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 “Shake! – Surviving the System”

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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 “Ekphrasis in Action – An Out-Spoken Masterclass”

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 “Perception, Power and Race in UK Arts”

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.

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Buy The Book Here

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What I came to viscerally comprehend is that this ‘space’ was  destined for generations of freethinking minds exploding with motion and acrobatic innovation. What they do is a science. Skaters only have to look at the layout, the geometrics of a space and in milliseconds calculate the velocity, curve, swerve  and execution of their net trick. How much is deduced by instinct, body memory and a subconscious perception of space by what I can only call a chi energy. Also, it’s not a trick. Its calligraphy on concrete. It’s ephemeral architecture in space. It is timing marked by a musicality in rhythm and movement. It’s about defying gravity and what a skater aka artist says whilst suspended in space. It’s about the love relationship between the heart of a skater, their board and their body in the urbanized landscape.

Space is prey, it’s seredipitous discoveries, found, claimed, converted, transformed, named, given another reason for existing other than the functionality of expressing consumerist ‘progress’. Storytelling takes into account the space it is being made in. It shape shifts to retain and emanate its essence.

The skateboard community received international support. And after 18 months of legal wranglings with the directors of the Southbank, a  brilliant social media campaign, and a scathing but just sense of humor, the campaign was a success.

I was more than happy for them because there has to come a point where demanding headspace to imagine through movement on a board and some ball-bearings historically mimicking the surfing the waves of an expansive ocean with its broad beach pulling up the speediest of waves, I can only imagine  the spirit that needs to exercise its freedom of  expressive movement across distances  in the open air. the  I see how the spaces they occupy are created, needed and in the light of this campaign, even more why they need to be protected.

Finally Surfing On Land:Skateboard history, California

Long Live South Bank Poem

Rollin’ through the decades Rollin’ Through the Decades is a feature length documentary that celebrates skateboarding’s journey from London’s South Bank underneath the Queen Elizabeth Hall, spiritual home of skateboarding since the early seventies.

Long Live Southbank Book

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

In January, fellow poets Sai Murray, Selina Nwulu and I were commissioned to write poetry in response to an event called Weather Fronts exploring the storytelling of climate activism and sustainable futures. The lab-type event hosted by Free Word in Farringdon, London had attracted a healthy number of scientists and writers to see if the line between science and creativity could be further blurred to create more accessibility into conversations about climate change and environmental polemics. Not only was the goal to broaden the audience and de-academicized scientific study of this politically contentious issue,  but to consciously activate creative visions of the future.

What was clear to us three was the under representation of the black and brown voice in the room. This was not a problem directly with regard the intentions of the event organisers, but it spoke to the invisibility of representative diversity in mainstream conversations about climate consciousness and the environmental activism. The irony of this is that the majority of climate and environmental injustices take place south of the equator, in the homelands of First Nation peoples – black and brown folk. Its in their ancestral lands that exploitation and destruction for economic gain, political leverage and mass consumption by “the west” (or more appropriately, the north) is a historical and prevailing fact.

keep-calm-cuz-green-is-the-new-blackThe Others. There is just not enough coverage of climate or environmental activism by black and brown people, except when large corporates are involved and even then they are often positioned as victims. This is, to an important degree, inaccurate. They are not just victims. Part of decolonializing of historical narratives is noting the omission of black and brown folk in resistance. To address the balance we must highlight the rebuilding, restoring and healing of themselves and their homelands during and after decimating exploitation. It could easily be perceived that we are apathetic to climate issues, that environmental activism is for the privileged and ‘white’ who have time and financial resource to save whales, protest outside parliament and flash mob morally bankrupt corporate oil headquarters.

