Pour ma mere
Pour Véronique Kanor
Pour Alice Walker
Pour Amandine Gay
Pour bell hooks
Pour Frantz Fanon
Pour la justice
Pour Arcadia Gallery
Pour ceux qui ne sont plus là
Pour nous tous
credit: Ryan Christopher (Autumn residency)
routes/roots, black synthetic hair, rope, wood 2020
There is power inside this gallery.
Last week a journalist asked me why i decided to be an artist. i first mentioned that i now prefer the term artworker to artist to refer to my practice. i would not ask a (white) producer, educator, postperson why they do what they do. i kept that line of thought to myself, it felt too much of an additional unpaid labour to support this person to reflect on their methodology. i thus added that, the term artworker meets my needs and desires better for it emphasis on labour and better accounts for the variety of roles i undertake in making shit happen. i kept questioning myself after the interview whether the person simply did not know how to engage the conversation with me or whether they were digging for a justification of my practice. A couple of months ago, this injunction to ‘justify’ my practice was made on the local Sitting Rooms of Cultures Facebook group, i only signposted where more information could be found about the artistic intervention and kept silent as further comments piled up.
i feel that a detour to ‘how’ i engage in the arts as an everyday practice calls for a fuller response. i am raising questions, i share unsolicited installations, films, performances, i practice deep-listening, i speak about ethical love – too much, i laugh, drink and eat a lot, i research the work of contemporary Black artists, and lose control on a weekly basis. Thinking about this ‘why’ today (again), i have this short answer: ‘because i am striving to create loving environments’. That is probably the essence of ‘why’ i operate as an artworker.
Carmen Wong and i were contemplating possibilities to be artist-residents of the city of Coventry last Summer inspired by a similar project in Saint Paul in the USA. i am a fruit of my environment, i absorbed, felt, and co-created in the city for a year. My practice is grounded in space and has developed in a shopfront gallery in Coventry, i feel a special connection and accountability towards the city and those who traverse it and me. i would feel a stranger to myself not to share this annotation publicly.
i sat for 3-4 months at the board of Coventry Artspace last Summer, then dived into the series of seasonal residencies that are coming to a term on the 21st of August 2021, with the closure of ‘multiplicity of us’, a 7 afro-descendant artists exhibition. i would like to reflect publicly on how this year brought me joy, frustration, growth, depression, and love. The internet is a public space and i am ready to take up even more space so trigger warning: there are references to suicidal behaviours, depression, difficulties to mother, transitioning, and pessimism over 14 pages.
02:48 still from handle/ with care, prendre/ avec soin film by Jérémie Priam and melissandre varin (Autumn residency)
Practicing transparency, my intention is to engage in an honest conversation with you. i am sharing my own perception of what i have learnt over a year mainly based at Arcadia Gallery in Coventry. i am not sharing everything, but what i felt like sharing during the first week of August 2021. i am using my own words – there is nothing ‘articulated’ to be found nor celebrated here, but a constant reminder: if you want to leave this webpage bab’ – leave. This text emerged from a place of love, and if it means lovingly allowing you to follow your impulse, i am here for that as well. i would like this text to be used as a resource for myself, organisations, beings i am working with, and beyond.
some friends shared this meme from @dekeralachel last week on Instagram. i loved it as a pisces myself so i am twisting its message for this annotation: If I am a lot, i advise you to go read less somewhere else.
This year Ryan Hughes artistic director of Coventry Biennial and Mindy Chillery Coventry Artspace director, gathered resources to support my artistic development. The messy practitioner i am got a 30H, 12 months PAYE contract to self-determine a year of work we wanted to be useful and i wanted to be in relation with Afro diasporic discourses and practices.
Sometimes i laugh when not finding rational vocabulary to express what is my role and what it is not? Last time was when Sophie Clausen joined Coventry Artspace team. It is not that funny, not that dramatic either, but a deep marker of my inconsistency at setting up boundaries. Paving a slippery route to (self)exploit my knowledge, body, and oppressions.
i have dedicated my year to locally investigate the needs and desires of Black artists. when it comes to accessing arts spaces whether it is to make work, exhibit it, or simply to rest.
