A year of firsts
You get to a point where you perhaps think your firsts are over. But oh no, you can keep having firsts forever! 2017 has been solid proof of that. Side note - I’ve got Run the Jewels playing in my ears and it’s putting the hairs up on the back of the neck as it reminds me of every time I’ve played this shadow boxing or seeing them live with my best bud. I’m also reminded of all the personal moments this year, the non work, human connections and relationship moments that have kept me in this city. The woman who decided to learn to box and have her first fight and not die.The freelancer who got the mortgage. The acceptance of the new relationship with being with me. The letting go of conventions that are often heightened and amplified over Christmas, you know kids and all that.
Right back to the freelance year in review. The Impact Hub in Birmingham feels like a propagator for ideas big or small. Instructions read something like this - 1. Plant your ideas in a warm and friendly environment. 2. Watch and the nurture the ideas as they grow into organisms that connect to other organisms and continue growing like a forest (I really like trees). My own experience of this happened over a 6 week period as I gathered some like minded folk to produce a festival powered by womxn and open to all. TEDxBrum in 2016 was the catalyst for this and after watching brilliant women like Immy Kaur pull together a team and drive this mega festival of ideas it gave me the spark to light the touch paper and get off my butt and put something into the world. P.M.T - Powering the Matriarchy Together was our offering to Birmingham to bring ideas of gender into one space and make it as open as possible. The branding by Byng was something that really shaped this idea and I’m still looking at it and trying not to cry as so many memories were created on that day. I was constantly in awe of the generosity of others to make this a success, including my Mum and her best pal June who came over on the train. Thanks Mum. The day itself was a combination of watching with delight as people changed tyres, covered themselves in body paint and glitter and lifted weights.
Whilst up to my eyes in PMT another event was on the horizon - TEDxSkoll. Immy laid down the creative gauntlet and asked fellow artists Aliyah Hasinah, Shaheen Kasmani and Louise Byng to produce a creative intervention for the day.I was honoured to be included with these women and got my first experience of artistic collaboration. Held in the Sheldonian theatre in Oxford we set about to look at issues relating to truth and produced our first collaborative piece consisting of a zine and a video screen installation at the Bodleian library. I felt a great sense of pride seeing our work on the screen inside the library as this was an institution that may have never considered showing the work we produced. It’s these interventions that give art it’s currency. Not always easy to measure and a way to speak a language that travels across and around privilege. Something I really want to explore in 2018. How can we make art as accessible as possible? A question for the next phase of work.
Woah! it’s not even the summer yet and now for the grandstand main event - my tentative approach to being part of this years TEDxBrum. It started with my usual “ho hum, I think I’d like to do something this year?” followed by Immy’s “What about visual curation?” finished by me saying “Sure”. Behold - I am now a visual curator. I have to say I was terrified by this, but I thought if I can take a punch in the face I can take the pressure of TEDxBrum. Fast forward a few months and there it was, in glorious stereo colour filling the Birmingham Hippodrome theatre. We made a space in the restaurant called the Perspectives Parlour which was home to the launch of Birmingham's first zine library. Makers Alley, a place for makers from the city came to share their goods. The awkward artists cafe featuring artists Kenny Cowle, Laurie Ramsell, Lily Wales, Shaheen Kasmani and Zed Lightheart was born. Awkward referring to shyness and that difficult practice of talking about your work in public.
Many hugs, laughs and ideas were shared in that space and I don’t know if I was tired or deliriously happy at the end, all I know is that it took until the autumn to fully recover, even though part of me is still there and forever changed. In a good way.
In between running around the rag market looking for sparkly table covers I was also dashing to Palm Labs to test print some dura trans for my first involvement in a group touring exhibition No Mans Land at Impressions Gallery Bradford. Which was also sandwiched by a few trips to New York to teach safety training to the media! I need to pause here and try to work out how that really happened? How can I forget sitting in a marquee with 30 women listening intently about dealing with sexual violence and feeling this enormous sense of solidarity with these brave and brilliant female and non binary photographers. One of the most intense but worthy days of the year and a huge thank you to Daniella Zalcman at Women Photograph for inviting me to Photoville to do this and Elisabet from ACOS for sorting it all out. Ok, back to No Mans Land (see what I did there - women photograph to no mans land).
Over the past 4 years the tenacious and brilliant Pippa Oldfield has been working on a project to bring the images of women who photographed during the First World War into public view. She commissioned myself, Chloe Dewe Matthews and Dawn Cole to also feature in this show. From the moment I picked up an essay on Olive Edis which had been shared with me over 6 years ago by pal and leading super star photography curator Hilary Roberts I have been driven to include a reference to her and the style of autochrome in my current portraits of women in the army. Pippa made this happen. She gave me the space to share this and I’m truly grateful for her faith in the work and for me as an artist. If you’d like to see it you can catch us in Bristol cathedral from April. I’ll be hiding behind a light box! Private views always make me want to run away.
And finally….I can’t leave this blog without mentioning one of the most exciting exhibitions I’ve seen this year at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery which featured the co curation of Shaheen Kasmani, Aliyah Hasinah and Sumaya Kassim (read her essay). This is groundbreaking and the first time this museum has attempted to look at it’s colonial collection and start to think about how to decolonise the space. The work is deep and painful. I watched these women take on this challenge and deliver a collection that I encourage you all to see. The Past is Now - the title says it all. The past really is still effecting us now and perhaps art has the answer of how to un earth painful pasts and balance out the telling of history. I remain optimistic.
There is so much more I could waffle on as I'm a sentimental sort. As a sensitive soul everything effects me, but you know it's ok to be this way. Phrases such as 'thick skinned' and 'toughen up' are ok when you're about to step in a boxing ring or head to a front line, but I believe to deal with people you have to be like a prism - transparent at times, deflecting with others, reflecting and breaking down elements that polarise with some. Resilience is a good term for 2017 and I believe in boundaries. So here's to setting a few in 2018 but remembering to keep some things coming in. We have to let things in to keep us working with empathy and love. To much thick skin leaves us like tough little islands working against each other.
Keep having those firsts you beautiful lot.
Happy New Year and lets bring in 2018 with some love and a bit of hope.