However, eco-activists such as Majora Carter, Ron Finley and Will Allen, make it very clear that black and brown eco-activism intersects with issues heavily nuanced and evidenced as race bais, such as impoverishment through lack of employment, food education and health provision, and civic engagement with urban communities. But focusing on the solution, more importantly, black folk activism is not latent, it is inherently fuelled differently. And racialised ‘difference’ equates to ‘othered’, ranked a lower priority and given less attention. This issue with this ‘othering’ is how their work is labelled or catergorised. Often this work gets called ‘community service’ or ‘community engagement’. What does this subliminally say about the word ‘community’ when associated to black and brown neighbourhoods? That the work that goes on there is less than the big global campaigns against Shell oil or Monsanto. Why is there a disconnect between these black and brown global struggles for eco-justice and equality and those that struggle in the hearts of the inner cities of London or the US?

Thes urban spaces have their champions, Continue reading “‘Othered’ Eco-Activism and a Jacket Potato – a poem”

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

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

Shake! Youth Arts, Race, Media and Power Project 2013 Is Go!

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 Murray and 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.

Click for more on Shake!  info and for details to enrol.
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The UK “Riot” Maze

My own mixed-feelings and thoughts around the UK riots have been just as compelling to me as the multitude of articles, conferences, panel discussions, arts pieces that have been born from them. I have concluded to think about the riots as a sort of “tilling the soil” for  planting seed of re-imagining, using this ‘opportunity’ to be creative in tackling deep seated social and economic issues head on. I had grown tired of hearing the stock responses, shouting down  or the pussy footing that goes on that tends to go  won when race and class become the focus of a conversation.

One thing that I have found annoying me a little is the Image of the guy in the grey tracksuit and  black scarf walking with a mini inferno crackling behind him. I’m not even going to add it to this post. It’s almost a perverse sort of fetishizing and branding…

Two articles caught my attention this week. The Guardian / London School of Economics / Joseph Rowntree Foundation – Reading The Riots Report and the  Neil ‘O Brien of The Telegraph – How the Guardian destroyed the left’s excuses for the riots

I’m still going through the Guardian/LSE report.  Here are the thoughts that Ieft in the comments page of The Telegraphs critique of the Guardian report.

“This is a less a case of misreading the riots but more of balancing representation. For the last three months there has been plenty to-ing and fro-ing between “it was pure criminality” and “its poverty and disaffection”. Both land on the same landing strip – the lack of a Continue reading “The UK “Riot” Maze”

The UK “Riot” Maze

My own mixed-feelings and thoughts around the UK riots have been just as compelling to me as the multitude of articles, conferences, panel discussions, arts pieces that have been born from them. I have concluded to think about the riots as a sort of “tilling the soil” for  planting seed of re-imagining, using this ‘opportunity’ to be creative in tackling deep seated social and economic issues head on. I had grown tired of hearing the stock responses, shouting down  or the pussy footing that goes on that tends to go  won when race and class become the focus of a conversation.

One thing that I have found annoying me a little is the Image of the guy in the grey tracksuit and  black scarf walking with a mini inferno crackling behind him. I’m not even going to add it to this post. It’s almost a perverse sort of fetishizing and branding…

Two articles caught my attention this week. The Guardian / London School of Economics / Joseph Rowntree Foundation – Reading The Riots Report and the  Neil ‘O Brien of The Telegraph – How the Guardian destroyed the left’s excuses for the riots

I’m still going through the Guardian/LSE report.  Here are the thoughts that Ieft in the comments page of The Telegraphs critique of the Guardian report.

“This is a less a case of misreading the riots but more of balancing representation. For the last three months there has been plenty to-ing and fro-ing between “it was pure criminality” and “its poverty and disaffection”. Both land on the same landing strip – the lack of a Continue reading “The UK “Riot” Maze”

The UK “Riot” Maze

My own mixed-feelings and thoughts around the UK riots have been just as compelling to me as the multitude of articles, conferences, panel discussions, arts pieces that have been born from them. I have concluded to think about the riots as a sort of “tilling the soil” for  planting seed of re-imagining, using this ‘opportunity’ to be creative in tackling deep seated social and economic issues head on. I had grown tired of hearing the stock responses, shouting down  or the pussy footing that goes on that tends to go  won when race and class become the focus of a conversation.

