18 February is the birthday of two iconic Black Women who have had a tremendous influence on my life and writing.
Happy Birthday Audre Lorde and Toni Morrison
18 February is the birthday of two iconic Black Women who have had a tremendous influence on my life and writing.
Happy Birthday Audre Lorde and Toni Morrison
Over the weekend, I attended a Wretched of the Earth gathering in London focusing on #climatejustice, billed as Building Our Power. This was a first for me to attend such an event; where I knew the majority of participants would be black, brown and indigenous people as well as gathered together to discuss the climate crisis. I didn’t know what to expect but I was excited about the prospect as far too long I’ve been the only black face in the room when talking about the natural world, the environment and conservation.
The event didn’t disappoint. It was such an amazing and inspiring space to be part of as everything was being co-created; the values and actions, the tactics and strategies of the movement moving forward. What struck me and what I take away with me and move forward with is the way that the climate debate is framed within Western society is wrong and misleading. There has been growing concern for endangered species and the melting icecaps and how we can make a change through recycling and other such individual measures. Yet this narrative keeps hidden the major causes of climate change along with the pain and suffering that has been experienced for decades within the Global South because of such.
Climate Justice is about re-writing the narrative and exposing the inequalities and injustices that have been going on for the last 500 years through colonialism, imperialism and capitalism. This climate emergency cannot be divorced from other issues such as housing, crime, poverty and racism. we enjoy a privileged standard of living in the West because communities and people in the south suffer, be that through being used as cheap labour or have their homes and livelihoods decimated due to extractions industries and drought.
There is so much to be learned around these issues which I’m motivated to explore and share. The creative non-fiction memoir of mixed genres which I’ve been writing this year centres about a black woman’s body with/in nature, I envision to take on a more climate justice stance as I continue to champion how nature has helped me heal and how we, humanity, need to heal through our re-connection with nature.
Fires broke out in 131 indigenous reserves from 15-20 August, 2019*
I considered myself to be an educated person. A person with a certain degree of knowledge, with recognisable qualifications which would signal knowledge and expertise. I’ve talked before about my eyes being opened and becoming wise to the system. At no point did I think I knew it all but when you’ve spent so long in the educational system as a learner and teacher, you do build up the belief that you know a thing or two. However, what I’ve learned or had to be re-educate myself about in the last few months is how this world, not my small insular world, but this global space we occupy and share with millions of diverse species is through an unfair and unjust and unequal and corrupt system.
Blazes have been seen on the Araribóia indigenous reserve in Maranhão state – a heavily deforested reserve on the Amazon’s eastern fringes, which is home to about 80 people from an isolated group of Awá indigenous people, described by the NGO Survival International as the world’s most endangered tribe.
I thought I had a handle on power and who has it and who doesn’t but I have to admit, my understandings were naive and academic. I’ve experienced inequalities and injustice and discrimination and prejudice. I know I’m at the bottom of the pile being a black working class woman in the U.K. But when I see black and brown people who look like me but who are losing their homes and livelihoods and lives because of big business, fossil fuel companies; because we in the global north demand material goods and lavish lifestyles at half the price then I know I enjoy a certain level of privileges.
I choose to be a vegan for environmental and animal welfare reasons. I can make this choice because I enjoy a certain level of income that allows me to pay for these select choices in what I eat or don’t eat. People surviving in poverty do not enjoy this luxury.
Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has been widely criticised for failing to respond quickly to the crisis, issued a
decree on Thursday banning fires in the Amazon for 60 days – a move environmentalists described as largely symbolic.
So yes my eyes have been opened to the disportionate distribution of wealth in the world but I still have so much to learn. Consider this the re-education of Sheree Mack because I realise now that I have been indoctrinated into a Western way of thinking and being. And it’s a total
mindfuck. Basically, I’ve been thinking and living as if I’m a white person but really I’m a Black Woman. And always will be. No amount of education and striving and hustling and appeasement is gonna change this fact. This reality. I‘ve been acting as my own thought Police within myself, keeping myself in check with blinkers on, trying to make others comfortable and not really questioning or analysing the news and information I’ve been fed and digesting.
The fires are often used to clear pasture and deforested areas in the Amazon during dry winter months, but there have been 28,000 this month – more than any August since 2010.
I’ve been fed a warped set of norms and values that places colonialism, imperialism and capitalism as the mordus operandi and the only way of operating that is worth my attention and respect and love. The Global South did not exist on my radar except as primitive, backward and unworthy. I’ve been ignorant of my people, my cultures, my heritage, my lineage. That connection was severed 500 years ago and it suits the minority in power to continue that disconnection by any means necessary be that through education, media, culture, science, policing; the system. The system in which I, and those that look like me, will always be viewed as ‘other’ and deemed inferior, not of value on a human level, but worthy enough to be exploited and oppressed and eradicated.
Fiona Watson, advocacy director at Survival International, said land grabbers are targeting indigenous reserves because they are often remote, well-conserved and unprotected.
“It’s clear to me that a lot of these fires are set off deliberately,” she said. “The difference now is that with Bolsonaro’s message, the Amazon is up for grabs.”
This story. This task. This re-education is not linear. Nature isn’t linear. Spiralling. I came here after actively reading and engaging with the fires in the Amazon. I was lead to believe that this was a natural disaster; lightning storms after such high temperatures etc. The reality is all about the climate, but not climate crisis but climate justice. I might be coming late to the discussion but this is better than never. And my eyes are wide open now.
