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

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Directing “Substance” – A Hip Hop Theatre Dance performance

I was invited by Jonzi D,  creator of Sadlers Wells’ Breakin’ Convention  join a collaboration with Redbridge Drama Centre.  The commission was to devise and develop  a spoken word and dance piece to tour schools and community centres in the Redbridge area to raise awareness around substance abuse and sexual exploitation in youth culture. The two more often than not come hand-in-hand  leaving many young people vulnerable and disoriented. Education is always the key in order to empower young people to make sensible decisions about drug and alcohol consumption and the vibrant youth cultural today.
I initially met with Redbridge Young people Theatre company to discuss what was most important to them when it came to youth culture and tackling social issues such as sex and mind altering substances, and friendship figured as a high priority.
Support networks, loyalty, allegiances and informally adopted “Fam” seemed to be the key element of well-being for young people who knew which risks were rife in their spheres of social engagement. They combat hyper sexualisation, hyper masculinity, cyber bullying and ‘drag culture’ (insistent body and intellect shaming often through social media). In combination with education or employment pressures, family responsibility  clashing with personal freedom and development, young people in their teens through to early twenties often fall prey to addictive substances whose potencies are intensified through dangerous concoctions and mixing in order to ‘fit in’ and/or appear cool and current.
I also met with Fusion NELFT – drugs and alcohol service for young people to get a clearer idea  of the impact of these substances on the mental health and well-being of young bodies, minds and relationships in many other settings outside of the  youth groups. Employment success was low and familiy tensions ran high as the substance drove rifts between users and their family members.
I was also surprised by some of the cultural sub-divisions in the  demographics of substance used among young people.Focused on the Redbridge area, stats revealed problematic alcohol consumption was high amongst mainly white males and Asian females. Amongst white females, MDMA and Ketamine were the drug of preference, where as cocaine was of high usage amongst Asian males. All partook of marijuana but it was a predominant amongst African and African-Caribbean groups.
Criminalisation of youth presents very serious issues for young people who often find themselves misrepresented in the media. The negative stigma of drug possession and/or consumption is compounded by gender and race. The sexualisation of young women intensifies with drug use, and with mainstream narratives on rape culture the increased chances of sexual exploitation in exchange for drugs or risky encounters leave them open to sexual disease or molestation. The story was going to be a hard but an interesting challenging one to tell.

Continue reading “Directing “Substance” – A Hip Hop Theatre Dance performance”

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”

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

Blind Spot – Race and Environmental Activism

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When Virtual Migrants were set to devise a new production, “Continent Chop Chop”, directed by Amanda Huxtable, performance poet, editor, activist and fellow Shake! core team member, Simon Murray asked me on board but in video presence.

“What is CONTINENT CHOP CHOP?

‘Continent Chop Chop’ is a touring transmedia production linking narratives of climate change to the broader issues of poverty, race and social justice. Using interwoven narratives portrayed through music, poetry, and projected imagery, it will ask:

Who controls the narrative of climate change?
What are the connections between climate change and poverty?
How does the wider climate of austerity and scapegoating
of migrants connect with climate change?
And why should anyone care when they don’t have enough to eat?”

More details of the tour here.

(SCROLL DOWN FOR VIDEO)

I’ve been to enough climate justice and environmental activism events now to notice that pervasive lack of representative diversity. Whatever diversity means. To de-mystify: spotting the person of colour, young people, those dis-abled by society is a sub-conscious action that can only be prevented from becoming normalised if you go in to these events with a mission to make a point about the lack of diversity. It often agitates the room in two ways, a) people embrace it and make all the right noises towards addressing the issue. Or b) people get defensive. (Learned something new just recently – aversion racism)EJ-word-cloud-black-white-red

As I have been engaging a lot recently with issues of race in places of activism and how systemic racism is so readily overlooked as a manifestation in the room, Continue reading “Blind Spot – Race and Environmental Activism”

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.

LongLLSB710
Buy The Book Here

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

Womens Corner interview – Vox Africa

Rochelle Ferguson, is an independent producer for Vox Africa and when I received a call from her to appear on her program ‘Women’s Corner’ for a short interview, I was honoured to be part of a weekly happening especially designed to inspire, inform and affirm women. It was such a great interview. I was made to feel at ease and I must say I have a lot respect for Rochelle and her ambition to be successful in the media industry with this much needed and inspiring concept. Thanks for the invite, Rochelle.

