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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Legacy – Step One in Being a Freelance Artist

“Legacy” – Writing to make footprints that won’t blow away on the wind

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This goes without saying when it comes to the arts.
I have been involved in youth arts (via writing and performance mainly) since 2000 and its youthful voices that re-imagine our worlds, the physical and emotional world, the fighting and resting world, the dying and living world. A world forever in creation.
When we have creativity in our lives we can anticipate wizened voice resonating with plenty stories behind simple words we might hear. When we must practice our creativity (and if you intended to make it a career) why not look to the purpose of why you would want to use the word, spoken or written as a medium to represent you, your life and sense of purpose. Continue reading “Legacy – Step One in Being a Freelance Artist”

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”

Food Fight – Shake Youth Arts Actvism and Media

Shake! Rides again. As a core member, co-devising, structuring and facilitating Shake Youth Art, Activism and Media project, I decided to get personal in promoting the next intensive course – #FoodFight.

Here is the blog entry for the project’s blog using personal experiences with my vascillating relationship with food.

Thursday, 2 July 2015
Thoughts on Food Fight – Shake Summer Intensive 2015
POEMS, FILM, MUSIC, ART AND ACTIVISM, SHAKE! NEWS, #foodfight, #Shake2015, BLOGGING,

When the team was asked (I volunteered) to write a blog about the war being waged on our food systems for the next Shake Intensive course ‘#FoodFight’, I started to consider my own relationship with food, what I have personally seen with regard to changing attitudes and patterns of behaviour around food, and found that reams of questions poured out of my finger tips as I typed.
2013 and my finances were particularly low post-London 2012 Olympics. imageIf you had not been recruited with some kind of an Olympic themed large scale poetry project or spoken word education initiative, 4 months of your existence in that year was like being left out in the cold with your face pressed against a window while the party raved inside because you weren’t on the guest list. So, in November, broker than I had been for a very long while (2003 and just starting out as a poet), this freelance artist had to be scrupulous with her food shopping. Continue reading “Food Fight – Shake Youth Arts Actvism and Media”

Writing Two Poets – Mongiwekhaya & Afruakan

Recently, I was commissioned by the British Council to interview two poets from South Africa. What was interesting was learning two very different approaches the service of spoken word or poetry in performance can offer the artist and the people who encounter this rich literary form. Mongiwekhaya is a subdued, potent spirit. His quietly considered answers focus on his thoughts about arts and community engagement producing work that is esoteric in its political and social commentary. Thabiso aka Afruakan’s enegry is spark driven to build networks for repurposing and trading the craft for an arts infrastructure to support artists to continue their chosen vocation. Both were very spirited and inspiring skype conversations that ran well over the 30 minutes time we’d put into each of our diaries.

   Mongiwekhaya

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 “I was raised by my Grandmother from birth. I spoke with her words and her tongue and walked the streets of Witbank Township. But one day my parents returned from their travels overseas, collected me and took me up into a silver bird, and we, my sisters and I, were laid on a new earth. No one spoke my grandmother’s tongue. The child that spoke with any and everyone, found himself a ghost in a new place. He told himself little stories to remember himself. But eventually he told himself new stories. In English. And was reborn as someone new.”Mongiwekhaya

Playwright, filmmaker and Royal Court writer Mongi Mthobeni (pen name, Mongiwekhaya) is a hardwired storyteller and the above quote wasthe story he told at the opening question of his interview with Poet and Writer Zena Edwards, when did he know he had chosen his life and career in the performing arts. His natural gift manifests itself today through directing and visual storytelling and his short film project, “Speed of Dark”, reveals a mentoring quality to his creative process when he engages with young artists too.

