It is now two days before my four vinyl panels, filled with personal herstories, existential wonderings, theological thoughts and emotional content have to be taken to Leeds Museum and carefully applied to The Broderick Suite Doors on the second floor.
The aim of Love Arts Festival is to celebrate creativity and mental well-being in Leeds and begins on the 4th October ending on the 13th. With events and exhibitions in various places around Leeds it is easy to squeeze a picture viewing into a lunch break or watch a performance after work with a couple of friends. After all, we all need to look after and support our mental health.
The events diary and exhibitions listings can be found on http://www.loveartsleeds.co.uk and for the Leeds Museum have a look at http://www.loveartsleeds.co.uk/leeds-city-museum-group-exhibition
Along with the practicals, such as Sharpies, vinyl, a long-long table, a cup of peppermint tea and space in your head to think, an artist requires support and resources that understand where you are coming from, the cost of bravery, and why, in some way or another, you have to speak out against injustice – even when it is not happening to you specifically.
For this particular project my home grown resources are, like my ancestry, varied and sometimes contradictory. One poem that I have recently come across is John Agard’s Checking Out Me History.
What struck me at first was the way in which Agard pinpoints some of the ways that our education system is exclusive, subjective and retells history from the perspective of white, privileged male perspectives:
Dem tell me
Dem tell me
Wha dem want to tell me
Bandage up me eye with me own history
Blind me to me own identity
Dem tell me bout 1066 and all dat
dem tell me bout Dick Whittington and he cat
But Toussaint L’Ouverture
no dem never tell me bout dat
As a youth I was hauled by my arm to the front of a science class and paraded around the teacher’s desk as an example of human-monkey ancestry. I will never forget the bewilderment I felt as the teacher explained how black people were not quite human; nearer to the apes than to man (sic). I was sent back to my seat but, with every step I took, a great rage began to develop in my chest and it remains for this was not a one-off episode.
But let us think, what if the class was taught about Mary Seattle in Biology, Toussaint Louverture in history, and Paul Gilroy in sociology, Patience Agbabi and Linton Kwesi Johnson in English, I would have been provided with tools and a map to plot out my replies to bullies and racists attacks. As Agard says:
Toussaint a slave
battalion and first Black
Toussaint de thorn
to de French
Toussaint de beacon of de Haitian Revolution
Instead all I was equipped with was ‘turn the other check’ and an enthusastic class discussion about daffodils and clouds and some dreary waffle about a cursed albatross and of course some bloke called Stig who lived in a dump.
If you want to hear John Agard perform Checking Out Me History then click on the following link: https://www.bbc.com/bitesize/clips/z7fjmp3
I am very good with deadlines and yes, I was one of those people who would have their work ready with usually a week to spare, but not anymore. And so it was that I suddenly realised I had two weeks to draw my exhibition pieces. Don’t get me wrong, I have done nothing but think about and experience the issues I raise in my work: detachment, confrontation, confusion, abandonment, loneliness as well as dealing with the everyday experiences of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, and misogyny. Listening to people reiterating stereotypes again and again is exhausting. But the one that gets under my skin is racism. Since I was born, it has covered me and others like a swaddling cloth and soon becomes a pernicious vine whose sole purpose is to down-press, belittle and to stranglehold hope, the very thing that moves us to be better human beings.
At times like these I turn to my own personal collection of proverbs, sayings of my Jamaican Granddad and Granma, of the smells of freshly cut red, green and yellow pepper, of bun, yam and other parts of Jamaican cooking; of laughter, hugs and back clapping, of a glass of Guinness and a drop of rum followed by deep sighs and of worn hands, of coco butter and adult talk in coded language – all part of learning to be canny in a world that doesn’t want you. I turn to old time caribbean sayings, of the poetry of black British and mixed heritage poets and to the sublime music of Miles Davis, Burning Spear and Nina Simone.
My favourite one at the moment is from Angela Y Davis:
“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I can not accept.”
So women, who previously had inhabited a richly filled space of an A4 canvas were now striding onto a stage that they was so big it makes you feel small. Thighs wider than your own are populated with vines, sometimes strangling sometimes supporting. Nor did I think about what to do when a Sharpie pens run out half way through shading a breast or an earlobe. After all, the earlobe is now the size of a fist not a five pence piece.