Human Code Computer Tongue (HCCT) took a second run around the conversation of Artificial Intelligence and Creativity.
In February 2017, a collective of poets and tech heads came together for HCCT to explore what the future of AI in creative spaces means for humanity.
An open call-out to linguistic code developers and poetic creative writers who were serious about technology invited them to explore the futuristic potential technology will continue to have on the process of creative writing and creating art. It was a risk using poetry to explore the bigger themes of AI’s impact on our lives and the world, as it is such a niche case study. It could trap the language in impersonality, devoid of emotional nuance, and stuck in the left brain workings of linguistics. This would omit the crucial conversation of AI’s impact on our imagination, the muscle of human creative innovation.
On the contrary, the discussion we passionate and layered. Technology reveals our evolution. It exposes the frontiers of consciousness we can command and conquer. Big talk. AI’s grip on our imaginations and our realities will always involve big talk. It ignites excitement, yet emboldens dissent as mobile devices enhance our commercial lifestyles of convenience, information sharing, daring social interaction, nefarious activity and testing the temperature of the political climate. Continue reading “HCCT:Rmx – Human Code Computer Tongue: Remix”→
A Verse in Dialog & Apples and Snakes production in collaboration with University College London:
Human Code Computer Tongue: Remix – the relationship between human and artificial creativity and consciousness
In an evening of spoken word poetry and lively debate, we will revisit and expand upon themes raised by participants of the HCCT:Rmx masterclass in October. After passionate discussions about the first robot to be granted Saudi Arabian citizenship, (almost) award-winning AI novelists, chat-bots banned for bigotry on social media, and child sexbot slaves being apprehended by customs at British airports, participants experienced what it is to be part of a neural network machine to create spoken word poetry.
Is artificial creativity fundamentally different from that of humans? Can we even tell the difference? Is there an intended meaning in the writings of machines? The audience can be the judge in a poetry slam between humans and machines.
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”→
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.
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.]
“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)
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”→
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.”
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”→
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.
I have been working on this incredible youth project for the last four years. Shake! is Platform London’s youth initiative which happen twice a year as a February school’s half-term and August Summer holidays intensive course. They take 6 months to devise with themes I would have been frightened of as teenager, more concerned with fashion and hair and whether I was going to make enough money at my holiday job to get the freshest garms to rock on my return to college.
THIS type of project (post UK Summer insurrections 2011) is more important than ever and from 17th-21st February, I was again immersed in the politically inquisitive and emotional world of 16 young people who believe they can change the world with the poetic word and film.The process of devising this particular Shake course was perhaps the most befuddling because the themes were MASSIVE – Remembering, Re-Imagining and Reparations.
I wrote a blog about it and writing it was crucial to my process of grounding me in the themes for this year. I needn’t have fretted. The Young People delivered, as usual.
Here is the blog post.
“Zena’s Thoughts on the Three R’s- Remembering, Re-imagining, Reparations
This will be my fourth time as a Shake! facilitator and the third time as core team intensive 5-day course deviser.Shake! 1: The pilot “Arts Race and Power” course honoured the lives of aspiring architect and London youth Stephen Lawrence, and the eco-activist and Nigerian Ogoni Tribesman writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and used their stories as case studies to interrogate the themes
Shake! 2 – The “Voice Verse Power” course analysed media representation, political definitions of race and power to estabilish, validate and give a platform for the voice of the marginalised and stigmatised.Shake! 3: focused on the themes of and “Power, Perceptions, Propaganda”.Now we’re going in deep – Remembering, Re-imagining, Reparations. This the title of the next course and it is going to be one of our most challenging courses to devise for the themes are so broad, complex and could potentially take us down a worm hole of new age theory and idealistic visions of Utopia. Continue reading “SHAKE! Youth Art and Activism – My Thought on the 3 R’s”→
So, we made it through 2013 in pretty much one piece. Now, to continue the quest to thriving.
