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.

Lead photo credits: Oliver Cross (Oliver Cross), Destiny Adeyemi (Jolade Olusanya), Gabriel Jones (Cesare De Giglio), Jeremiah Brown (Catarina Rodrigues), Hector Dyer (Emily Demetriou), Annie Fan (Christy Ku), Timalka Kalubowila (Timalka Kalubowila), Esme Allman (Caleb Azumah Nelson), Leo Long (Nigel Barrett Photography), Georgia Morgan Turner (Georgia Morgan Turner), Remi Graves (Hayley Madden), Tice Cin (Eric Aydin-Barberini), Mandisa Apena (Mandisa Apena), Cia Mangat (Christy Ku), Natasia Patel (Natasia Patel)

Lead photo credits: Oliver Cross (Oliver Cross), Destiny Adeyemi (Jolade Olusanya), Gabriel Jones (Cesare De Giglio), Jeremiah Brown (Catarina Rodrigues), Hector Dyer (Emily Demetriou), Annie Fan (Christy Ku), Timalka Kalubowila (Timalka Kalubowila), Esme Allman (Caleb Azumah Nelson), Leo Long (Nigel Barrett Photography), Georgia Morgan Turner (Georgia Morgan Turner), Remi Graves (Hayley Madden), Tice Cin (Eric Aydin-Barberini), Mandisa Apena (Mandisa Apena), Cia Mangat (Christy Ku), Natasia Patel (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

You can view each Young Creative's piece of work, as and when it's published, by clicking on their name above. Content Advisory: Subject to Change: New Horizons explores themes of mental health, body image and descriptions of violence.

Making Subject to Change: New Horizons

Each individual or collaborating pair of Young Creatives is matched with an Artist Mentor – an artist who supports the Young Creatives in realising and developing their pieces through 1:1 feedback sessions and conversations. Find out more about the Artist Mentors involved here

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 by 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!

Oliver Cross

August 2020

Watch the audio-described version of Oliver's film

What inspired your creative piece this month?

As a young disabled neurodivergent artist I am still confined to my home despite the easing of lockdown. This is primarily because if I were to end up in hospital with Covid-19, I would have to be there on my own and I’m not confident that I’d be able to advocate for myself. I’ve never had much faith in non-disabled society consistently taking the needs of disabled people into account. With discussion in the media about Do Not Resuscitate orders being given out to disabled and neuro-divergent people in the Covid-19 outbreak, my confidence in being treated fairly is low. There are large discrepancies between the advice of scientists and the advice of the government on managing staying safe in the pandemic. As a result, safe social distancing and mask wearing are inconsistent. This has made me anxious about going out. It’s easier and safer for me to stay in. When I started making my piece, after the initial lockdown period, the Covid-19 restrictions were relaxed in the UK. At the time of my piece being published in August, restrictions are about to be re-imposed in Preston, the city I live in.

I’m lucky that I like where I live; it’s a safe space for me. At the moment I can only really stay in the house, go in my garden or to a beach which is quite isolated and where I won’t get close to anyone. It was this set of circumstances that led me to the idea of finding a way to literally translate the views I was limited to into a piece of music. I’d learned of a method where a grid was placed over an image, the main lines of the image were mapped out, and the tracing was converted to notes on a scale. I then wrote the composition using the resulting motifs. The film evolved around this using footage and images I have taken since lockdown.

'Studying the arts was my gateway to the political and social discourses surrounding identity and disability'

Who or what inspires you as an artist?

I trained as a photographer at Cambridge School of Art and was inspired by the work of photographers Jim Mortram in ‘Small Town Inertia’ and Paul Graham in ‘The Great North Road’ for this piece. Musically, I took influence from Steve Reich and my own exploration of analogue synthesizers. This is very odd because I’m not listening to any of that at the moment, but this sound is appropriate for these images and how I feel.

Photo by Oliver Cross

Photo by Oliver Cross

Why do you think the arts are a good way to talk about the times we’re living in now?