Sometimes this dedication was about being around at a given time and space. Because i attended a Coventry Artspace team meeting, we imagined offering studio spaces to Black artists at Eaton House, removing the financial barrier. Access to space to create and the opportunity to gather as Black artists while creating is still too rare. 7 artists (Japhet Dinganga, Zoey Sibanda, Taiwo Ajose, Ryan Christopher, Samiir Saunders, and Ayesha Jones) will use the studio in turn, get to know each other and the work of one another before December 2021.
photography credit: Ayesha Jones featuring our respective children Bousebik and Eole (Autumn residency)
Textures of Black, a collective intervention on a white wall with different textures of black. (2020)
Some personal data:
Autumn residency: 3 installations among which 2 site-specific ones, 1 performance, 1 film, 3 public facing events, 1 school talk.
Winter residency: 3 site specific installations,1 performance, 1 zoom event, 1 artist talk, 1 Instagram guided tour.
Spring residency: 1 collaborative growing experiment, 1 collaborative audio piece, 4 under-privileged artist collaborators invited, 1 zoom event, 1 audio conversation, 3 film and performance events, 1 Instagram Guided tour.
Summer residency: 2 installations, 6 afro-descendant artists invited, curation, 1 diner with invitees, 1 poetry film event, 1 opening event, 1 Zoom conversation.
Across residency: 1 film : ‘transition’ – Part 1 premiered during Autumn residency at Arcadia, part 2 premiered during Film Liberation event at Fargo Village part 3 and 4 premiering at Common ground curated by Adele M. Reed on the 28th of August 2021.
photography credit: Mandip Singh Seehra (Autumn residency)
bananas, mangoes, chilli, and avocado decomposed over a month, jars of menstrual blood and water, shea butter, kidney beans, flour, colombo spices, bin bags, rubber teats, plastic bags, plant, jars filled with domestic waste, rusted objects found by Coventry Canal.
i have asked questions, i stopped, i observed, slowed down, felt those interrogations, internally questioned myself 7 times and more before sharing them with you now.
How can we utilise arts spaces, soft protocoles, and trust-building principles to contribute in being in right relationships with one another in the city and beyond?
As a false extravert for whom English is an unmastered colonial language, i observe and speak in key words – as if i were literally sending keys to a code. Interpretations of what i think can be multiple. i would like this text to highlight the dedication of my labour as a temporary artworker based at Arcadia Gallery in front of Argos and behind the market as i repeated over a year. i have been sad, i have made mistakes, but i have done my best and this capitalist-informed impulse to dip into my inner energies left me exhausted within a collective ‘apocalyptic fatigue’ as adrienne maree brown names it. A state informed by the global pandemic we are living under but a symptom of broader alienations to our ecosystems.
‘Our current collective circumstances require us to think about death, grieve, and to consider that everything we have known has to change or come to an end.’
adrienne maree brown, we will not cancel us and other dreams of transformative justice. 2020
photography credit: Mandip Singh Seehra (Winter residency)
Sorry we are close(d), a series of installations to be experienced from the street re-imagined a post-covid-19 afro futurity in the city exploring notions of consumption, closed art venues, and collective grief and healing.
Across my four seasonal residencies, i have ended a 10 year relationship, exploded a suffocating family model, attempted to come to terms with the fact i do not want and cannot be a full time parent, i fell in love, moved house 4 times, stopped living and caring for a dog, got heartbroken, lost friends, gained friends, started therapy, attempted to acknowledge and face my depression and trauma.
As an artist-resident at Arcadia Gallery, i have opened my first solo show just before lockdown number 2, closed it 2 weeks earlier, had a show only accessible from the street during lockdown number 3, facilitated a collective residency with ‘othered’ artists (Roo Kaur Dhissou, Ryan Christopher, Sebastian H-W, and Mandip Singh Seehra), organised a 7 afro-descendant artists show while seriously depressed and i am grateful i survived.
photography credit: Mandip Singh Seehra (Spring residency)
For their Spring residency melissandre varin invited Ryan Christopher, Roo Kaur Dhissou, Sebastian H-W, and Mandip Singh Seehra to intervene on/with the land commonly known as Arcadia Gallery.
