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

Mind Meandering #6 – Happy International Women’s Month

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Be your own bright dawn
and your own bronzing dusk
Love your own onyx shadow
and bunished ivory tusk
Be the steady hand that holds
the quaking other

Be the found one to the life you lost
Be the open door when hurt closed
the heart in your chest

Learn to love the very body that no-one else will trust

And by any means necessary, keep all your parts in synchronicity
Do what you must
Do what you must
Do what you must
Zena Edwards©image

Inspired by photoshoot by Kwaku Alston with Janelle Monet for Essence Magazine May 2013 Issue

Ekphrasis in Action – An Out-Spoken Masterclass

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.

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(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

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 – Trailer

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

Writing Two Poets – Mongiwekhaya & Afruakan

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.

   Mongiwekhaya

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 “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

Dee Dee’s. Pt 1

London. 2015. Yes, you are seeing right. 11295658_10155689774675037_5699919975633556062_n

“Hello Everyone

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.”

Peace.
~Z~

Re-Imagining Arts in Action Program

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.

Click on the image to go to the RAAP blog post.

69th and Dorchester

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Dorchester’s Cats

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Poem – Prequel. Meet the interns

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Jet Lagged

Eric Metal Man.

Eric- built for Cirque de Soleil, is now Theaster’s Metal Man

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Play Streets – Community engagement through play

Meeting the residents of Dorchester

Meeting the residents of Dorchester

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General Exquisite Exchange Economy – Trade without money

Meet Chris - Steward for 69th and Dorchester

Meet Chris – Steward for 69th and Dorchester

Go to the Re-imagining Arts in Action Program blog.

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