I have some serious trust issues with the messaging coming out of government and official channels at the moment. As a freelancer I’ve lost a lot of work this summer because of Covid-19 and I’ve had a lot of anxiety and worry. Fortunately, I still have photography and music as the best way to express myself and tell my truth. Most of my friends are in the arts world and they have suffered because the pandemic has hit the arts world hard. This is particularly true of disability arts.

Most people have watched a lot of films, TV, plays on the internet, listened to music or read books to keep them going during the lockdown. Without the arts none of this would be available. I don’t think our government gets this, or maybe they have a vested interest in silencing dissenting artistic voices.

How have the arts changed your life?

The arts gave me a voice, a way of expressing myself. When I trained in photography at Cambridge School of Art it was the beginning of my study of discourse and representation combined with my emerging identity as a young disabled artist. I was able to discuss the arts with much more awareness of my identity and the wider society around me. Studying the arts was my gateway to the political and social discourses surrounding identity and disability. Being a part of the National Open Youth Orchestra has really helped me to develop my skills and practice and was my first link with the Barbican. It has introduced me to some good friends and has increased my network of fellow disabled and non-disabled artists and performers. 

Destiny Adeyemi

September 2020

Watch the audio-described version of Destiny's film

What inspired your creative piece this month?

I wanted to write a piece about fatphobia for a long time. Boris Johnson's new anti-obesity scheme, Better Health, came out in July but I started to see more ads for it in September. I didn’t like this scheme because it feeds into the wider perception of fatness as inherently unhealthy, and something that therefore warrants fixing, through paternalistic policies. It also functions as a distraction for the government’s mismanagement of the pandemic.

This formed my initial inspiration to write the piece for this month. I wanted to write this piece from my own perspective: a fat Black person who has been subjected to a lot of bullying, unsolicited advice/comments and sexualisation from a young age because of how my body is perceived.

I'd also started reading more around fat politics specifically through writers such as Da'Shaun Harrison on Wear Your Voice, Hunger by Roxane Gay, and following plus-size influencers like Stephanie Yeboah.

Giving myself the space to learn and to continue to learn what informs the demands people (and society) make of my body has helped me in learning to reject these expectations for what they are: white supremacist, racist and fatphobic.

Photo by Jolade Olusanya

Photo by Jolade Olusanya

Who or what inspires you as an artist?

My everyday life experiences, my politics, the random things people say in conversations, jokes my partner makes, and reading about similar experiences from other creatives as it proves to me that my story is worthy of being told.

Poets such as Belinda Zhawi, Staceyann Chin, Wystan Auden, Rives, Joelle Taylor, Gboyega Odubanjo, Maya Angelou, and Audre Lorde to name a few.

Why do you think the arts are a good way to talk about the times we’re living in now?

I often enjoyed poetry as a way of expressing myself because it didn't feel like therapy, like “hard work”, and I didn't feel pressured to analyse how I was feeling in that moment. It gave me time and space; I feel like in the current times there is a lot of misinformation and having the arts to provide a space to talk about things is really helpful. Also, as a place of expression and celebration for marginalised people it is vital.

Healing is intrinsically linked to my writing and my connection with the arts.

How have the arts changed your life?

The community I've fostered through sharing my work has been amazing. I would say the arts have shaped my life greatly, I can't remember a time when I wasn't journaling or writing short stories or poems for myself. Throughout the most traumatic and stressful periods of my life writing was a necessity as an outpouring of all of my emotions. I functioned around toughing it out and having my regular cry and journaling sessions. So for me, healing is intrinsically linked to my writing and my connection with the arts.

Jeremiah ‘Sugar J’ Brown and Gabriel ‘Bump Kin’ Jones

October 2020

Watch the audio-described version of Jeremiah 'Sugar J' Brown and Gabriel 'Bump Kin' Jones' film

What inspired your creative piece this month?

