Subject to Change: New Horizons

A multidisciplinary group of Barbican Young Creatives produce new, artistic work that explores the uncertain times we're living in.

Photos (left to right, top to bottom): Oliver Cross, Jolade Olusanya, Cesare De Giglio, Catarina Rodrigues, Emily Demetriou, Christy Ku, Timalka Kalubowila, Caleb Azumah Nelson, Nigel Barrett Photography, Georgia Morgan Turner, Hayley Madden, Eric Aydin-Barberini, Mandisa Apena, Christy Ku, Natasia Patel

Photos (left to right, top to bottom): Oliver Cross, Jolade Olusanya, Cesare De Giglio, Catarina Rodrigues, Emily Demetriou, Christy Ku, Timalka Kalubowila, Caleb Azumah Nelson, Nigel Barrett Photography, Georgia Morgan Turner, Hayley Madden, Eric Aydin-Barberini, Mandisa Apena, Christy Ku, Natasia Patel

Each month for a year, Young Creatives will be commissioned to produce new and powerful artistic work responding to the uncertain times we are living in.

From July 2020, one creative response – ranging from poetry and music to visual arts and moving image – will be published each month on Barbican’s digital and social media platforms, chronicling the next twelve months.

The Young Creatives are:

Remi Graves
Oliver Cross
Destiny Adeyemi
Jeremiah Brown & Gabriel Jones
Timalka Kalubowila
Georgia Morgan Turner
Mandisa Apena & Tice Cin
Esme Allman
Leo Long
Annie Fan & Cia Mangat
Natasia Patel
Hector Dyer

Remi Graves

July 2020

On Breathing

I held mine, at a cash point
by the police station
when I saw her kneel to speak
on his level, a mother telling
her not yet three year old son you don’t
need to be scared, we’ve done nothing
wrong, him nodding like he could see
the shape of her lie, like life had taught
him already that fear is for surviving
and in his innocence the boy brought
me to the tight of my chest at the sight
of the men in bullet proof vests by their
hi vis van, I felt for the phone in my pocket
heavy as untaught history where there on a timeline
a man in Ohio can’t decide if a mask
is more dangerous than his own face—
   I want to live
   but I also want to live

—I’m trying to take one here to get a grip
on what I mean but it's everywhere and
messy, while my friend wastes his in polite
debate with a man who can’t fathom
a life without his invisible upper hand
and a few months before this, when I refused
to watch that video, I gasped for mine
between guttural sobs on the sofa and
a man in Hackney gasped for his on the hospital
bed when the doctor tried to switch him off,
saying he’d been on for too long, saying
the ventilator needed to go to someone
who had a chance at life, his wife fought
to her last for his, wouldn’t leave the bedside
until he could inhale without coughing
and lord knows it's hard to speak when
you’re trying to catch yours, and how is it that
we’ve been running out of ours and not stopped
running, we’ve been chasing ours and it seems
the world wants to knock the wind out of us and
as I write this now, with another tab open on
respiration and stress relief, two men hover
in the sycamore outside my window, paid to cut
down the thing that’s been quietly, unequivocally
helping me inhale/exhale, this ordinary act
made sacred under the impossible weight
of a world that won’t tend to its wounds and
what becomes of a poem that’s run out of air
but refuses to end?

Photo: Hayley Madden

What inspired your creative piece this month?
This piece was inspired by the disproportionate amount of deaths of black people during the Covid-19 pandemic in the USA and UK, and the recent, yet brief media resurgence of interest in systemic racism and police brutality. I was struck by the fact that black people worldwide are consistently and systematically not afforded the right to breathe. I wanted to explore these various scenarios of daily life where our breathing is compromised, restricted, taken out of our control. I also wanted the form of the poem to tap into some of the overwhelm that I have been feeling, or avoiding feeling.

Who or what inspires you as an artist?
I’m inspired by artists who speak in a voice distinctly their own. Poets like Victoria-Anne Bulley and Aracelis Girmay inspire me to keep pushing my craft, to keep searching for a voice that feels like mine, however fluid that voice may be. I’m usually inspired by the poetry of daily life, the way people speak to each other, the way nature moves. More recently however, I’ve also been taken by concepts of change and control. Trying to trace the sometimes imperceptible way that things and people shift, and how little we actually know about how anything may turn out.

'Whilst I look to art to archive personal truths and imagine alternative ways of living, it's also a crucial space to contemplate peace and beauty'


Why do you think the arts are a good way to talk about the times we’re living in now?
I think the arts have always been crucial, as a way to question norms and offer alternative ways of thinking and seeing. At this specific time where the air is overrun with the dust of different opinions, histories that people are suddenly wanting to discuss, art also feels like a slightly less didactic way to explore the emotional weight of these ideas. Art has also offered me respite in what's been a turbulent few months. Whilst I look to art to archive personal truths and imagine alternative ways of living, it's also a crucial space to contemplate peace and beauty.

How have the arts changed your life?
Since quitting teaching almost 5 years ago to the day, the arts have not only changed my life but become my life. As a drummer and poet, the arts have become my livelihood, allowed me to travel the world, meet and forge a community with other artists, work with children in various communities. I’m also grateful for the way the music and writing have allowed me to find myself, or rather create myself, in more expansive ways than I ever thought I was allowed to imagine. Also being an artist has allowed me to enjoy my job, a lot!