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

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

“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

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~

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.

image LLSB poem image image image image image

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

States of Violence – Shake 16th Feb 2015

Shake Youth Arts and Activism project has a new intensive course brewing.

shake-flyer-620x443From 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

Source:  http://platformlondon.org/2015/01/14/shake-takes-on-statesofviolence/#sthash.BORLrNxi.dpuf

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

SHAKE! Youth Art and Activism – My Thought on the 3 R’s

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.
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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