have legal status.
I also worked with English PEN with a refugee organisation in Oxford on a project touring a publication called Syria Speaks – a collection of stories, poems and illustration in translation as creative responses to the plight of civilians in intensifying Syrian conflict.
Reimagining Arts in Action Program was devised on the work ethic of Theaster Gates because the potency of his work ethic has delivered
After making a successful application to the Arts Council England for the Artist International Development Fund, I prepped myself for what was ahead. I knew this was going to be turning point for me as my desire to explore the expansive of ideas for how arts can serve would be channeled.
While there, my mission reposition me as a community engagement artist.
My intention was to *learn* about the work, documenting the process in what I call a docu-poem. I ended up doing the work. No complaints.
If you’ve heard about the Long Live Southbank campaign, then you’ll know it was 180,000 members and signatories pushing back against the Southbank Centre, a national arts venue, trying to take over a nation treasure to build coffee shops and schmancy restaurants. When I heard about the campaign I got it. As a poet, I got it. The is a true David and Goliath tale of ordinary folk who took on an institution and won. It was a story of a provocation and a resistance movement that last a eventful 17 months.
The Southbank building is an architectural bastion, along the river bank of the Thames is a sight to be hold and is a bastion for music and arts int he UK. It had plans to take over the Undercroft, for over 40 years home to millions of skateboarders, break dancers and poppers graffiti artists, filmmakers, photographers of all generations who took owner of a space explicitly made for the public as an experiment in the 60’s to see what would happen left to the organic nature of creativity.
What I came to viscerally comprehend is that this ‘space’ was destined for generations of freethinking minds exploding with motion and acrobatic innovation. What they do is a science. Skaters only have to look at the layout, the geometrics of a space and in milliseconds calculate the velocity, curve, swerve and execution of their net trick. How much is deduced by instinct, body memory and a subconscious perception of space by what I can only call a chi energy. Also, it’s not a trick. Its calligraphy on concrete. It’s ephemeral architecture in space. It is timing marked by a musicality in rhythm and movement. It’s about defying gravity and what a skater aka artist says whilst suspended in space. It’s about the love relationship between the heart of a skater, their board and their body in the urbanized landscape.
Space is prey, it’s seredipitous discoveries, found, claimed, converted, transformed, named, given another reason for existing other than the functionality of expressing consumerist ‘progress’. Storytelling takes into account the space it is being made in. It shape shifts to retain and emanate its essence.
The skateboard community received international support. And after 18 months of legal wranglings with the directors of the Southbank, a brilliant social media campaign, and a scathing but just sense of humor, the campaign was a success.
I was more than happy for them because there has to come a point where demanding headspace to imagine through movement on a board and some ball-bearings historically mimicking the surfing the waves of an expansive ocean with its broad beach pulling up the speediest of waves, I can only imagine the spirit that needs to exercise its freedom of expressive movement across distances in the open air. the I see how the spaces they occupy are created, needed and in the light of this campaign, even more why they need to be protected.
Finally Surfing On Land:Skateboard history, California
Long Live South Bank Poem
Rollin’ through the decadesRollin’ Through the Decades is a feature length documentary that celebrates skateboarding’s journey from London’s South Bank underneath the Queen Elizabeth Hall, spiritual home of skateboarding since the early seventies.
What started as short blurb with an image for a Facebook post turned into a small project for me – Mind Meanderings.
FB: what’s on your mind? What’s your mood?
Zena Edwards79 strongly believes #CreativityIsLife #Stories:ReflectionsofCreationWeAre
I often go on and on about Storytelling. Because we live by them.
What we speak, what we *tell* each other (and ourselves) is so much reflected in how we exist in the world and interact with each other.
We can change our worlds (THE World) if we change the stories we tell – murmurings that turn into rumors, that turn into gossip, to lethal propaganda;
nudges of encouragement that turn into affirmations, into mantras into #SoulFood manifesting as acts of kindness and Love.
Everyday we have the potential to change something
through the selection of words *we choose* to string together, making
burdensome chains or bright necklaces of stories.
It’s maze construction.
It’s a kind of math.
It’s problem solving or making.
Its myth, magic and awe inspiring.
We are walking books.
It’s the telling of our stories, to ourselves at least,
where we can begin an internal repair, sustain (restrain where necessary) our very Selves when we see ourselves in the mirror of our own words,
in our own truths unsilenced.
And even in our despair we can salvage the hero/ine.
We are walking books.