Aside i dreamt collectively about a healing (library, art, rest) station Building Our Own Knowledge (B.O.O.K) commissioned by Coventry Biennial, and raised a significant amount of funding for Black artist-residencies and a stellar programmation overseen by working groups (more on that somewhere else). i created the vision for Open Call a digital branch of Studies in Theatre and Performance journal, set up a working group commissioned artists and researchers. i wrote for papaya a transnational series of afrofeminist performances, made things happened for our intervention to be held up high with Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry UK City of Culture Trust, and Coventry Biennial, curated unregulated Black intimacy, commissioned 10 Black feminists to contribute to a film-based conversation, and curated a transnational panel conversation, constellation of Blackness. i have tried my very best to be there for my friends and chosen family. i took some film, sculpture, and writing commissions, did artist talks, facilitated school workshops – did that, been there, all of that.
Sometimes i have properly fucked up, i have drowned, i have literally been ‘there’. It took me too long to communicate about it. The thing is, i sincerely thought i ll be back to it the next day, but 1, 2 months passed by.
It is not important for me to name that out of self-indulgence but rather a translation exercise as i am trying to make you to feel where i am coming from when i say that I am learning how to love under challenging conditions. At time, i did not want to choose life anymore, without dissecting all my trauma in a blogpost. This year sharpened my capacity to love-well as an everyday practice, as labour. Sometimes i could not stand conversations that were not rooted in decolonial feminism, sometimes i showed my cracks during public interventions. i remember asking in the middle of an artist talk ‘what do you want from me? Tell me and i ll give it to you.’. i self-exploited myself not out of desire but only to half meet my material needs and because i did not know any better. And, yes, massively informed by racial capitalism while navigating an extra dose of unknown brought by the current pandemic.
As i pivot out of my seasonal residencies, i cannot but feel fear and relief of having one less job ‘on’, one less source of apologies for delays – less.
photography credit: Mandip Singh Seehra (Spring residency)
Artists and visitors engaged in an experimental community research whose architecture/infrastructure was constantly in process/ in the making. They used what was at hand: each other (including the Earth/soil/ seeds…) and were in turn used as resources.
i wonder what it might feel like to make art, to curate, to live within structures that truly orient towards mutual-aid.
i moved within these jobs without appropriate support structures. This ‘lack’ with the combination of other factors, lead me to self-destructive behaviours. i need childcare and therapy support. i am now contemplating ways to manifest for those needs to be met by organisations and groups i am working with when not provided by the state.
i am not pointing at the organisations, and beings i am working with as i am only able to imagine and act upon those needs thanks to being in relation with them. Their support deeply transformed my existence for the best. Loved ones i am working with, teach me how to show up for myself in order to show up for us as an everyday practice. As a student of love, i start to sense that the limited options i was caging myself within, a year ago, are expansive. i repeat as a mantra that i do not operate under fictitious scarcity, i am multitude.
photography credit: Ayesha Jones (Summer residency)
Who’s gonna clean the mess in/of your garden? black synthetic hair, black ‘natural’ hair, charcoal, 2021, visible and palpable at Arcadia Gallery until the 21st of August 2021.
i ask again, what are the expansive ways to create loving environments in arts spaces to set up right relationship with each other?
Here are some more questions i think of when you see my eyes rolling upwards:
Who’s going to clean the mess in/of your garden?
How do we bring tenderness in?
What dismantling toxic straight/cis masculinity can bring to this conversation?
How can i /we find and use languageS to move beyond individual fear of harming co-workers, partners, collaborators, visitors, to re-directing resources to contribute to (Black) liberation?
How can we work in community towards that?
How can we read each other’s body to fill the gaps of/in translation, to bypass flooded definitions of buzzwords without simply disposing of them?
With multiplicity of us (Loraine Masiya Mponela, Ije, Japhet Dinganga, Gloria Adusu, Ryan Christopher, Ayesha Jones, and i) my role as a broken/breaking artist-curator has been to attempt to hold space for practices, and feelings, tight enough while stepping back from an impulse to ‘finir en beauté’ to produce a grown version of my work: ‘less messy’ instead of polished. i hated myself to use words such as ‘articulated’, ‘polished’, or ‘proper’ the second after they escaped from my mouth. i caught myself trying to fit in (again). This pattern, without entering another 15 pages of ‘get-to-know-me’, is also the dilemma and dissonance that i bring to the table as i am in healing process.