As I’m a freelance, self managing artist, I need to have work strategies in place for the fractious haggling of time and energy between the needs of the artist-self and the independent arts business manager/agent-self (she’s a stubborn-jawed entreprenuer <- what the personality my artist-self needs – an innovative somebody who is fearless and on her side in the business realm). Sometimes a cold war exists between them though, nothing gets done and procrastination wins the battle. Some days I am in the negotiating room for 8 hours just to survive another day, diplomacy sweating and hoarse at the table. Continue reading “Parenting the Artist. Giving the Artist’s Manager a Break”→
2013. This highlight has got to be highlight of the year so far – a 6 date tour with Hugh Masekela and Larry Willis.David Jones of the London Jazz Festival production company Serious, invited me to be support Masekela and Mr Wilis as part of a Women Make Music PRS fund. After I’d accepted, I realised that for the last 3 years I had been working hard as project deviser, coordinator and facilitator, predominantly for youth projects, though I did a little directing and mentoring for Write-Meet-Read Collective, who were producing their first anthology of Women writings- “Ink on my Lips” – in Brighton. I’d only had the odd poetry performance invite throughout the year. I got a little nervous…. But I decided to rise to the challenge, dust off my kora (she hadn’t been played in about 5 years – shame), write some new work, revisit some poems that hadn’t seen the light of day and curate a set based on the theme of “The Melody of the Poetry of Us.”
I was recently asked to be guest of the month for The PRS Foundationbecause my last commission was funded by the Women Make Music Award. Why is it important for these kinds of initiatives with pots of money to exist highlights the fact, that the imbalance in the representation of women in the music industry is very real. Its funds like this that give opportunities to artist musicians, like myself, spread our wings, to make journeys into the obscured treasure of their voices and then to put those stories and voices out into the world to inspire and galvanize others. These awards shift the imbalance so that audiences can have more choices about what they want to hear and have enrich their lives.
Gotta give a big shout out too Women Make Music!
So so moved and honoured to be a part of this line-up. Voices like Jayne’s returned my voice to me through their works – the one that permits me to be the Artist and Woman and Human of African descent I am wholly meant to be.
The voice that permits me to raise it from the swampy depths of marginalisation to a valid place in world history. I cannot thank enough Jayne, Sonia Sanchez, bell hooks, Maya Continue reading “Tribute to Jayne Cortez & a Poem”→
March of this year, I was invited by Drake Musicto explore a collaborative experience with a group of artists from Graeae Theatre. Both organisations are dedicated to the breaking down of barriers and challenging preconceptions of artists with disabilities.
After a couple of meetings with John Kelly, my collaborative musician partner and composer of the music for the Paralympics opening ceremony 2012, we decided on an idea for a pretty cool commission based on the concept of tunes, lyrics, compositions – “music that has changed your life”, personally, politically and socially.
When Apples and Snakes Poetry Organisation invited me to run a masterclass session of the writer/performer relationship, I was excited about flexing this muscle again after some time. What was meant to be a two hour sesssion turned in to four hour of exchange. Directors gained a deeper insight on how to listen to the needs and vision of the writer. Writer-performers learned how to engage more deeply with the creative process of the director, while both worked together empowered the performer inside the writer. At the focus was honouring the potency of the story. It was most enjoyable. And the fact that the session ran two hours over the designated time, the group reaffirmed the value of this a dialogue around this layered and fruitful relationship. Performing poets, writer-actors and directors keep an eye out for this course over the next few months. Coming to a venue near you.
Click for more info on WPD
I have been a core project consultant and deviser of Platform London’s Youth Project, ‘Shake!’, and finally the time has come for it’s delivery. Shake! has been in development since it’s pilot 2010 and successfully received two years funding thanks to the hard work of Jane Trowell at Platform. I spent a day with the rest of the Shake! team creating the courses curriculum.
I have to say, I’m very excited about delivering this program. Lot’s of interactive learning through creative writing, film making online graphic design…and it’s brilliant that in such hard times, so much can be offered for free. We have a great team – Ed Lewis (Demand the Impossible), Farzana Khan, Simon Murrayand Derek Richards from Hi8us Films South. Plus the Platform London team who are offering all kinds of support, information, research and delivery tips that are invaluable. It’s going to be an amazing year for Shake!
The first Shake! intensive course is free and runs from 18th February – 22nd Feb. The continuity workshops and mentoring through to Shake’s summer intensive course. Dates to be confirmed.
I have stayed away from Facebook over the last few months because it had nothing for me. Don’t get me wrong, I still love my true friends on there and have love for acquaintances, and I like to stay in the loop about the vibrant city I live in called London. But my own purpose as an artist and thinking person seemed to be open to constant interrogation. Not troll-age (made up word) or criticism but a unpicking of my intentions. I like to think I don’t take these things too seriously but it was wearing on my nerves more than anything. FB used to be place I could go to for debate and info-tussles, intellectual horn-locking and splurges of frivolous merriment. It now seems to be a place where FBers can exercise their anxiety at the paradigm shift the planet is going through. I watched people become more conservative and bigoted. Those who were normally outspoken become more timid, posting flowers and fluffy inspirational quotes that are from others and not from themselves anymore. I’ve also observed others step up their game with more defiant, revolutionary quotes. Its a fascinating, ongoing. The UK summer insurrections 2011 illuminated the beginning of this tide turning, for us in the Britain anyway, and was a sure marker that the Con-Dem governments austerity measures had kicked in and people were starting to wriggle in the tight squeeze they’d been cornered into. Everyone.