Read You well. Memorize your favourite parts.
Tell You to another, share a truth no other knows.
Even bullshit has its place. Every story serves.
Its how you respond and retell the story that matters.
Walk good across your pages. Let your stumbles and stammers
Let the author reveal his/her process of creation.
Let the first draft be.
We are walking books, encyclopaedic, epic
Chapters closed (some unfinished, waiting wounds. revisit? edit?)
Brand new pages born everyday…
Ears and eyes like sharpened pencils
Body, fine tuned antennae
This day, parchment paper.
In January, fellow poets Sai Murray, Selina Nwulu and I were commissioned to write poetry in response to an event called Weather Fronts exploring the storytelling of climate activism and sustainable futures. The lab-type event hosted by Free Word in Farringdon, London had attracted a healthy number of scientists and writers to see if the line between science and creativity could be further blurred to create more accessibility into conversations about climate change and environmental polemics. Not only was the goal to broaden the audience and de-academicized scientific study of this politically contentious issue, but to consciously activate creative visions of the future.
What was clear to us three was the under representation of the black and brown voice in the room. This was not a problem directly with regard the intentions of the event organisers, but it spoke to the invisibility of representative diversity in mainstream conversations about climate consciousness and the environmental activism. The irony of this is that the majority of climate and environmental injustices take place south of the equator, in the homelands of First Nation peoples – black and brown folk. Its in their ancestral lands that exploitation and destruction for economic gain, political leverage and mass consumption by “the west” (or more appropriately, the north) is a historical and prevailing fact.
The Others. There is just not enough coverage of climate or environmental activism by black and brown people, except when large corporates are involved and even then they are often positioned as victims. This is, to an important degree, inaccurate. They are not just victims. Part of decolonializing of historical narratives is noting the omission of black and brown folk in resistance. To address the balance we must highlight the rebuilding, restoring and healing of themselves and their homelands during and after decimating exploitation. It could easily be perceived that we are apathetic to climate issues, that environmental activism is for the privileged and ‘white’ who have time and financial resource to save whales, protest outside parliament and flash mob morally bankrupt corporate oil headquarters.
However, eco-activists such as Majora Carter, Ron Finley and Will Allen, make it very clear that black and brown eco-activism intersects with issues heavily nuanced and evidenced as race bais, such as impoverishment through lack of employment, food education and health provision, and civic engagement with urban communities. But focusing on the solution, more importantly, black folk activism is not latent, it is inherently fuelled differently. And racialised ‘difference’ equates to ‘othered’, ranked a lower priority and given less attention. This issue with this ‘othering’ is how their work is labelled or catergorised. Often this work gets called ‘community service’ or ‘community engagement’. What does this subliminally say about the word ‘community’ when associated to black and brown neighbourhoods? That the work that goes on there is less than the big global campaigns against Shell oil or Monsanto. Why is there a disconnect between these black and brown global struggles for eco-justice and equality and those that struggle in the hearts of the inner cities of London or the US?
Shake Youth Arts and Activism project has a new intensive course brewing.
From Monday 16th February, we shall be unpacking one of the most contentious subjects our species confronts: Violence. We will be exploring what makes violence, physical and ideological, an integral part of modern day life.
As a poet I think about the word ‘violence’ as anything that is excessively detrimental and its with this thought that the Shake! team will create a safe space where participants can interrogate the States of Violence that seem to plague the planet. We will question if physical violence is our natural disposition or if it is a nurtured trait. Many are calling for alternatives to fatally destructive and violent deconstruction of current imperialist systems, minimising bloodshed. We will ask is that possible.
We will question the role of violence and the State. What ways are the state violent towards its citizens – the implementation of long working hours with minimal pay, scathing gentrification of culturally diverse and poorer areas with unaffordable housing breaking up communities, the privatisation of the British National Health Service, cuts to education and benefits with biased and convoluted conditions placed upon them, further disenfranchising the less well off.
In an manipulated economy induced climate of uncertainty and fear, mainstream media thrusts incendiary journalism upon poly-cultural societies, encouraging and perpetuate attitudes of xenophobia and sexism, discrimination and judgement. Which parts of the human psyche are provoked to actively violate and abuse the commodified, inferiorized and stigmatised body of the “othered”?