Jeremiah 'Sugar J' Brown: Being in a pandemic for so long inspired the piece for me. Lockdown measures were loosened but, coming into this month, their retightening seemed inevitable. Every time I engaged with the news or things going on in the world it was never good, it was always tragic or people on some nonsense. Amidst all that I was still asked when I was going to find a wife. It made me look around and think, 'Are you not seeing this? Face your own future.'

Gabriel 'Bump Kin' Jones: Trying to capture the atmosphere of lockdown/half-lockdown and being in an indefinite liminal space with a fluctuating emotional response. My starting point for the sound was Jeremiah sending me an audio clip from The Wire (TV series); a section where ‘Pandemic’ is being shouted out from several street corners as slang for heroin, which became the backbone of the second beat. Equally with both the sound and video I was inspired by Boris’ speeches of assurance that have done the exact opposite, and how disconnected and of-a-different-age the language and tone seems, in the face of an urgent need for empathetic, wise humans.

Who or what inspires you as an artist?

JB: Life and what comes with having to live it inspires me. Everything that is going on in the world is an inspiration. Sometimes just going on Twitter inspires me, but that’s a trap because Twitter likes to remind me how depressing the world is. My people have been a big inspiration to me during this lockdown. My friend who keeps submitting work even though she’s had a bunch of rejections. My other friend who’s taken up running, setting himself goals even though he’s not been active for years. All my friends and peers, to be honest, for enduring.

My people have been a big inspiration to me during this lockdown.
Jeremiah 'Sugar J' Brown

GJ: Currently: Ross Sutherland. Lex Amor. Terence Calvert. Caleb Femi. Learning about chord progressions. Kareem Parkins-Brown. Plantheela. The intricacy and clarity of Sugar J’s writing. Cecilia Knapp’s lockdown workshops. Michelle Tiwo. Bad Betty press. Byron Katie. Tyler the Creator. Dabbla. Marc Rebillet. O the ghost.

Why do you think the arts are a good way to talk about the times we’re living in now?

JB: The arts is a way of churning up the world and then giving it back to us so we can see it a little better. I think we’re clearly not seeing a lot of things as a society and as people, so the arts is a good way to talk about the times because we need to be told that we’re moving mad.

I feel the act of writing/ collaborating and making music all require presence, listening and focus.
Gabriel Jones

GJ: I feel the act of writing/ collaborating and making music all require presence, listening and focus. They require less demand to make linear sense outside of the moment. I experience this as empowering in that it confirms that play, love, excitement are hugely valuable and important. They feel good like forces of movement. Therefore any commentary that art tries to make hopefully carries some of that play and freedom (even if the subject matter is heavy) and can communicate and put forward other aspects of the human experience aside from efficiency and productivity.

L: Jeremiah Brown (Photo by Catarina Rodrigues)  R: Gabriel Jones (Photo by Cesare De Giglio)

L: Jeremiah Brown (Photo by Catarina Rodrigues)  R: Gabriel Jones (Photo by Cesare De Giglio)

How have the arts changed your life?

JB: I’ve met some of the people I love the most through the arts. Those people have changed my life. I’ve wanted to abandon my art but it doesn’t let me. That lack of choice has also changed my life.

GJ: I spend more time than I want to on Instagram. I have found myself in a network of the smartest most inspiring humans, and I am very grateful.

Timalka Kalubowila

November 2020

Watch the audio-described version of Timalka's film

What inspired your creative piece this month?

Throughout the recent months and now with a second lockdown in place, many young people around me are increasingly finding it wearying to cope with current measures. I wanted to explore a dialogue between my inner and outer world in this piece and place an emphasis on the growing mental health crisis at play.

A recent article in The Guardian says common triggers that are severely impacting mental health in young people today include; being isolated from friends, being worried for family members and schooling from home.

During summertime lockdown, I spent a lot of time walking around my local park which gave me immense relief mentally and space to reflect deeply. I've been inspired to use symbolism that has been significant to me during this time; for example, sounds and imagery in the confines of my home and in nature.