One thing that I have found annoying me a little is the Image of the guy in the grey tracksuit and  black scarf walking with a mini inferno crackling behind him. I’m not even going to add it to this post. It’s almost a perverse sort of fetishizing and branding…

Two articles caught my attention this week. The Guardian / London School of Economics / Joseph Rowntree Foundation – Reading The Riots Report and the  Neil ‘O Brien of The Telegraph – How the Guardian destroyed the left’s excuses for the riots

I’m still going through the Guardian/LSE report.  Here are the thoughts that Ieft in the comments page of The Telegraphs critique of the Guardian report.

“This is a less a case of misreading the riots but more of balancing representation. For the last three months there has been plenty to-ing and fro-ing between “it was pure criminality” and “its poverty and disaffection”. Both land on the same landing strip – the lack of a Continue reading “The UK “Riot” Maze”

Writing for England – a Young Black British perspective

Last month I was privileged to work wth Talawa theatre company on a new Young Peoples Theatre production called “I am England” directed by  Nazli Tabatabai-Khatambakhsh.

My role was to engage the `Young People (or YPs) with writing, with the narrative of a new young and black british government being elected when the country finds itself in  complete in govenmental, economic and social crisis. Interestingly enough, the UK riots kicked off in the week leading up to my second session with them. It was a timely piece.

The process was incredible. On day one, many expressed an apprehension around their knowledge of politics, of even feeling like politics wasn’t something that was ‘for’ them, yet they were about to write a piece for performance solely about it. We needed to work fast and intensively. So with a series of strategically placed questions about what they knew to be happening in current affairs that very day, a few newspaper articles and writing exercises, the group were empowered, very vocal and ready to make this production fighting fit to tackle the themes of identity, belonging, power and change with a unique young, Black British experience. I was inspired myself at the energy with which they invested, how committed to finding themselves in the process.

Talawa’s YP theatre is making leaps and bounds in theatre for young voices. Adults, we need to listen up.

A BROTHERS KEEPER – WE MUST STEP BACK IN (in tribute to 13 Young Lives Lost in the New Cross Fire 1981)

Well, it was 14. The last friend who could not bear the loss of so many friends and took his own life.

On Sunday January 18 1981,  a devastating house fire killed 13 young Afri-Caribbeans, during a birthday party in New Cross, southeast London. “Some were shocked by what they perceived as the indifference of the white population, and accused the London Metropolitan Police of covering up the cause, which they suspected was an arson attack motivated by racism; the protests arising out of the fire led to a mobilisation of black political activity. Nobody has ever been charged in relation to the fire.” – Wiki-pedia.

When asked by Rex Obano to perform for this event( Commemorations of the New Cross Fire, The Albany, Jan 14th 2011), the request alone sent chills from the soles of my feet to the top of my head. There is something  about a tragedy of this  sort that stirs the psyche, even without having to know about the colour of the skins of those  who died.  But there comes a strange anger that rises when the colour of skin becomes an issue for blocking the deserved expression of sympathy for the loss of such young life and the grief of the parent who lost their babies in a treacherous fire. Continue reading “A BROTHERS KEEPER – WE MUST STEP BACK IN (in tribute to 13 Young Lives Lost in the New Cross Fire 1981)”

MOHAMMED ALI’s – WRITING ON THE WALL

Com – passion,
latin, com – together, passion – suffering
together we suffer, we suffer together
endeavour to weather
the breadth and the depth of the storm
For long are the nights for the lost, forlorn,
the broken, the tired,  the quietly enraged
lashed by the warring that keeps us engaged
with  anger and misplaced hate, bated by false truths,
Baked to break truce with all that is love, all that is compassion