“Speed of Dark’ is adapted from a dance piece called “Open Happiness”, embracing the wonder South Africans felt about the construction of South Africa’s Underground train – The ‘Gautrain’. I started by introducing the young movement artists to the prolific works of Tom Waits, rich with storytelling. Then introduced them to the theatrical form of the French Buffoon and clowning, the ritualistic shamanic performance of repetition to compound the feeling of awe South African’s felt in a time of economic transition.” Continue reading “Writing Two Poets – Mongiwekhaya & Afruakan”

Dee Dee’s. Pt 1

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

“Hello Everyone

Thank you all for the phone calls, notes, emails, tweets and Facebook message of support we have received regarding the racial abuse we were subject to on Monday 25th May, 2015.

On what was supposed to be our break on a Bank Holiday, it was with great shock and much sadness that we were called to work to see a disgusting piece of graffiti scrawled upon our very own walls. It was a disappointment to us to realise that someone could go out of their way to be so disrespectful and to have the gall to express such prejudice in public. There is no place in this community for such prejudice whether race, religion, sexuality…. NONE! London is such a cosmopolitan city, which makes it so special.

What we know and stand by is, that the culprit(s) actions do not represent the general feeling of the Herne Hill community.

We have received so much support from so many that we really and truly feel inspired and hopeful in a situation which frankly left us bewildered, violated and down-heartened. On the very day it happened, we had one very kind neighbour lend us some sheets to cover the obscene language, and since then a stream of well wishers checking that we were OK. We have been inundated with encouraging messages to focus on the good that we are doing, rather than the negativity of the incident. We appreciate your continued support.

To thank you all for your support, we have an open bar on Thursday, 4th June from 1800-2000 – we are putting on some entertainment by inviting the hosts of our comedy and poetry night, to put on an event of fun and laughter.

We look forward to seeing you and THANK YOU again for all your support.

The Dee Dee’s Team”

The above letter is from the owner of a Bar in a well-to-do area of London called Herne Hill. For mainstream media the racist intent of this attack has disappeared down the ‘blackhole’ of invisibility and erasure as most outcries and reports of racism do. Remember, it took almost 20 years for Doreen Lawrence to receive some sort of Justice for the racist murder of her son Stephen Lawrence. And all too often when racism is called out, those on the receiving end ie. the Black and Brown folk, are challenged for calling ‘the race card’ or ‘reverse racism’. This blog post is not the time to go into the depths of this distorted perception and psychology of what racism actually is as, right now, I want to speak about how this bar is symbolic of a complex set of issues that require a level-headedness almost devoid of emotion. Yet to the contrary,  this attack seems to be all about rousing angry emotions. Dee Dee’s team have remained dignified and have moved with integrity every step of the way to reach a conclusion in favour of justice and equality.

I did not know of Dee Dee’s until I saw a  Brixton Buzz article online about the racist graffiti. I went down there because a friend was performing with her band and to show some solidarity at the same time. When I heard what had happened  and a few of the events leading up the graffiti appearing, I was appalled (and hurt for them) and came back the next day to talk to the manager and owner to (maybe)  get a few words, documenting yet another incident of racism in a “post” racist UK. They gave me an extended 2 hour  interview I thought might last just  30 minutes. And I’m grateful for that, as they had been talking to no press because of other complications around the investigation, trapping them under the threat of “incitement of racial hatred”, the police have told them. I shall explain in later blog. It’s incredulous.  So they didn’t have to trust me. I’m a stranger, rocking up with a camera and a recording device.

Since, I have come to appreciate the Love people have for this space and as an artist, I understand the value of space. Gentrification is killing spots like Dee Dee’s. Let that be duly noted. But this is overt and aggressive prejudice. This event adds another sinister edge development programs are not considering. But they should.

There is no obscuring the nastiness of this appalling display of bigotry, not even behind the black paint that now covers it. However, despite this, the media managed to find an angle to deflect attention away from the harm and damage done to a people and their property that did not deserve it, shifting the focus to an initial possible suspect, the police say they are no longer investigating and who I will not give any more air time. Click here to read more. The owner of Dee Dee’s has expressed great concern for his staff – will this happen again? Will it be a physical act upon one of his staff as opposed to property, if there is a next time?. Something does not sit right.

