I set myself the task of touching the Hinterlands commission every day for the next 100 days from the beginning of July. And on the whole, I have succeeded so far in this task. Day 23 of July and I’ll be honest, this commission is filling my waking and sleeping hours, as I agonise over how to bring my ideas and concepts to fruition. How to communicate what I think, or feel or see to others. How to make that connection of understanding, empathy and solidarity when exploring the Black woman’s body with/in nature.
This is not an easy task. And I think I’ve made the task more difficult for myself by trying to incorporate multiple and diverse art form into the brief. It’s that same old story, that fear of never getting another chance like this so I have to say everything I’ve ever wanted to say on the subject all at once to make sure I get my message across. That I use this opportunity to it’s limits as this might be my only shot, my only slot, my only opportunity to speak and shine.
Of course this is not based on fantasy. This is based on fact. Did you know that just 2,000 artworks in the UK’s permanent art collections are by Black artists – most of which aren’t on display?
And even though over the last couple of years, there has been more visibility and opportunities for Black and People of Colour artists to be part of the British art scene/establishment, for example with Sonia Boyce winning the top prize, the Golden Lion as she became the first Black female artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale. This is still a rarity and not the norm.
We are still operating in a highly racist, discriminatory system. FACT. I can continue to keep chipping away at this. And I will. But …
For here and now, I think it comes down to confidence and belief in what I’m doing. To silence the outside noise. Ignore the internal critic and just do it. Do the things I want to do and move on.
At the end of these 100 days, I’ll have a collection of items, products, creations that I will then pull together into a whole. Into saying something about something.
We will have to wait and see. But I’m enjoying the process.
This week saw me meeting with one of the curators of the Hinterlands exhibition to talk about my commission. If I’m being honest, I was and wasn’t looking forward to meeting. I felt as if I was no further forward than the last time we talked. I felt as if I had nothing to show for my research, reading and thinking.
As it happened, the meeting turned out to be really productive and inspiring and encouraging as I appreciated the time and space to talk through my thoughts and ideas. To think about the concepts and themes and logistics with someone else is a valuable resource I’d forgotten about or taken for granted. So I was super grateful to come out of the meeting, not so much everything pinned down, but more of an idea of the next step.
My next best step, which really is all I should be focusing on as a means of not allowing this commission to run away from me is to take my forthcoming residency at Cornwall Zine Library @ Fish Factory Arts as an opportunity to gain some clarity and produce a project proposal that will communicate my vision to others.
That is my next step, a big one, but a really exciting one as once I have it pinned down what I want to do, I can start executing it to the best of my ability.
When Petrified Trees Stand Up and March Into the Sea
I carve out solitude to wander wide open shores
sanddunes, pebbles and wooden limbs
Submerged a forest of trees so tall they flowed above the clouds
what we cannot control, we destroy and call it progress.
We advance like the tide to claim what we have no right to claim
concrete blocks, seaweed and dead seals, emerge from frothy waves and marram grass.
unseasonal storms uproot ancient trees while manmade concrete lines remain in tact in place in defence
here a legion of foreign bodies marched to expand an empire, build a wall then leave it to moss.
Bizzing dragonflies, shrubs of wax mirtle and the coconut vanilla scent of golden gorse
Some day soon all this will be gone,
gorse, grass, concrete wall,
washed away like blood as the sea returns to the source,
returns to where it belongs.
There’s a small hamlet, Low Hauxley nestled behind sand dunes along a long and quiet stretch of sandy beach on the Northumberland coast. Here along the high tide line stumps of an ancient forest are visible.
It is believed the stumps were preserved by peat and sand and are believed to date back to more than 7000 years and are the remains of Doggerland- an area of bogs, marches and forest that connected the British Isles to mainland Europe.
Archaeologists have also uncovered animal footprints and it is believed red deer, wild boar and brown bears would have roamed ancient Doggerland forest.
These petrified trees. This really blew my mind.
My name is Dr. Sheree Mack. I’m Creatrix : she who makes.
My practice manifests through poetry, storytelling, image and the unfolding histories of black people. I engage audiences around black women’s voices and bodies, black feminism, grief and healing, nature, identity and memory.
I advocate for black women’s voices, facilitating national and international creative workshops and retreats in the landscape, encouraging and supporting women on their journey of remembrance back to their bodies and authentic selves. This journey is supported and recognised by Mother Nature.
I’m the founder of Earth Sea Love, which is a social enterprise, offering opportunities to People of the Global Majority living in the north east of England to develop a deeper connection with/in nature.
The Earth Sea Love Podcast has developed out of these experiences and aims to change the narrative around who has a right to have a relationship with nature. I’ve recently been writer in residence for Northumberland National Park Authority. A black-led nature project I will add. At the moment I’m Creatrix in Residence for Hadrian’s Wall part of the 1900 years festival.
My Practice is a Healing Practice.
The Practice of ::SLOW:: is how I engage with my work and the world. Living within White Supremacy Culture, we are indoctrinated into certain principles and practices which benefit the few rather than the many.
Leaving aside racism and the systematic destruction of Black, brown and indigenous peoples, White Supremacy Culture, perpetuates the pursuit of perfectionism, product over process, and quantity over quality, to name but a few.
This means that the majority of us live our lives at speed, with a greater sense of urgency, with feelings of never being or doing enough, resulting in reduced contact to ourselves, our intuition and inner wisdom.
Slowing down supports me on my journey back to self and ultimately self-love and healing. Being and walking with/in nature teaches me how to slowdown and pay attention and just be.
Nature shows me that there is an abundance rather than a scarcity. It is through these practices that I fell in love with nature.
Nature and I are connected. We are one, therefore falling in love with nature, I fell in love with myself. This in turn means I turn up in life, in connection with others not only as a better version of myself but in a better place to offer love to other people.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect about this event or what I was going to share. But on reflection now, I’m so glad that I was invited to take part because I learned so much about peatlands within the UK, around the world and the special place they hold within the global climate crisis.
So much of my language around nature and the environment has been formed through white supremacy culture which has been biased on colonialism and imperialism and capitalist consumption. And of which I am at great pains now to unlearn and find a new language or it is just a re-memory of the language of my ancestors where there is no separation between us and nature.
Something that was raised last night by Khairani Barokka, which was totally new to my knowledge and way of thinking was that within indigenous communities gender was much more fluid and diverse. The binary system of male and female/ he and she which we take as a given now, as the norm, is a construction and part of the colonist program.
That the idea of “the coloniality of gender,” which might have seen the binary gender system in Europe but was not the case for indigenous populations around the world who were brutalised, moved off the lands and eliminated through genocide. This is going to require more reading on my part but it will be completed eagerly as it’s more evidence of how this system to live and breathe is a construct of power for a few white people over the rest of us all.