I have especially been drawn to lotus flowers and their ability to blossom so beautifully, regardless of the muddy disposition which they emerge from. To me, the lotus serves as an antidote to our current times and a reminder that we have the ability to conquer our mental struggles and rise above difficult situations.

Who or what inspires you as an artist?

For me a source of inspiration is when I am in nature and going for walks. It's a space where I can relax and let my mind go.

Another is getting absorbed into work by creative people and surrounding myself with other artists. It's amazing how we all perceive the world differently and every artist will create through a special lens from their own experiences and inspiration.

For example, I love how FKA twigs is able to be so vulnerable in her work. She emotes her pieces through multidisciplinary mediums be it dance, film as well as music and I can really tell that she is being true and authentic in her delivery.

I have especially been drawn to lotus flowers and their ability to blossom so beautifully, regardless of the muddy disposition which they emerge from.
Timalka Kalubowila

Why do you think the arts are a good way to talk about the times we’re living in now?

This year has really shaken us all up in different ways and to me, expressing our journeys during this time using the arts is a very cathartic and therapeutic process, which helps shed light on the struggles and insights we've been harbouring within us this year; whether it be personally or politically.

Photo by Timalka Kalubowila

Photo by Timalka Kalubowila

How have the arts changed your life?

The arts have been a special cocoon for me, since I was young. It's brought me so much joy and excitement to my life and as I have gotten older I have realised the sheer beauty of how we can all create something, simply out of an idea in our heads or a passage of thought. For me, the power of the arts is its ability to transcend prejudice and instead relay a pure message that can ignite a united feeling or understanding in all of us.

Georgia Morgan Turner

December 2020

Watch the audio-described version of Georgia's film

What inspired your creative piece this month?

I’m captivated by rituals. They’re how we, as human beings, process change. This piece is inspired by the winter solstice. It’s the darkest day of the year, but also the turning point at which we begin to look towards the coming light. A lot of people, including me, won’t be seeing their families over the break and for those who will, the celebration will be tinged with new anxieties. We’ve all transformed over this past year and I wanted the characters to reflect that, so it’s a strange misshapen family sitting around the table - monstrous, overgrown, plugged in - but still enjoying the warmth of each other's company.

Who or what inspires you as an artist?

As a visual artist I draw on the imaginary world I lived in as a kid. I’m endlessly inspired by stories, myths and magic. Fairytales are often just metaphors for our real fears and dreams, and it’s the crossover between real and imaginary, childish and sinister that I try to channel in my art. I love children’s picture books (particularly Moomin - I think Tove Jansson is a genius who creates breathtaking art) and animated series and films like Over the Garden Wall, Steven Universe, Studio Ghibli and Sylvain Chomet.

Fairytales are often just metaphors for our real fears and dreams, and it’s the crossover between real and imaginary, childish and sinister that I try to channel in my art.

Why do you think the arts are a good way to talk about the times we’re living in now?

Art is our most expressive form of communication. I’ve tried lots of ways of keeping in close contact with my loved ones during the pandemic, from daily wake-up calls to writing long letters, but I’m finding communicating strictly through language exhausting without also being able to share in people’s space and silences. That’s what the arts allow us to do - distill ourselves into a single piece of shareable material. I’m very lucky to be friends with other creatives who share their art with me and allow me to experience them through it, at a time when we’re isolated from each other.

Photo by Georgia Morgan Turner

Photo by Georgia Morgan Turner

How have the arts changed your life?

I’ve been making art for as long as I can remember. It’s almost difficult to see ‘the arts’ and my life as separate things. It’s my passion, my degree, my job, my identity and the thing that’s led me to my favourite people in the world. But maybe the most significant thing is that the arts have provided me with an abundance of incredible role models from a really young age who have been a perpetual source of support, wisdom and inspiration. I’m so grateful to my many mentors for the impact they’ve had on me and the art I make today.

Mandisa Apena & Tice Cin

January 2021

Watch the audio-described version of Mandisa Apena and Tice Cin's video here.

