Shake! – Surviving the System

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!

artwork by Anni Movsisyan

artwork by Anni Movsisyan

We have been on hiatus for nearly 8 months and we’re back with a new Shake intensive course. #SurvivingTheSystem takes 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. Gentrification and immigration prejudice manifests as cultural cleansing and violence, post-Brexit which 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.

Labour. Violence. Addiction
A person’s labour and livelihood is linked so closely to well being, and such deliberate scare-mongering is shock tactics to confuse, misinform, and in consequence heighten stress levels of every life where mistrust and frustration is a genuine societal problem. Continue reading

Voices That Shake goes to the Allied Media Conference 2016!

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
Zena

Ps: #EveryLittleHelps

Keeping them Alive – 13 Dead, Nothing Said! – The New Cross Fire

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.

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Continue reading

Perception, Power and Race in UK Arts

“MINDING THE PERCEPTION GAP”
– a 9 part video critique and commentary of UK arts and its issues of ‘diversity’ – Case study Exhibit B

 exhobit b posterI 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

Blind Spot – Race and Environmental Activism

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When Virtual Migrants were 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?”

More details of the tour here.

(SCROLL DOWN FOR VIDEO)

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)EJ-word-cloud-black-white-red

As I have been engaging a lot recently with issues of race in places of activism and how systemic racism is so readily overlooked as a manifestation in the room, Continue reading

LLSB – Long Live Southbank

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.

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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 decades Rollin’ 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.

Long Live Southbank Book

‘Othered’ Eco-Activism and a Jacket Potato – a poem

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.

keep-calm-cuz-green-is-the-new-blackThe 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?

Thes urban spaces have their champions, Continue reading

Boycott an Art Exhibit – Race and Art – Open Letters: 1

Race and the Arts.

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.

Open letter:

In response to a ‘report’ written by Brett Bailey entitled “Blood on the Tarmac” (which never got published except on your Facebook page)

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 zoos entitled “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

The Poetic Debaters Project

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Young Poets from the Barbican, SHAKE! and Slambassadors‘ mentees with Sam Berkson, PDP facilitator

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Castleview and Cornelius Vermuyden School with judges 4i2i at Pop Up Festival of Stories in Essex

PDP Ackland Burghley

Acland Burghley School with poet judges  Jasmin Cooray and David Lee Morgan at Pop Up Festival of Stories Swiss Cottage, London

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 PEN and 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.

It has been great to work with fellow Poet Sam Berkson to co-facilitate and deliver PDP. We are also co-collaborators on another project exploring mental well being called, “The Poetry of Madness.”

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.

Watch the PDP Promotion film by Juliette Dalton, 2Dice Productions.

 

~Z~

Spark – Hope in their Hearts

Spark Hope

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 downloadwhat? 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 download-1behind 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!

I am looking forward to the next Shake! -You Arts and Activism intensive course  in August. It is all about mental health and well being. Perfect fertile ground conversations around the point of Hope.

Click the link to the video of my Hope In the Dark Stream of consciousness (with my not so new hair cut – the Lo-fro throwback!) – http://bambuser.com/v/4720016

~Z~