“Césaire demonstrates how colonialism works to “decivilize” the colonizer: torture, violence, race hatred, and immorality constitute a dead weight on the so-called civilized, pulling the master class deeper and deeper into the abyss of barbarism. The instruments of colonial power rely on barbaric, brutal violence and intimidation, and the end result is the degradation of Europe itself.” – Robin D.G Kelly, from the article, “The Poetics of Anticolonialism.”
In the shadow of discourses about institutionalised racism and a sinister growth of the prison industrial complex, millions watched and condemned the deaths of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Mike Brown, unarmed black males, who are among the ‘one killed every 28 hours ‘ by the hand of US police. There were many who deemed US police action as blatantly excessive, while by others, justifiable, because of a pervading fear within the police force of violence being done unto those in service ‘to preserve and protect’. “We just want to get home to our families.” And the law upholds these ‘justified’ deaths throwing in to deep question the integrity of a justice system seen to be the spine of a democracy forced through conflict in other mineral resourced countries across the planet. This is a recurring story across the face of Western civilisation and each power state has devices to ensure that it’s status quo is preserved with a plethora of means and directions of attack on ordinary people.
This is an idea of some of the subjects we will cover in Shake!’s ‘States of Violence’intensive course in February. Participants will also unpack notions of change through non-violence when the systems we live under are founded on virulent colonial and capitalist violence in the name of progress. So does progress and change equate to forms of archaic and technologically enhanced violence? Is the process of deconstruction to reconstruct only a violent one? How do we break cycles of violence and how do we navigate through a seemingly terrifying world maintaining well being?
We will ask all these questions and more, and in their own language, through discussion, film and spoken word poetry, participants will respond to these question to excavate and reflect on the current human proclivity for violence seeking to cleave new paths to living more peacefully and compassionately. Beyond violence.
Written By Zena Edwards
The present modes for dialoguing about race in the arts served a distinct purpose up until the mid nineties but now they are clunky, many are obsolete in their effectiveness. People of colour are interrogating and refreshing their arts practice all the time but receiving fewer opportunities to flex their creative wings on large mainstream platforms proving quality work from the diaspora abounds. As a black woman artist and a consumer of art I belong to a demographic who notices the stinging pattern when a certain ilk of artists get fast passed and supported – the prompt for this post is a white male South African making theatre performances, predominantly using the black body and its stereotypical objectifying tropes. That fact this artist is hailed as South Africa’s ultimate theatre baby is troubling. So I supported the #BoycottExhibitB and #BoycotttheHumanZoo campaigns.
Although this initial letter is addressed to Brett Bailey, it is more a reflection, an analysis and comment on the arts world, highlighting how artist like Bailey and his supporters actually engage with conversations around race and arts practice. I would like this response to be considered a push back, making transparent how (t)his type of dialoguing about race and art is forced upon many black and brown arts makers, and how we receive it. There is a habit of marginalisation in the processing of diverse work that so obviously needs to be broken because negotiations lacking genuine structural and attitudinal shifts for positive change fail to bring about balanced representation in the arts world. And I want to talk about it some more.
Mr Bailey, I do not know you personally but I know some of your work which makes heavy use of the black body as objects for your creative and intellectual expression. I also understand that you have intended to make a piece of work framed within the disturbing actuality of human zoosentitled “Exhibit B”, excavating the dark, twisted annuls of brutal white supremist colonial history in Africa and of Her Diaspora, despite objectifying potentiality and result. In interviews, you have claimed honourable intentions with this piece of work which can be summarised as highlighting and creating dialogue about the atrocities white European colonialists have committed over centuries.
After reading subsequent interviews it is revealed, on multiple levels, your lack of understanding of the deeper subtexts of your creative and directorial choices in Exhibit B – resonances that exist in white privileged blindspots that only experience can authenticate. It would be a huge failing and a brazen display of privilege if you attempted to refute that. And I don’t believe you will. Continue reading “Boycott an Art Exhibit – Race and Art – Open Letters: 1”→
I have been a-brewing a project that I have a deep connection to and I think it’s because it involves all the geeky things that I love to do behind closed doors – reading for research, writing for passion, engagement and education, and devising performance to invigorate and inspire.
It has been a project nearly seven years in the devising, structuring and branding, and so far I have delivered several independent call-out group versions of the project and 2 schools programs.
The original idea for the project was to activate young minds into further engagement with important polemics and equality issues in the world around them, however the model is so flexible, it can adapt to raise awareness for any cause with strong social justice agendas. Ultimately, this is a program about truth-seeking and raising awareness.
PDP is supported by Pop Festival of Stories, English PENand The Poetry Society.