What inspired your creative piece this month?

Mandisa: dancing. the sense of elevation when you're totally connected with the music and your body. you can stop identifying with your mind and thoughts. a total sense of freedom.

accessing an altered state. light and colour, senses as emotional texture.

articles* about how this incompetent government is allowing club venues to close because of their lack of support.

communal dancing, dancing together. how clubs can be a vital space for deep healing. the excitement of being openly queer - the excitement of feeling united under love and understanding. shiny clothes.

Tice: Connectivity. How we can talk to one another through a blue screen. Grieving what we have lost during this pandemic while treasuring togetherness and queer digital worlds. Missing touch. To make something that felt tactile and ASMR-y that helped people to feel the clubspace and cross distance. We painted ourselves blue in different flats. The laughter that you hear is Disa (aka Mandisa) when I last went to their house before the pandemic. Our breath became part of the drumline, with frying sounds from a hangover breakfast. We can’t recreate these things at home, but we can sample ourselves to play memories back and hold space for feeling disconnected, and less of ourselves in this time. Evaporating and returning. Just as these absences and digital adaptations of self can feel like a disappearance, they also bring us back to ourselves.

L: Mandisa Apena (Photo by Mandisa Apena) R: Tice Cin (Photo by Eric Aydin-Barberini)

L: Mandisa Apena (Photo by Mandisa Apena) R: Tice Cin (Photo by Eric Aydin-Barberini)

Who or what inspires you as an artist?

Mandisa: the bounty of nature; of sun, water, plants, life. the generosity and kindness of nature (and how it only asks us to look after it and each other). tahliah barnett (fka twigs) because it feels she is exploring her aliveness deeply and unconcerned of others. my friends who are activists, it makes me want to use my art to benefit people. the potential for abundant joy and healing and love. the way maya deren explores spirituality and reality makes me stop for long periods and sigh. tice cin because she is so tender with everything she touches.

Tice: My mates and people I’ve had passing conversations with that stick with me. Shouts to the DJ in chat rooms. Clubbers getting changed in the toilets. Bossman’s cousin who talks to me while I wait for my şiş kebap. Things that take the packaging paper off what we know – those moments where one person’s outlook can shift the way you see yourself and the world around you. I love producers who stash layers: Ase Manual, Don Leisure, Shy One. Poets like Jay Bernard and Lee Hyemi. Advice from those who went out first. Mandisa Apena dancing in shiny tiny - their glow.

I feel that the arts allow for a certain element of privacy. Despite the fact that the very act of sharing is ‘outward’, we are still able to cloak ourselves with imaginative twist-ups.
Tice

Why do you think the arts are a good way to talk about the times we’re living in now?

Mandisa: everyone who engages with capitalism is deeply hurt by it. we are being lied to by the people put in the positions to help us, and we know this, and people are suffering. the times we're living in now are breeding cycles of deep pain.

but that's not to say there isn't also crazy joy to be experienced! art is a way of engaging with our emotions and thought responses in this time, which often leads to reflections on how we can exist in more joy than pain. art physicalises emotions so that others can see and communicate about it!

Tice: I feel that the arts allow for a certain element of privacy. Despite the fact that the very act of sharing is ‘outward’, we are still able to cloak ourselves with imaginative twist-ups. When you get to say something in this way, you get retakes, you get process, there’s a safety in that.

I feel like the scale of difficulties that we all experience can be so impossible to put thoughts to, but with the arts, there’s no prerequisite, you can let that goo at the back of your eye lead – there’s life in that. The arts have thehas capacity to make safe spaces for people who are historically excluded, we just have to protect each other as we put ourselves out there.

sometimes i question if art is enough. but it’s been a really valid and vital avenue to process my emotions.
Mandisa

How have the arts changed your life?