TO WATCH MORE WOMEN’S CORNER CLICK HERE

London University – Talk London

I was asked by Dr Monica Germana  to speak at London University on a panel for a series of lectures entitled “21st Century Writing London”, I had to speak about London and its effect on me as a writer. I was in good company:   Oladipo Agboluaje, Inua Ellams, Ben Musgrave and Nina Steiger. I seemed to have found it much easier to be able to interpret the city through a poem that I had written as an introduction to “Security”, my first one woman show. It held all the grit and the contradictions an exciting but daunting metropolis flaunts and hides simultaneously.


Click to go to “SECURITY” blog

What Hope had to say – A review of my Artist-in-Residency for the FemFest, Canada, 2011

Here are a few words from Hope McIntyre, the Artistic Director of Femfest, who took a risk and invited me to come to Winnipeg, Canada, and be artist in residence for FemFest.
It was an honour.

“It was an absolute pleasure having Zena Edwards in Winnipeg for FemFest 2011. Our theme was ‘Staging Inspiration’ and she certainly inspiredaudiences and emerging artists who had the pleasure of coming into contact with her.

Over 100 students at the University of Winnipeg Department of Theatre and Film attended a lecture she presented on her work. The students were engaged throughout the lecture and found it valuable in relation to their future career paths. Hearing about Zena’s journey, they realized that there are other forms of artistic practice besides traditional theatre and
they also learned the importance of experiencing the world they live in. Zena also facilitated Continue reading “What Hope had to say – A review of my Artist-in-Residency for the FemFest, Canada, 2011”

Leaders Of the Old Skool

When Comfort Cydelle of ONIt Promotions invited me to be a part of an event called Leaders of the Old Skool, the first thing I thought was “about time”. Don’t get me wrong. Its not like I’ve been sitting around waiting to be acknowledged. But I was getting a little concerned at the trajectory the spoken word live scene was taking without recognising the graft of those who have gone before to make the scene have the possibilties that is has now.

The spoken word scene has exploded in London over the last 5 years and some of those poets who have gone before us are lost to those who are considered up and coming now. its a dangerous path to tread when you don’t know where you are coming from even when you are pioneering and forging new paths. I myself have to pay homage to Jean Binta Breeze, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lemn Sissay and Dorothea Smartt for paving the way for likes of me as Afri-Cari-british poet, who performs her work and female at that.

Here is an snippet of my performance.

LOVING MY JOB

Bart Scheeman & the NBE

Podium Mozaik is a really cool building. Situated close to the heart of Amsterdam , Maarten Gulickx and the Podium crew champion multi-cultural performance.  The amazing Imani Uzuri is programmed there in March.  Facebook them.
I was invited in September ’10 to celebrate the buildings 5th birthday, and to collaborate and perform with the Nederlands Blazers Ensemble I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went out there but was excited about writing poetry in collaboration with a wind orchestra. What blew me away (‘scuse the pun) was the global diversity in the the music and the inclusiveness of the musical collaboration.

Bart Scheeman is the musical director of NBE and an incredible composer in his own right. As an extremely laid back guy I wondered when the rehearsals were going to launch. I must have underestimated the chilledness of the Holland vibe. Rehearsals were in full flight and it was going over my head on day one. So I chilled and got into some photography, taking pics of the rehearsals. No one seemed to mind. Click images to enlarge them.

Dhroeh Nankoe

There was an interesting moment with a clash of cultures when the timing of Dhroeh Nankoe‘s Indian Sufi composition clashed with a restrictive count of European rhythm. But this is where the beauty occurred. As the rehearsals progressed layers of musical cultural restriction dropped away embracing a new way of being and the magic began to sparkle and spangle about the room.

Rosie Ntjam

The beautifully smooth vocals of Antillian born Izaline Calister sent goose bumps up my spine and the glamourous afro-jazz Congolese funkiness of Rosie Ntjam brought a African feminine vibe to the event that I was proud of.

Vasile Nedea

The  life and soul of rehearsals had to be Vasile Nedea. During performances, his  high energy character amped up filling all corners of the room   as he took us on a vibrant multi-layered musical  journey through the Balkans  playing percussion, accordian and an instrument of his heritage – the Cymbalom. Beautiful…

Haytham

The enchanting compositions for the Middle Eastern instrument called the U’d played with a haunting spirituality by Haytham Safia almost brought tears to my eyes on both shows. We were programmed to play together straight after his solo. Had to swallow those tears back… but this only added to my performance as the emotion behind the piece came from an even more genuine place in my gut.

“The Artist is a Piece I wrote dedicated to all artists on the planet and to the dormant artist within us all. I guess it is an homage to Creativity. Myself, Haytham and Peter Prommel on percussion immersed ourselves in the piece in a way that moved me profoundly, reminding me how much I love my job.

Here is the promo video of the whole event. It was 3 days of  trans-global bliss. (Grin.)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Ju-uUJGkh0

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.

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