January 19, 2021
As part of the ‘To love, care, breathe…as acts of justice’ commissioning project we wanted to hear from socially engaged artists who are responding to the social changes that are undoubtedly underway and also exploring themes close to Counterpoints Arts’ heart and mission. The commissioned projects are addressing the intersectional themes of migration, racial and climate justice and the role of art as a catalyst for social change. The newly commissioned projects are by artists who are re-imagining how we look at history; how we respond to current social movements and emergencies; and who are anticipating what world might be possible post-Covid-19. The five commissioned artists will be sharing what they are observing in their local contexts and how the personal and the local might connect to larger and global ‘narratives’.
We run an open call and with the help of our selection panel, made up of practitioners, producers and cultural workers, we selected:
Sonia Uddin, a socially engaged artist and filmmaker from London who has campaigned for better social housing and against council-led estate demolition, helping to found her local tenants association which she currently chairs. Maintaining this civic initiative has provided a platform to voice residents’ concerns relating to regeneration programmes impacting the neighbourhood. Last year she shot and edited a short documentary, working with content collected over a two-year period in her community on this subject.
Sonia’s proposal is informed by the no. 4 point in the Black Panther 10 point programme – we want decent housing fit for the shelter of human beings. She reflects on the issues of overcrowding and social housing in an instagram post:
Social or physical distancing is a privilege if you’re awarded space. Huge demand for #council housing amidst a shortage has led to policy where your living room is considered a potential bedroom.
Isolation was not being able to play outdoors due to local council restrictions locking up green spaces on our estate in the 80s. There was constant harassment and casual racism, sometimes violent whether or not we did.’
BLKBRD Collective, a South London based collective of artists who seek to champion stories and experiences of people who have been sidelined from popular culture. The Collective is concerned with honouring the sacrifices of migrants getting to Britain today and through out time. From the transatlantic slave trade, to the contemporary refugee crisis, the Windrush scandal, to the disproportionate BAME death toll for COVID-19. Their aim is to explore the traditionally under-represented legacies of migration to the UK and firmly believe that art and community are inseparable. During the COVID-19 lockdown the Collective created a series of over twenty self-funded murals across a depressed and boarded-up London.
Our collective was formed as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We started painting murals during the government allocated hour of exercise, which was implemented in March. Travelling the city on our bicycles and scooters we painted on boarded up hoardings that appeared following the threat of pandemic. Our work has primarily focused on this on minority communities, disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
Raheel Khan, a sound artist, music producer and pianist originally born in Nottingham and now based in Manchester. His work explores notions of heritage, migration, society and the inertia of cultural progression.
Raheel combines field recordings, fragmented synthetic textures and piano compositions often creating pieces with both personal memories and collective consciousness. His work dances between the private and public spheres creating an intimate archive of abstract social commentary, using personal anecdotes and lived experiences.
The inequalities highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic has shown me more than ever that we need to amplify the voices of Black and Brown people. Black and Brown key workers have disproportionately been on the front line during the pandemic. Not only taxi drivers, bus drivers, transport workers but also all the Black and Brown NHS staff that have literally been the backbone of our society these past months and still – our communities face low-wages coupled with post-Brexit fueled bitterness.
This project also includes two commissions from our networks:
Emmanuela Yogolelo, a Manchester singer-songwriter, live performer, workshop facilitator, speaker and cultural leader. Originally from Upper Zaire and Kivu in the Eastern DR Congo, Emmanuela developed her passion for music from an early age, soaked as she was in the musical surroundings of her native land. She was exposed to the traditional acoustic music of the Shi and Mbuti pygmies, the musical genres of neighbouring Rwanda and Burundi, the music of the streets, the radio and the local nganda pubs.
Her mother sang whilst performing her household chores, the local fishermen sang on their boats, the farmers whilst carrying out their daily tasks. From the age of six, Emmanuela performed traditional songs as part of family weddings and funerals and her influences come from far and wide, including African gospel, Afro jazz and Congolese styles of music, such as Rumba, Seben and Agwaya.
Zia contributed to our ‘Postcards in Isolation…’ Instagram based project which holds the seeds of this commissioning strand. He is part of the London Laureates, having been shortlisted for London’s Young Poet Laureate 2015/16. He is a former Roundhouse Poetry Slam winner and writer in residence at Paines Plough as part of Channel 4’s Playwright Scheme. He is one of the Bush Theatre’s Emerging Writers Group 2018/19.
Hossam is originally from Cairo, now based in London. His work merges art and new media with human rights and social justice. Author of 3 books and producer of several short films, Hossam has worked for academic and cultural organizations, such as the MedCulture program by the European Union, and Essex University, Department of Film, Literature and Theatre Studies. Besides being the Middle East and North Africa Digital Consultant for PEN International, Hossam currently works as a researcher/producer for the BBC World Service’s Hardtalk, amongst several multimedia and art projects.
Jointly they produced a short film, The Patterns We Made, commissioned by Counterpoints Arts for the international social justice festival, Requiem for Justice.
We thank all artists who responded to the open call with thoughtful and fascinating proposals, and hope to continue developing relationships and support future projects.