Unity could drown in oil slick politic rhetoric
quick to commit Unity to the ghetto of gimmick
cuff link it to anarchy for kicks to profit from the sale of
battleship, bombshells, bullets more heavy artillery

An ocean of hands can move a mountain
and rock the cradle of the future for a child unborn, spiritually sworn
we spray prayer on resplendent edifices sprung from the earth
birthed by the song of a billion tongues speaking, singing as one.” – Written by Zena Edwards copyright

I can remember the day that Jonzi D got in touch with me and asked if I was interested in a project that involved a graffiti artist in the warehouse space of the Birmingham Rep. It was going to be  a gritty, guerilla style, performance installation piece hailing the craft of  graffiti with a Muslim perspective. My diary said I was available and I was up for it. I had to see how this idea of live graffiti art, light display with spoken word was going to work. Plus I wanted know  how a Muslim graffiti artist reconciled his faith and his unorthodox craft. Mohamed Ali blew my mind with the sheer scale of this undertaking,  how was he  going to turn a cold, grubby theatre production workshop space into a work of art.

To be working with the power houses of poetry Dreadlock Alien(B’ham) and Amir Suliman (US), along with the strong, distinct direction of  Hip Hop pioneer Jonzi D (London),  was an opportunity for myself, as a female poet toplace the resonance  of feminine energy into the  realm of war, religion and terrorism – political debates of  too usually dominated by men. What also struck me was the plain overt positivity of this event was a going to be.

There will soon be a screening of the film showing the writing/rehearsal process and the performance itself but Mohammed sent me the link to the website taster. I’m looking forward to revisiting the many  moments that were monumental  for many reasons, but notably for what is possible for poetry in unique and fresh contemporary cross art form collaborations.

The feedback on the impact of  the final performance on the audience was moving. The show evidently tackled crucial issues  about society and the perceptions about Muslim faith. As we thought, my presence was particularly appreciated. Women AND men commented on my contribution, not just because of what I did as an artist but purely because I was a woman doing what I do as an artist..

A  young girl in  a full  hijab  showing only her  expressive, bespectacled eyes, came over to me with her mother, who kissed me and hugged me and spoke with a gentle defiance. Her daughter translated. “My mother is so happy for you, so proud that you sang tonight.” It meant a lot.

The event itself was empowering because we as artists were  stripped down to the bare essential of our beliefs around  Love, Peace, Unity. To do that, we had to explore war, hate and prejudice. Even to the degree of fully engaging in the battles that go on within ourselves. (There was no room for ego and fortunately there was none of that amongst us.) We had four days to make this work. We knew it was going to be massive. It couldn’t flop. It had to be brilliant. More than brilliant.

From the film  trailer, I sense  that inner story is told too. We had agreed  to be a part of Mohamed Ali’s gargantuan,  heartfelt vision with a message – chosen because of what and how we do what we do. He had dug deep into his emotions, his memory, using  the stamina of his mental and spiritual willpower to make this project happen – not seeing his family, unable to grieve properly for his father’s recent passing. The physical toll on his body, only he knows – painting 13 – 16  hours in a day to finish in time. His passion and dedication is to be admired and respected.  So our agreement meant complete surrender  for us too. Surrender  to our roles  as modern day storytellers and as artists, and most significantly, to the real meanings of these archaic themes , Love, Peace  and Unity, and what they really mean in this day and age.

GOOD HAIR!! Its a Journey – Woven in Time – A docu-poem on the ongoing drama of Black Women and their hair

Chris Rock’s “Good Hair” docu-film got me thinking about how we black women tackle the hair issue in the UK. Story isn’t much different but a short study last year and review of my personal story, spurred me to share this. So this  extended poem written by me, commissioned by BBC Radio 3, is full of radio interviews in some of London’s black hairdressers with contributions from Dorothea Smartt and Khadijah Ibrahiim. Aired in the summer 2009.
After the advent of Chris Rocks  movie  this poem keeps the debate going in the UK.