Mandisa: i've recently realised that art is a useful tool to pass on important information and instructions for future generations. this has made me more aware of how i live my life, what i receive and what i share.

i'm part of an artistic community that allows me to connect, evolve, be vulnerable, remember; all with gorgeous humans. these people are very dear to me!

sometimes i question if art is enough. but it’s been a really valid and vital avenue to process my emotions. my subconscious-poet-brain will often pick up on things way before my everyday-busy-brain will.

Tice: The arts have given me another option for making something for my community and myself. I always felt like I grew up with so much inside of me that I never could really say or get across. That canteen stutter. Every time I share something, I feel like I’m easing that, and bluetoothing like-minded people. I would never have come to terms with who I am if I hadn’t been able to meet shadow versions of myself made in 4am sessions at my laptop. Art can give you that room to grow zig-zaggy.

The scientific reasons why you’re missing clubbing

Esme Allman

February 2021

If you are using a mobile device, please rotate your screen for a better experience

Premiere

I knew she was mine all along. I was just waiting for them to find out.                          

Cicely Tyson                           

Is that what knowing looks like? I want to know
Everything. Slip knowing into a gold clutch-bag.

Seize knowing with the same ease of her throwing
a pair of white gloves over her forearm.

Forefinger, thumbing the glow on her trophy.
Standing, the rehearsed elegance of knowing.

Somebody old and black recalls it as an inelegant time.
Miles, jazz-eyed, guarding behind a pair of sunglasses.

A room full of sunglasses, their bug-eyed stares.
Half-crescent moon mouth. Left arm in bra bas

accustomed to emptiness, hands naturally crescent.
Neck taut from smiling, grin raising her sternum.

White dress, clinging, neckline down to her sternum.
Is that what knowing looks like? I want to know.

Photo by Caleb Azumah Nelson

Photo by Caleb Azumah Nelson

What inspired your creative piece this month?

I was devastated to hear of Cicely Tyson’s passing away at the end of January. The way Black people, particularly Black women, have collectively mourned her spoke to a refusal to allow grief to be pushed into the confinements of convenience. People have been loud in their appreciation for Tyson and thankfully recognised her as a legend whilst she was still living. I hold a lot of admiration for Tyson as she represents a Black elderhood that often feels something of a rarity. She’s someone you look at and go ‘Wow. You’ve lived a lot of life!’

Who or what inspires you as an artist?

I’m inspired by other art forms. From prose to music, dance to film, something that is able to contain or convey an emotion is exciting. Other forms drive me outside of poetry and make me force my way back into poetry with a new lexicon established by a sense of play and intention. This poem is no different. I studied a number of photographs of Cicely Tyson to understand what was behind my feelings of admiration for her. She was beautiful, poised and so sure of herself. Those have definitely transpired in the ways she’s been captured in visual art.

The desire to be understood and listened to is incredibly basic but a desire I think a lot of us are starved of.
Esme Allman

Why do you think the arts are a good way to talk about the times we’re living in now?

I think creative mediums often capture the complicated feelings we have about our lives and the world around us. Experiencing a piece of art may present clarity around something you couldn’t otherwise articulate, or a new route into uncharted territory. That’s important. The desire to be understood and listened to is incredibly basic but a desire I think a lot of us are starved of. Art can remedy that. (Art can also do the exact opposite but I’m trying to stay positive aha!)

How have the arts changed your life?

I’m drawn to poetry as it’s a form that has re-routed me back to expressing myself through play. Sometimes, poetry can be a bit of game which toys with the imaginary and the make-believe. I find that poetry is trying, and more times failing, to dream up a snippet of something distant and unfathomable. I’m always wondering about the limits of language and how hard it is to dream up worlds when you’ve only got the present to articulate it with.

Leo Long

March 2021

Watch the audio-described version of Leo Long's video here.

What inspired your creative piece this month?