Dylan Caulder from Pop Up is a much valued supporter of PDP as is Joelle Taylor from Slambassadors and Louise Swan from PEN. I really appreciate their energy and vision for it.
As I am gold Arts Award trained, I am ready to deliver a whole progam to schools and education institutes who have the Arts Award as part of their curriculum.
Poetic Debaters excites me as a project because of the potential to reach and empower many young people, providing them labatory-like spaces for exploration and a platform for their voices with a strong poetry and debate strategising regime. Also for them to have fun working as teams, inspiring and enlivening audiences doing something they love, which, in turn, gives them confidence.
Very soon I shall be rolling out a facilitators package of training for PDP. Yet another exciting development in the projects life.
For much more information, visit the THE POETIC DEBATERS PROJECT blog/website and to hear audio of PDP debates in action, read poems from the young people.
It was quite a daunting ask, for me to be on panel speaking about something as abstract as ‘hope’. Even as a poet it is hard to steer clear of cliche´s about olive leaves in the beaks of birds on the wing. All we know is that it is something that can be felt in the body, and that hope can sometimes be made manifest in physical form like a lighthouse or a beacon to give direction when in the dark. There you go. This is what I mean about avoiding the cliche´s…
Ultimately hope requires a type of blindness. Not myopia or blinkers or plunging your head into sand. It requires tunnel vision for a specific thing and committed conviction to that thing. But a long with that you must be propelled toward hope when in certain circumstances there is none.
Taking to the street to protest in many ways leads us to believe that we are all powerful if we are united, only to see some either lose their faith when they look up at the towering enormity of the project of saving the world… Saving the world? Who would volunteer to that challenge when the prospect of death or ruin lurks at every turn. Only an extremely brave person or a stupid person would. I’ve heard
“Who is more the fool, the fool himself or the fool who follows him?”
Who and what do we follow into the future if it is not going to be our blind faith in the power of hope. The horrifying occurrences in Gaza are holding our attention to ransom. Social media is going crazy over the bombing. And so it should, but there is something is seeing direct act like ordinary people protesting by occupying Bristol BBC Gardens to highlight the lack of balanced coverage that makes you feel galvanized, supported, rebooted because you know you are not alone in your voice. Some people would say, “So what? I have a voice. But WHO’S LISTENING!?! No one cares.” Who is no-one? A million people marched against the illegal war in Iraq. “They still went in though innit?” said my regular-folk friend from Tottenham. Here is an example of where hope is thin, where people don’t think about hope, they think just about getting through the day, because the day to day is all that matters. And herein lies the rub. If we only focus on today, how are we going to build a tomorrow? How are we going to do this if we believe Hope and we are powerless.
Now this question aggravates me the most but it can also become the driving force for seeking the answer – Who cares? I do. And I think that is what matters the most. Expressing a care is Hope in action and gives collective caring a chance even if we do not have a conversation about it.
There is always so much unsaid because of fear. How about the unsaid that exists in Hope? We are often scared to declare the things we hope outwardly for fear of setting ourselves up for disappointment and making a mockery of our selves. What we need to think is that in the long run, opinions don’t matter, saving lives do and if that means holding on to tenuous sense of hope that things will be alright in the end, then let that be your soul foundation of your every move in dark times. Darkness itself is nothing to fear, it is the unknown an din the unknown we can find potential. Its about shifting focus. And having faith that faith will provide.
Hope has got to play a part in our healing first and foremost – being allowed to possess Hope, taking your desires or prayers to Hope, preserving the ability to Hope. But what exactly is it though? As much as Hope is a physical sensation (I feel it mostly behind my eyes, strangely enough), to me, Hope has got to be made practical as well. Art has done that for me.
It has allowed me to organize a rather chaotic upbringing into a semblance of order, placing traumas and life saving memories in their rightful places in the past, in the moment or the future and making art was a method to calmly respond and act with Hope in the world.
Hope can catalyze organisation in way that at least make sense to the individual, even if nobody else.
Let it be your crazy Hope. And meditate on it, write it, draw it, collage it, dance it. Let it be the reason why you get out of bed on THAT morning when it seems most futile, even if the
best that can happen is that you make it through that day. Success!
Last Summer, as part of the Battersea Arts Centre Heritage Project, I worked with a group of young women whose creative maturity really inspired me. Given the freedom to use film, paint, mixed media and photography to express themselves, they took basic ideas about the representation and power of girls and women’s voices and ran with it.