The politics of hair affect all women around the globe. We are under constant pressure to beautify and manipulate our outer appearance taking our focus away from engaging and empowering our inner world. The first place we can attack is our hair because it’s accessible and is so malleable. But the world is fickle and making those changes will only put demands on us to reach a next level of perfection that will always be unattainable.

Listen to The Journey  – Woven In Time

The trials for Black women though, is also weighted in our historical confidence in our colour  as well as  to our physiques. Our beauty is tied up in a hierarchy of concepts that start with how we value our African features at the foundation.

We must stop falling into that evil corrosive  trap set for us (and unfortunately maintained by us). The trap rooted in a colonial concept of divide and conquer. We must stop resorting to knee jerk reactions, about good hair bad hair when really, its not about the hair, its about perceptions. It’s how we choose to compartmentalise and label ‘other people’ and their habits just so we can feel comfortable about where we place them in our personal world of “well do I look better than them?/are they more inferior than me because I look better than them?” cliches. Get over it. There’s nothing wrong with you either!

I get so tired of hearing the same old regurgitated ‘relaxed hair’ theories   as if it was tense before it was chemicalized) and weave jokes, when we need to look at  esteem issues first, then you can utter finite statements about the choices we make in adorning ourselves.

Fundamentally, I think Black women playing with their hair is part of our survival tool kit. Any judgments made, is the person who is judging business, not ours. Know thy “SELF”. And DO YOUR THANG LADIES!! x

FIGHTING FOR THE BLACK GOLD OF THE SUN

Ken V shell flyerIt’s been just over a month since I performed at a gig to raise awareness of the injustice done to Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8 other Ogoni activists, by Shell Oil. I had already written a poem for a Tribute anthology called “Dance the Guns to Silence” with the poem, “Baba Wiwa’s Trees”, in 2006. When I was commissioned to write this poem, I learned much about this brave, smiling man Ken Saro-Wiwa and what he was fighting for. Writer, activist and Eco-warrior, he and 8 of his fellow Ogonis stood up, protested and mobilized their people into the international media arena exposing the Nigerian government and Royal Dutch Shell’s (Shell Oil) numerous abuses of Human Rights because the companies pipelines run through the homelands of peoples from the Niger Delta. In doing so, they also revealed a sinister part of the Nigerian governments and Shell oils relationship. For that, they were hung.

To write a poem this time round had more resonance for me because those who were fighting for justice were at the turning point in the campaign against Shell. This needed to be a poem for going into battle. I needed to be armed with as much information as possible. Resaerch, research, research. The desire to pay homage to The Ogoni 9 brought to my attention the issue of the power of Human Rights law and the eroding of it. It might sound slightly incredulous that Human Rights law is almost non-existant in the area of corporate business though most of corporate business profits (into the billions) from the toil of a poverty laden underclass and from the minerals they mine and refine from the One Source- Our Planet. When you live with the security of four solid walls, a full fridge and a flat screen TV in ‘peace time’ (ie not a world war) you don’t have to think about them. But organisations like Amnesty are fighting every day for the rights of us, “human beings”, not just to lives but to have BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS OF EXISTENCE. Sometimes we just have to sit with that concept for a minute – “There, but for the grace of God…” .pipelines

As corporate, criminal and governmental law is constantly changing to protect the money of a few wealthy individuals, the goal posts for human rights keep shifting. Human beings are actually in dire need for laws of protection. Not just remote indegious or aboriginal peoples whose homelands are threatened but ruthless corporate natural resource industries. Civil rights in the west are constantly under threat, being chipped away under our noses while celebrity gossip distracts us from the true issues of concern at hand.
The Ken vs Shell case raises the awareness to that fact – there is no law for Human Rights abuses by corporate businesses. So it has been fine for decades, for Shell oil to pay off the myopic Nigerian government and  its military to “protect” their interests, even if it means everyday Nigerians are losing their lives due to gas flaring, crude oil poisoning the wells, rivers and water way, sickness due to breathing in methane gas. Peoples livelihoods are under ruined as crops are decimated and fresh water fish are dying in the rivers.
Shell called on the Nigerian military to suppress any peaceful protest against the ravaging of the environment.