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected most people’s lives. People have been full of fear, uncertainty and darkness. As a folk artist on the autistic spectrum I have found a lot of positivity through music when things have been difficult. I can’t deny my sad feelings; like not being able to see my friends, not attending college and the hardest thing is not being able to travel to London to play my favourite folk music with my friends face to face. I have found comfort in the Japanese phrase ‘shinryoku’ which translates as ‘sprouting green grass’. I will come out stronger and brighter after this dark pandemic period. I would like my music to bring positivity to people’s lives.

I am lucky to live on the Blackmoor Estate near Selborne in Hampshire within the South Downs National Park. These beautiful and peaceful surroundings inspired me to compose my folk piece Blackmoor Waltz.

Photo by James Long

Photo by James Long

Who or what inspires you as an artist?

My grandfather is a big fan of folk/country music and introduced me to the genre when I was little. I enjoy listening to Irish folk music. Especially Brian Duffy from The High Kings who inspired me to play the Bodhran.

I am enjoying composing my own music as I find the rhythm helps me to calm down and keeps my mind occupied, which makes me happy. I started learning the Banjo during the lockdown. Having more time during lockdown has meant I can focus on learning new instruments and composing more music. I have started listening to folk music from around the world. I find it so fascinating that each country has different instruments and sounds. Japan has the very energetic and entertaining Taiko drums which I have always wanted to try!

The arts are borderless, timeless and fearless; anybody can try and join in to enjoy. Music is a great way to add to the spice of people’s life whilst we have been locked down.
Leo Long

Why do you think the arts are a good way to talk about the times we’re living in now?

We need to focus on simple happiness during this difficult time. As people start to readjust to life post lockdown we have to learn to appreciate what we have in life. I believe folk music brings happiness to everyone as it's easy to follow the tune and lyrics. The arts are borderless, timeless and fearless; anybody can try and join in to enjoy. Music is a great way to add to the spice of people’s life whilst we have been locked down.

How have the arts changed your life?

As a disabled artist, I have found it difficult to find my identity. I have asked myself what is my purpose in life? Society does not allow people who are different to follow their own path that is not accepted as the ‘norm’.

I knew I didn’t fit into the ‘normal’ expectation of life from a young age. But I found a way to express myself through arts. I have met such valuable people throughout my life like my teachers at school, college and also importantly mentors at music organisations like the National Open Youth Orchestra.

Through music I have found a focus and love. I get new ideas every day and I don’t feel lonely, I feel positive. Being a musician has changed my whole life and made me a better person. I would like to share positivity through my art with as many people as possible.

Annie Fan & Cia Mangat

April 2021

A collage with a child and lines from a poem

If you are using a mobile device, please rotate your screen for a better experience

Due to the pandemic, Annie and Cia have been unable to see one another or make work together. To emulate that sense of 'collaged-ness' that they describe, they each wrote a poem in response to women's safety and collated specific lines to make 'Lately'. You can listen to the original poems here:

What inspired your creative piece this month?

Cia: During this pandemic I’ve been constantly re-evaluating my relationship with the internet: I hate to admit it, but I’ve definitely fallen into the trap of using Twitter as a news source. It’s meant that the only ways I’ve really been able to keep in touch with the recent discourse around women’s safety after the death of Sarah Everard, particularly the disproportionate response to the gathering at her vigil, has been via the collage of images, videos and Tweets on my timeline.

A few weeks ago, I buzzed all my hair off and the fact that I don’t look as ‘female’ at first glance as I used to has forced me to reconfigure my relationship with this recent revival of discourse around women’s safety in the public domain.

Since Annie and I both started out writing poetry online, it felt apt to respond on a digital platform and to try and emulate that sense of collaged-ness in our collaborative work.

Annie: Throughout this pandemic, I’ve caught myself ‘doom scrolling’ through the news so often – not quite wanting to look, but also feeling that I can’t ignore what’s happening, as if it’s some sort of duty to bear witness – and I think that this poem has grown out of how news shapes the worlds that Cia and I inhabit, how algorithms mean we see different stories to someone with different concerns.

Having a space to properly work through stuff in a way that’s deliberate and separate from your everyday life has been so important.
Cia Mangat

Who or what inspires you as an artist?

