I was delighted to have been approached to work with MAFWA Theatre to develop a performance as part of the performingbordersLIVE20 programme Unbordering, which explores how to create collaborative spaces without borders. MAFWA Theatre is a Leeds-based organisation that works with refugees, asylum seekers (particularly women’s groups) and other community members through participatory theatre, games and cooking classes (working closely with Leeds Refugee Forum).
Because of lockdown restrictions, we knew we weren’t going to meet face to face. So I ended up simply asking; what is it that connects us or binds us together? The pandemic created an extra challenge, offering the opportunity to really test provocations I have been exploring within my art practice that consider connectivity and creativity. In lockdown, MAFWA were sending out essential food and voucher packs including a recipe exchange and creative communication tasks such as letter writing. I decided to send a package through MAFWA to the community, which included a seed pack and an invitation to my online workshop that would explore the contents of the pack further together.
In the workshop packs recipients would find:
Charcoal – for drawing with, wrapped in a fabric printed with botanical illustrations.
Paper – for drawing on and collaging with.
Compostable pots – to put the compost in.
Compost with added biochar – to sow the seeds in.
Seeds – for planting and to watch grow into delicious tasting wonderful looking herbs! including marjoram, thyme, marigold, coriander, parsley, oregano.
I wanted to symbolise connectivity through the idea of planting a garden, something that became focused towards Alice Walker’s brilliant and haunting text from 1972, In Search of Our Mothers Gardens. Her poetry is tied to ways of connecting and protesting conditions of working and living, ones that resound today. It evokes ravished bodies: ‘For these grandmothers and mothers of ours, we are not saints but artists driven to a numb and bleeding madness by the strings of creativity in them, for which there is no release’. This text reminds me of Harriet Jacobs testimony, and I think what I am taking from this text as an inspiration is that creativity is an asset, and my drive to connect is built on knowing the relief of being able to make and create and watch beauty flourish and nourish and observing the questions around freedom that are unearthed.
We were presented with the difficulty of how to interact without access to the internet, which excludes people, often making people vulnerable and more isolated. MAFWA were able to acquire some mobile phones for people and tablets so that more people could feel digitally connected. Still, being reliant on new technologies, digital ones, and the sensitivity around consent and recording, meant that the community that we worked with wasn’t present in the film, which was unforeseen and unfortunate. But their presence is felt through the actions made, I hope.
There are three actions made in the performance to camera, made with film-makers Webb-Ellis: my “making-good” or white-washing a wall in my previous home that has charcoal text drawn on it in (I moved shortly after); the preparation of the seed packets (the gifts that were sent out); and scything the backyard raised beds at my new home. These three actions represented a sense of growth, of building, through movement and relocation, and questioning.
I consider historical excavation, that is drawing connections between histories now and histories then, as a method for harnessing creativity, and sharing the historical resonances that I believe I am receiving in a sort of haunted way. Still, this emphasis is not something that can be forced. My desire is for creativity to be considered a foundation for each and everyone’s growth. When we were together in the workshop, it was clear that this art-making process of drawing with charcoal wasn’t something that was familiar, and instead provoked stultifying reminiscences from school, and how confining it had been for some people.
I believe that there’s strength in numbers and there’s strength in working together, which is a cliché I suppose. It was great to connect through this exacting and worrisome time with people living in Yorkshire, not too far away from me in Scarborough. I have always lived here, so to speak, I have family here in Yorkshire. Still, I most definitely am not a Yorkshire woman and would never apply that to myself because my experience has been so closely defined by misogyny. My relationship with Yorkshire is that I have a strong connection to the land, and it continues to sustain me. As a region, it is beautiful, although I have found many people (including my family) to be xenophobic and dependent on locating culture and identities within a obscure sense of patriotism that I find threatening.
My fear is that there is little time left to fight against oppression during recession and all that that entails and restricts. What I wasn’t assuming was that any of the participants in my workshop were politicised. We know how precarious things are, how everything is stacked against you, in terms of a general care, or the lack of responsibility towards vulnerable people. I know that there are people who are desperate to do anything they can to hasten change, but I suspect that people who live precarious lives don’t have extra time or the sense of safety to fight against this sort of horrific, lack of sense and lack of care that has been witnessed this year, 2020.
But the ground, the soil, seeding and growing are something that is on offer to everyone, potentially. To see that growth, to also feed and sustain our soils, is a metaphor for maintaining a sense of belonging for where you are, in a very small but hopefully significant way. And that, for sure, I hope is an empowering way of thinking about what we care about, and what connects us to one another.
RE:seeding, in correspondence is available to watch online on Friday 23rd October, as part of Unbordering, a three day long digital programme of filmed performances, conversations and workshops from performingborders. More info and tickets here.