*These quotes are taken from Dom Philips an article printed in The Guardian 29/08/2019 here (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/29/brazil-amazon-wildfires-indigenous-reserves-remote-areas)
The other week I went back to where I grew up. My time in a small village by the River Tyne were my formative years. I grew into a woman there and then left to go to London for university. I couldn’t leave quick enough. I found the place small and claustrophobic. It was a place where everyone knew your business. And to top it all we were the only black family around for years and miles. So we stood out.
Someone once told me that I should learn from the past but not hold onto the past. At the time, I didn’t quite get what she was getting at. I nodded my head and said thank you and moved along. Going back to my roots the other week this piece of advice came back to me.
Growing up in that all white village, I learned how to fit in, I learned how to make people laugh, I learned how to make other people comfortable being around me.
That is in the past. What I know now is that it’s okay to be myself; my whole self because if somebody doesn’t like me or gets uncomfortable that’s their problem not mine. I’m not in this earth to make everyone like me. I’m not on this earth to just blend in and smile.
I know I am here to shine. To offer up my gifts to the world and those who are on the same plane can appreciate them and learn from them if they do choose.
In the past, I worked hard for you to love me. In the present, I work at me loving me. And that’s enough now.
Work in Progress
In 2015, when the shit hit the fan, I had to change. My whole life was in tatters and I had to find a way to live again. But live on my own terms. Live true to my soul.
For decades I’d been on the production trail. Do do do. Produce produce produce. Because I’d eventually I’d get to the promised land. I’d be successful, famous and accepted.
What I know now from having to start over is that there is no end point. There’s only the journey. I’m in a constant state of becoming. Becoming a better version of myself. But I will never be complete or perfect because that state just doesn’t exist. It’s a fallacy we’re fed to keep us keeping on. The desire or promise keeps us working with our heads down, selling out our souls for very little rewards. We think we are living the life we want to live but really, we’re living the life ‘they’ want us to live. The system, that is.
Now, I’m happy with less. Happy to work small. Happy with little ripples I create because I know in my heart that this is the authentic me at work. I know now, what I do, I do from the heart. I do in service to others with no expectations or need for anything in return. Living my life on my terms is my reward. And that’s enough. I’m enough just being me.
I’m a Black British artist. I’ve been involved in the union for artists in England. I’ve been involved in different exhibitions and events around the arts. What I know for sure is that the British art scene is elitist and exclusive.
I’m actively attempting through my own practice as well as research and reading to make visible the invisible; the invisible history of Black British art. For centuries, Black artists have been visible amongst themselves/ ourselves being involved in individual and collaborative projects. But within official records and archives, the Black presence remains little and absent.
Histories and lives and stories are missing within British arts from an African diaspora perspective and I hope through my creating and agitating and archiving I’m changing the narrative.
Through a series of posts I hope to explore the Black British art tradition to bring this rich and diverse and valuable history to light and more recognition. I look forward to sharing my findings with you.
I missed submitting for the special challenge with Nine Muses Poetry this month. The challenge is to respond or be inspired by a different photograph posted at the beginning of each month. For April the image was fittingly Viewing Cherry Blossoms at Ueno, by Katsukawa Shunzan. I completed this poem this morning in response.
Loosening the Bounds
I wish I could say,
the orchard is a rare find.
That I never think of blossom.
That the pure smell doesn’t
undulate to the sea.
But that would be lying.
At this time of year,
there’s no escaping the stain,
the crowds. No escaping him.
His neck is red. Pain in his head.
That must be why he seldom smiles.
I know I put them on a pedestal.
I want what they had.
How they kept the blossom from dying.
Perhaps, the sea is history
and the lop-sided pagoda clinging
to the shoreline, made me think
we were going somewhere.
Same images played over and
over again. The trickster,
just using my face. My skin. My voice.
Give me the cherry blossom every time,
time with my sisters,
lost in the crowds, easing off
our sandals, loosening our bounds
like blossom caught on the bsea breeze.
Recently I’ve been asked a few questions about my practice and process with my artwork. One question which struck a cord was, what are some of your essential tools for creating?
My practice changes but what I can say is that I’ve fallen in love with mark-making while completing #100daysofabstracts, so anything that can manipulate paint on the page is something I want to get my hands on.
My trusty old disused credit card is always by my side as I use it to create the background for my visual journaling, but lately this has been accompanied by a Catalyst pebble sculptor No.6 white, a plaster’s trowel and a spaghetti scoop.
I love creating mixed media layers of papers, pencil, pastels, gesso and acrylic paint and then scraping layers away so the past is revealed.
Take the term, palimpsest which I’ve come to understand through my writing practice as a piece of paper where the text has been scraped or washed off so that it can be reused but each use is still visible, like a ghost.
I see the abstracts I’ve been creating in the same light when I create layers and scrap areas back so previous layers or versions haunt the finished piece. I’ve always been interested in how to read history and heritage in light of the present so we can learn for the future, through these abstracts I’ve been exploring these concepts visually.
It’s difficult to pin down my one and only favourite quote as I love so many. I use quotes as inspiration, as thought points, as guides.
At the beginning of each Studio Note I send out to subscribers, I include a quote, to set the tone, to ease into the topic of discussion.
Toni Morrison is always a favourite writer I quote because it was her book, The Bluest Eye, where I first found myself in literature. Before that, I always had to identify with the white female lead in the story. I found myself wishing I was something I was not; white, blond and blue eyed. In The Bluest Eye, I found myself, a little black girl growing up in a cruel, racist world, thinking if only she was white, then she’d be loved.
My quote isn’t from The Bluest Eye this time but it does touch upon this topic of self-love; my focus this year as my word is LOVE for 2019.
“In this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ’cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain’t in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream from it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it. This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. and all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver–love it, love it and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.”
Toni Morrison, Beloved