Cia: Right now, all the poets on my timeline between the news articles - Em Power, Danez Smith, Lydia Wei, the Richard Siken bot, Rachel Long, Oshanti Ahmed, Safia Elhillo, Fathima Zahra...

Annie: Poems about intimacy, in a year that’s been so touch-starved! Tracy K. Smith, jos charles, Richie Hofmann, Franny Choi, Andrew McMillan and Nina Mingya Powles.

I think I’ve become more fearless - less afraid of saying the things that scare me, comfortable in asking people to believe me because I’m saying it.
Annie Fan

L: Annie Fan (Photo by Christy Ku) R: Cia Mangat

L: Annie Fan (Photo by Christy Ku) R: Cia Mangat

Why do you think the arts are a good way to talk about the times we’re living in now?

Cia: I guess it’s kind of cathartic? I don’t think that writing poems is going to solve the fact that I don’t think I’ll ever feel safe walking home alone in the dark, but in corona times especially, having a space to properly work through stuff in a way that’s deliberate and separate from your everyday life has been so important.

Annie: I think there’s definitely something in poetry being a deliberate act - when times are as unsettling and new as these, I find it really soothing to have a space where I can set out the boundaries, the rules, and create in ways that bring me joy.

How have the arts changed your life?

Cia: I’m kind of obsessed with Tice Cin saying that the arts have allowed her to start articulating things easier and ‘bluetoothing like-minded people’ - since discovering poetry on Tumblr in 2015, I’m so grateful to have bluetoothed like-minded poets and artists via a number of arts organisations in London and at university.

Annie: I think I’ve become more fearless - less afraid of saying the things that scare me, comfortable in asking people to believe me because I’m saying it. One of my favourite sayings about poetry comes from a peer - Steven Chung: 'Poetry will last as long as the world does. It's up to us to keep both alive.'

Natasia Patel

May 2021

Watch the audio-described version of Natasia Patel's video here.

What inspired your creative piece this month?

Looking back to look forward. Processing the last year has been difficult, but moving ahead feels just as hard when there’s so much wrong with the ‘normal’ we might be going back to.

Journaling kept me grounded through lockdown, collecting fragments that felt like change and motion in new directions. In dreams I visited these rich, sensuous landscapes where body and environment were interchangeable. I was inspired by fungal networks and symbiosis in nature, and how that’s reflected in our human communities. The pandemic reminded us that we’re part of an interdependent system - we should take that into the future with us.

Who or what inspires you as an artist?

Dreams, religion, myths - the earth is so central in the creation stories we’ve been telling about ourselves for centuries, in all traditions. So I guess ‘Dream Fragments’ is also an ode to the Greek Goddess Persephone - she’s so connected to the land and the seasons.

For me, art is about celebrating abundance and pleasure in a world which often forgets to.
Natasia Patel

I’m inspired by people who use art to challenge the way we move through the world, and push us into the future. I love the way Natalie Diaz writes about water, Nisha Ramayya’s pantheon of goddesses, Octavia Butler’s visionary writing and work ethic, and science-fiction’s power to build new worlds through play.

a young woman wearing a black hoodie stares into the distance

Photo by Natasia Patel

Photo by Natasia Patel

Why do you think the arts are a good way to talk about the times we’re living in now?

There’s so much grief in the world right now - for loved ones, the planet, for a way of being in community with one another that the pandemic and living in a capitalist society infringe upon. Art can tap into a depth of feeling that mainstream media can only really scratch the surface of - it allows us to communicate from a different space. We honour pain and appreciate beauty through art, I think we need that in these times.

How have the arts changed your life?

Art encourages me to engage with the world in a different way. The process of absorbing experiences and alchemising them into something else - a poem or a journal entry or a painting - it’s a spiritual practice. At the same time, creating things is so essentially human, but it feels like it’s been taken away from us by the demands of living in the way we do. For me, art is about celebrating abundance and pleasure in a world which often forgets to.