There are conversations on social media you can follow here, also  here, and here, about the investigation and the statement by the initial possible suspect in general – police are not pursuing the culprit, an obvious hot lead has not been investigated, Why did a local school headmistress say that the graffiti was a photoshopped fabrication? There are so many unanswered questions I will go into on a later post.

But right now, with an indomitable spirit, Dee Dee’s are opened for business as usual and on Thursday 4th June made a special event of performance and a 2 hour open bar  to thank all their supporters. I went. It was heartwarming to see locals and some who hadn’t been before relaxing, enjoying the vibe and speaking out against racism.

Nuff Respect Dee Dee’s. More Power to you.

Listen to testimonials from those who came to support on the day. 
Song: ‘She’ written and performed by Sian Roseanna Facebook & Twitter: Sianroseanna

Here we go again
Here we go again having to justify our existence
Here you go again with your colonial irrelevance
White spray on black walls
As if we our skin was still
a canvas upon which to paint your hate
But you underestimate the power we create
with words, with song
And Laughter, a joyful throng
Come together with Love for Unity
that rights a wrong
In the balance of karma

And in the light of knowing
the darkness in which your hate dwells
I wish you well, because as Marley says,
‘Oh, Time alone, Time will tell,
you think you’re in heaven
But you’re living in Hell.”

Peace.
~Z~

Re-Imagining Arts in Action Program

Last August I was officially jettisoned into the world of community engagement through the arts. I’d already done worked on a project called End of the Rainbow with All Change and Nitro working with families trapped in a refugee loop hole of “no status” where they are not eligible to claim benefit but also not able to work because they do not have legal status.

I also worked with English PEN with a refugee organisation in Oxford on a project touring a publication called Syria Speaks – a collection of stories, poems and illustration in translation as creative responses to the plight of civilians in intensifying Syrian conflict.

Reimagining Arts in Action Program was devised on the work ethic of Theaster Gates because the potency of his work ethic has delivered
After making a successful application to the Arts Council England for the Artist International Development Fund, I prepped myself for what was ahead. I knew this was going to be turning point for me as my desire to explore the expansive of ideas for how arts can serve would be channeled.
While there, my mission reposition me as a community engagement artist.

My intention was to *learn* about the work, documenting the process in what I call a docu-poem. I ended up doing the work. No complaints.

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

69th and Dorchester
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Dorchester’s Cats
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Poem – Prequel. Meet the interns
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Jet Lagged
Eric Metal Man.
Eric- built for Cirque de Soleil, is now Theaster’s Metal Man
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Play Streets – Community engagement through play
Meeting the residents of Dorchester
Meeting the residents of Dorchester
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General Exquisite Exchange Economy – Trade without money
Meet Chris - Steward for 69th and Dorchester
Meet Chris – Steward for 69th and Dorchester

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

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)”

BREAKIN’ CONVENTION

m_7b928e1b48b00a3777efceab358ee452Yesterday it was all about the power moves and the sweat pants and hairspray. I have never seen so many mad hair do’s stuck to foreheads, flying off every which-a-way. Then there was the ants-in-yer-pants massive, jiggling bodies in tank tops or heavy cotton sweats. So many budding young dancers itching in their seats to up rock, body wave, head spin, you name it they’ve contorted their bodies to do it. Bass bin speakers in Sadlers wells were working hard, Makes me feel old. Not that told but old enough. Ken Swift’s 7 Gems made me relax. Old skool moves by b-boys and b-girls who just had hip hop in their bones and it flowed out of them effortless. Loved them. The highlight was a rendition of Korean military dictatorship history, told with humour, sensitivity, and some badass body popping and break dance. They made the big finale with the girls screaming and the boy woofing. If you haven’t been to Jonzi D’s Breakin’ Convention then you need to get there. Website address FYI – http://www.breakinconvention.com/

Peace and Jollof

*~Z~*

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