11_jpg Also, civilians are injured every day as they siphon off oil from fractured pipelines because there is no electricity or other source of energy to power their homes. The situation is dire. Unemployment is as high as 86%, and the moral of the Delta people is so low.

After a long campaign to get Shell in to court Ben Amunwa from Platform’s Remember Saro-Wiwa campaign a verdict brought.

“After 13 years, the Ogoni plaintiffs whose loved ones were killed and injured in the military crackdowns that Shell facilitated in the 1990s, won an out of court settlement of $15.5 million. In every way, this sets a precedent for corporate accountability, and the universal application of human rights.” – a quote from Remember Ken Saro-Wiwa email newsletter.

Click to read Ken’s son, Ken Saro-Wiwa Jnr reaction in The Guardian.
Check the
www.remembersarowiwa.com campaign.

But this is only the beginning. Shell continues to contaminate the Niger Delta with poisonous crude oil and the the press with stories of it concern for environment and climate. With this case, the veil has been lifted.

For Images that inspired the poem click – Curse of the Blackgold

Untitled-1

by Zena Edwards

Ken, there is a photo of a girl
12,13 slim wrists long neck
she walks wearing peach, blue flip flops
stepping with familiarity
over the slippery backs of 8 pipelines
she is at 5
holding an umbrella with a bright yellow shell on it
she seeks protection from a gentle rain falling from an African sky
behind her, between giant palm leaves
dragons roar, bellowing black billows, seething
belligerent belches of acridity in the sky
when I put my ear close to the glossy paper I can hear
her asthmatic breath

each clap of her plastic flip flop against her heel
makes a poem, applaud the poem in her step
it is the sound of everyday people who live between the pipelines, tapeworms
vampiring the placenta, excreting toxic
into the bloodstream of a nation
the rivers are graveyards, the wetlands thirsty for clean breath
the land is haemorraghing
miscarrying cocoyam and vegetable seed

Boys who have given up waiting for jobs to come
Idly eye her as she walks by
A generation numbed by the futility of existence
It is ironic that their most valuable asset is their Achilles heel
As the stagnancy of fervent youth
Dumps them in the hands of AK47 robber gangs
who howl in the night to the tune
Of their masters – myopic madmen in business
Grappling for a fist of flaccid dollars
Greed at the price of a village

1_jpgBut then again, everything has it’s price in this world
Like this girls poetry in her step, her lungs
A fair currency, fat with poisonous air
Her mothers sludge garden, her fathers chest
Face and shoulder, burned in the last accident

The truth is a jealous but patient thing
It brook no hazes of the facts or credibility gaps
There is only one fragrance it will lie with
Time, the scent of time moves from fresh to death, rot to humus fertilisation of new days

It is between the pages of a day in court
That a mystery will be solved
Why it takes twelve long years to walk the twisted violent gauntlet to justice
Why nine lives were thrown into a wound cut with knives of lies

How the spirits of the tortured and the murdered
Can be redeemed from the dispassionate mouth of brutal
greed
And how with the wondrous alchemy of Nature, instead of bitter bile
Rising into the mouths of fishermen and farmers

work songs will rise over the trees
Will dance with the fish along the creeks
Will paint across a sky uninterrupted by fire and towers of black smoke
And how the poem of the girl with the blue flip flops can be fetched
From under the fattened rump of human disregard
(I applaud the poem in her step)

And raised to re-imagine the world
Why she close the umbrella with the yellow shell
And walk in the unpolluted gentle rain falling from an African sky

Written by Zena Edwards (copyright)

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