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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Verbalisation with BeatFreeks at BRep

imageBirmingham with Beatfreeks on Wednesday 27th July.

“How do you find your inspiration for your work?” is the most frequently asked question I get as a writer who performs her work. I can’t deny I am often stumped at the question. I trawl my brain for the one thing  but it just doesn’t work like that. I’m only sure of  a couple of things though – the world is full of inspiration and my gut and my heart have conversations all the time about the abstracts – love, conflict, relationships, frailty, resilience, environment, discrimination and power. Or that centrifugal spin of a coffee cup falling. That tense exchange through eye contact on busy  public transport. A door held open for an Elder. The truth out of the mouth of babes. Continue reading “Verbalisation with BeatFreeks at BRep”

What Women Believe – finding our poetry

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What do you believe?

Take a moment. Sit with that question. Bullet point your conclusions on a piece of paper and ask yourself, “could that change tomorrow?”

Every second of the day we are asked to believe in something.  Something nor from us. Particularly as women. Often we are asked to believe in something that is the antithesis of who we are. Our political opinions, how we feel about our bodies and their sensuality is tightly bound in deflated bubble-wrap and tied off with barbed wire. Not much wriggle room without painful consequences. The sexualisation of our  bodies and diminishment of our intellect pits us in a batle of unbalanced compromise as nationalism subsumes our  multiplicitous gender identities into unachievable and fantasized cultural archtypes. We seek “fraternité” in our  friends, neighbours and family,  and if we find rejection there, we seek solidarity in online communities,  or in magazines “for women”. We look for any space where we may feel accepted, appreciated for who exactly we are regardless of our shape, colour of our skin, or sexual self-identification.

And then there is religion: a predominantly global belief in a monolithic male presence speaking from a unilaterally agreed elevated position (with economic and political clout behind him) as the Alpha and Omega of how to “woman “. Continue reading “What Women Believe – finding our poetry”

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

The Voice of Burntwood Girls

Last Summer, as part of the Battersea Arts Centre Heritage Project, I worked with a group of young women whose creative maturity really inspired me.  Given the freedom to use film, paint, mixed media and photography to express themselves, they took basic ideas about the representation and power of girls and women’s voices and ran with it.

I’ll let them speak for themselves…

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”

Britain on Trial – a public debate

The August ‘Youth’ Riots/insurrections was the tilling of a dry and cracked soil. I shall be attending and facilitating creative writing and performance responses at Britain on Trial this weekend. Young Voices Speak out against the way they’ve been MIS-represented in a dynamic event with film, spoken word discussion and debate in a judicial court stylie. COURT IS NOW IN SESSION!

As the re-trial for justice for Stephen Lawrence (Guardian article) begins, we ask “where are we now” through a day of workshops and an evening performance to expose Britain’s injustices.
Concerned about how young people are being treated? Get the feeling that justice is becoming more and more hard to find? That institutional racism is alive and kicking the next generation? Deaths in police custody. Increased surveillance. Fortress Britain. Cuts in education. Protests, ‘riots’ and looting…

Young people from Leeds Young Authors and Shake! alongside community activists, academics, and artists ask what does the present and future hold?

Participate in the discussion. Take part in creative workshops to find another way. Celebrate the struggle against injustice with two landmark films.
Admission is FREE but email platformshake@gmail.com for a place

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)”

SHAKE! – Art and Activism at The Stephen Lawrence Centre

Last week has got to be the most inspiring week of the year for me. Not sure it can be topped.

I was lucky enough to be a part of a pilot project coordinated by the Platform with the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust where 13 young adults under the stress of exam results engaged with  big issues of racism, capitalism and war and unity through film-making, Poetry and DJing. They wrestled with institutionalised racism of the Stephen Lawrence /McPhearson report and the Court case of human rights abuses by Shell Oil, Chevron and  the corruption with in the Nigerian government and turned the outcomes of serious debate into art.

The artists fortunate to be facilitating were DJ Eric Soul from Afrogroov, and Simon Murray from African Writers Abroad, and Ana Tovey from Chocolate Films. The SHAKE!  brainchild belonged to Ben Amunwa and Jane Trowell,  from Rememeber Saro-Wiwa and  Platform. And volunteer, Ed Lewis, brought a calm and focused energy tot he sessions. Jane and Ben were very democratic coordinators giving us the artists a lot of room to lead and shape the the way the week went according to the needs of this dynamic group of young adults. And young ADULTS they are.

It was a truly lively week and enlightening week. Their minds were focused and  fully  engaged  with the art forms and the topics that made me want to go read more  and brush up on my writing skills. The demanded that I up my game asking challenging questions and reaching brilliant conclusions without me. (third wheel comes to mind). However what was wonderful was the feedback they gave which affirmed my role as mentor and facilitator. As the leading artists we primed the ground, and that’s all we’re supposed to do. Till the soil and encourage the shoots to grow.

The SHAKE! blog has some of their poems, written and audio, based on those big themes and the about the relevance of the death of Stephen Larwence who would have been 36 this year. His birthday is the 14th September.

The blog provides insight on how much of an impact projects like this can have on young lives and in a time where the future seems so gloom – no jobs, war and greed etc blah blah…THEY NEED US adults to inject  hope and lightness  in to our ways of being and WE NEED THEM to squash cynicism and rejuvenate positive faith in humanity. They want  and deserve so much more. It was an inspirational time.

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