i observe, listen, say incoherent stuff, and i sit with discomfort. Gloria Adusu part of multiplicity of us raised the fact that it is almost impossible for her to invigilate the show as we do not offer childcare support. i stayed silent – twice. i knew. i did not demand enough when having preliminary conversations with Coventry Artspace. Being a parent of a little one myself did not prevent this reproduction of power imbalance. i also think it came from my romanticisation of ‘community’ and what mutual-aid could look like in the gallery. Truth is, i have no desires nor intentions to provide childcare when i am ‘done’ with Eole and i slowly realise that i cannot expect those not caring for others by choice to perform this activity when it is not coming from them. A medium term and pragmatic solution would have been to budget those needs when funding the residencies.
adrienne maree brown writes that ‘we are in the mud together’. With Traces of Others (Spring residency), i feel we could have been if we were all paid for our labour. But, instead, as the only one on contract i cleaned the toilets bought some snacks. But it could not have been enough. i am thinking and practicing Black feminist labour visions inspired by all and bell hooks writing in particular. i am learning.
My intention is not to set a precedent arguing that everyone should display as much or as little as i do after an artistic project but it is rather my own gesture, a bit of who I am, how i communicate, the only way i could think of right now to be honest with you. It is who i am. It is how vulnerable i am. It is the only way i believe we can learn from each other and engage in healthier and right relationships with one another as i am striving to practice decolonial afro-feminism.
i would like to extend my gratitude to local and independent food and drinks providers for the love they filled our bodies with during the residencies: Cogs, Falafel Corner, Tastes of Asia, and Twisted Barrel.
The series of seasonal residencies have been funded by Arts Council England, Outside In, Coventry Artspace and Coventry city council. i give thanks, and annotate that next time i ll budget more.
photography credit: Mandip Singh Seehra (Winter residency)
an offering to new ancestors, canned food, books by Black authors, 2021
when writing this text i was just out of reading/ being transformed we will not cancel us and other dreams of transformative justice by adrienne maree brown, 2020
Here is the text i wrote for the opening of multiplicity of us i was too anxious to read:
i am quite obsessed with theoretical and practical questions pertaining to ways of knowing, transmissibility, within the ruins of what is currently known as an art space. How can we share from different epistemic locations while showing work in the same space?
We bring to the space so much more than ourselves, we open doors, expand imaginary, pay respect to the ones who have paved the ways for us to celebrate our artistry with and beyond one another.
i don’t have the pretension to speak for all of us – i would not be able to. i have for myself, found warmth, frustrations, more questions, pleasure, zones of incomprehension and inspiration being in relation with each and everyone of the artists involved in multiplicity of us.
urgency to slow down –
it takes time to be, to be well, and to love each other. Doesn’t it?
Last week re-reading passages of all about love new visions by bell hooks i stopped:
‘Whether we learn how to love ourselves and others will depend on the presence of a loving environment.’
i am ending my residencies at Arcadia Gallery with a question: how do we create loving environments in art spaces?
i attempted to build soft infrastructures too fast, to envision revolutionary architectures too fast, to make too fast. i have been quite naive.
Truth is that it’s Summer 2021, and we are not quite there yet – and because we know that – let us continue preparing the ground to love each other better.
i have myself offered elements of reflection over the course of a year of deep listening, trans-activating, and partial maintenance of this land.
If anything, i fell in love with this space, i provoked love, i have thought through love, and i got heartbroken – and i loved over and over again.
giving thanks to all of you for your time and energy – i am sending love as always.
And, as i am sharing love, while still learning how to love, i share the 5 book references which stayed with me throughout the year while i was disengaging in getting to know what i was doing here:
Anything We Love Can be Saved and In Search of our Mother’s garden by Alice Walker
Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, Saidiya Hartman
Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks
all about love new visions by bell hooks
Revolutionary Mothering: love on the frontline edited by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, China Martens, and Mai’a Williams • Preface by Loretta J. Ross
credit: Mandip Singh Seehra (Winter residency)
Levitating at the intersection of pain and love melissandre use the current context of a never coming ‘post-Covid 19’ and an ever awaited Afro revolution as starting points. They assemble embodied transitions felt in their flesh, navigating Other’s ways to be in the public space, to (r)evolve as Black/queer, and to process exile (forced and voluntarily) in time of global pandemic.