As a poet who is used to standing behind a mic, manipulating my voice and being a little physically animated, I took the plunge to write a full length one woman show. The difference between the focus needed for a 10-20 minute set at a spoken word night and an hour and ten minute theatre piece are two completely different things. The transition was an intense process. The energy to fill a theatre stage or blackbox studio space is not the same AT ALL as maintaining attention in busy bar. I discovered that mental and physical stamina is a major issue. Also having an outside eye is crucial because as a poet, I can write and poetise for days but where is the story going? Are the characters clear? Does the narrative make sense? I needed a director. But matching a director to a performing poet was not going to be easy. I met and workshopped with 4!
I’d spoken to a few of my peer poets friends and they informed that they too had found the process difficult. Poets can be internal people, conjuring worlds in their heads that they translate into the word. Dancers will dance. Painters paint and sculptors sculpt. But how do poets who want to turn their imaginary worlds into extended performance pieces communicate them to a director? And how does a director receive and translate that information in rehearsal to the full performance? With further investigation I worked out that a bridge of communication of ideas needed to be worked out. There’s a dynamic 3 Way relationship between the writer, the performer and the director that can become a tangle of objectives if the lines of communication are not established early in on in the rehearsal period.
Back in 2007, theatre director Anthony Shrubsall and I were brought together by sheer fate – a friend of a friend of a friend…. I had been looking for a director for my debut one woman show, “Security”, for 6 months and had developed it with the help of producer, Talita Moffatt and director Mike Kirchner to a level that was great, but I felt the journey for the show was not quite unfinished. I knew that the decision to have a stage set (endorsed by me) was obscuring some valuable exploration of myself as a performer and stunting the growth of the rich characters in the script. The show was written in monologue, spoken word, song and movement and set in a cafe. With tables and chairs to manoeuvre around, the flow of the action on stage felt stilted and my line delivery was good but inside, felt stuttered. I needed a fresh approach.
Since I saw this horrifying raw piece of footage, I have pulled out all my music, novels and poetry collections to remind me of why SA is still a life changing place to visit.
My personal connection to South Africa is linked to something ethereal. I think. South Africa was my first visit to the African Continent in October 1994, just after the abolition of Apartheid and inauguration of Mandela. My returns since have been connected to the most important thing that has influenced me as a human being and that is the country’s passion of Creativity – turning the Struggle, concepts of Freedom and Liberation into breath-taking Art, Music and Theatre and Dance. I will always be grateful to Pops Mohamed, Busi Mhlongo, Moses Molelekwa, Madala Kunene, Bheki Mseleku, the Xhosa Singers of Lady Frere, Dizu Plaatjies, Kheti, Thandiswa, Zim Ngqawana, and Vusi Khumalo for the music they have given me.
Recently, I was asked by the Kassiani Lythrangomitis from the South African Tourist Board for an interview about my life as an artist and my relationship to SA. Below is the podcast.
In 1998, I was on tour with Pops Mohamed and the NGQOKO Women’s Cultural Group of Lady Frere – from the Ngqoko Village in the Eastern Cape. This choir is one of the last practitioners of the Umngqokolo (overtone) singing – an ambient trance song that made my hair stand on end, stirring the spirit in my very bones. I remember our tour to Zurich, Germany, Paris…. My mind was so alert as I was taught how to play Umgube (mouthbow) and some of their deep-rooted traditional songs whilst riding the tour bus. These Women knew how to party. One prominent memory of this tour was shopping in Paris. Parisiens stared as they walked through the chilly moist streets near Monmartre in layers of blankets, beads and headwraps and I was flipping mental somersaults speaking in broken french to market vendors translating their utterances into my even more scanty Xhosa to help the ladies get the right sized clothing for their children. But it worked. My brain was so alert. It was a time and tour I will never forget.
Here is Singing the Praises of Women – a poetic and song collaboration with The Lady Frere Singers, live in Geneva.
One of the other highlights of my SA connections in poetry and music was recording with the late, great Busi Mhlongo – one of the most powerful women I have met. She was a giant on stage. In 2000, still very early in my poetry writing career, I was lucky enough to be asked to contribute a poem to her internationally acclaimed album, Urbanzulu.
The track itself is epic and seemed to call for an epic poem – one that was declamatory and rousing.