My dad took me swimming a couple of Saturdays ago.
We’d had a stressy morning, and he said “Shall we go swimming? Practice for the Sea”
And so we both went on a hunt for our respective swimming costumes (mine bought at Christmas, his at some point in the mid-nineties, by the looks of things) and went to Erdington Swimming Baths.
I’ve gone for lots of gentle walks with my Dad over the past month or so, and we’ve been talking, mostly, about Salt – “so what are you doing?” “and why are you doing it?” “who’s going with you?” “and then what?” – and I felt like if I was going to write something to demystify it a bit, to take it from an Indiegogo page and some tweets, it would be good to start with those conversations with him.
I didn’t talk to very many people about Salt for a very, very long time, because it’s incredibly precious to me. Work that has tiny bits of my soul scratched onto its surface, all my soft underbelly parts woven into it, and I’m
brandishing-a-sword-of-fire protective of it,
determined it won’t be co-opted,
desperate to maintain the integrity of it,
ends of the earth loyal to it.
I didn’t want to talk about it and have the voices of others smudge it too much, and I wanted to let it grow freely and delicately within me, for at least a year before my community joined me in making it real. I also wasn’t sure if it would happen! Didn’t want to write a cheque with my mouth that my ass can’t cash.
But my dad has very little time for such preciousness, and I guess the internet doesn’t either, so I thought I’d tell you a bit more about it here. It’ll be good for us both.
It was sort of born in stages. Or steps? Or made up of desires.
So the first desire was to make a show that –
The first desire was to sink to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean and be left alone. I’d been talking and talking and being asked and asked where I was from, and bounced about like a ping pong ball between three continents, being told none was home and all were home, trying to balance the four countries my family hail from with the fact of my adoption (that makes me feel like a fixed point that began in he catacombs of Birmingham City Council somewhere, like one day I just appeared in a drawer in the town hall) and I was sick of the notion of home, so I wanted to go to the body of water that held them together and sink, down and down into its depths and hopefully, nobody would ask me there where I was from. Or I would at least be able to see all three points of the triangle.
Then came the second desire
– born somewhere in Edinburgh as I frantically typed out my rage about “The Work That Shall Not Be Named, Not In 2016, We’ve Come Too Far” to make a show that didn’t objectify ‘the black body’, and didn’t aestheticize colonialism or slavery and that began at the bottom of the Atlantic.
The third desire was born in the BFI – watching the film Sankofa at an Afro futurism festival, and wanting very much to do a journey that took me back so that I could go forward, one that looked at the everyday fact of how much sacrifice and resistance it took for me to be where I am now, and how I couldn’t complete a body of work on Black British Identity without it.
And the fourth desire was born as I walked through London, fizzing with anger, trying to think about what we
Do and do not grieve
Remember and Forget
How we shape our narratives of home
And what it means to be an ancestor and what it means to be a descendent and why that matters and if it matters.
And I was sat beside a friend at the Stuart Hall Conference – and she said – “well surely you need to go to sea to make that show” And the two of us just sat with that impossible idea that would never happen for a bit.
And then I did what I always do when I come up with an impossible idea that would never happen, and I sort of threw it at Emma Beverley (producer extraordinaire AKA partner in crime) to see what would happen. And there was a glint in her eye that winked at a glint in my eye, and we got to work.
So next month, I’ll retrace one of the routes of the Transatlantic Trade Triangle. From the UK (Tilbury Docks) to Ghana (Tema) before crossing over to Jamaica (Kingston) where we’ll stay for three weeks, before returning home. We’re going by cargo ship, cruise liner, train and aeroplane. 42 nights at sea with no internet and no phone reception. And while we’re there we’re going to write a show. A show about what it is to retrace a route that was one of the building blocks of imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy (thanks, bell), and about what it is to travel in a way that is still a way in which people move as they deal with the violence left by that legacy. A show that brings that journey into the theatre – whether it’s what it is to be at sea with no land in sight, or what it is to walk around Elmina – whether it’s the voice of an artist who has seen so many other artists in the diaspora make this journey and is telling me that they’re sick of hearing it – or the tinny sound of Hotline Bling on some headphones as I try and lull myself to sleep while dealing with those inevitable first few days of Seasickness – or the sense of what it might be like to fall to the bottom of the sea and talk with an ancestor there. The journey is the work, and the work is the journey.
It’s going to be a super fun time show, with lots of jokes and musical numbers –
Not it’s not – but I’m not going to apologise for the depth of the subject matter, and you shouldn’t be afraid or intimidated by it. Cus it’s something we desperately need space to reflect on, and sit with. Usually, I make work with the sole intention that those most affected by its subject matter leave ready to talk. But this project isn’t that really. I want to create something that creates space within it for people to sit and reflect. It’s something we desperately need, I think. I don’t think there can be healing before that.
I think – imagine I’ve whispered this, cus I’m nervous to say it – I think it could be a really beautiful work, that it could matter.
So we wanted to invite more people to be part of it actively – and we needed more money, I’m not gonna lie, fam – so we set up an Indiegogo, to help fund the last bit of it.
The crux of the matter:
I’m writing this blog to ask you to donate.
Not just to share it, or urge people in your network to pay attention to it – though I value that deeply and love you for it – that feeling of support, care and community is priceless.
But to dig deep and send some money our way so that we can make it happen – and guarantee it happens safely and well. Decent accommodation, therapy in place for both me and film maker Hayley who are so intimately connected to this material, the ability to disseminate what we create as widely as possible.
Fundamentally, I know that as an artist, what I need, and the only way I can really change or challenge anything is to have the money and the autonomy to make the work I want and need to make, to tell the stories that I’m not seeing being told, and to know that my voice will be free, as close as it can be to being uninhibited by the politics and agendas of other organisations – and that’s one of the joys of crowdfunded projects. Your community supports you to make what the community decides that it wants and needs.
If these politics impact your life (they do), donate.
If you want to see the stories of black people told by black people (you should), donate.
If you want to see art that is big and ambitious (so ambitious the artist didn’t think it would happen for a while!) donate.
Donate – so that you come with me on this journey, so that myself and Hayley know that even in the middle of the Atlantic, and even in the middle of the intensive month we have getting the show ready for Bristol, we are not alone.
And let’s make something lush and life changing and full of power.
Now there’s my mouth writing a cheque that my ass is gonna panic about cashing.
Love you, I’m going to go to London and run some workshops now.
P.S. Stop telling me to make a video! We tried! Our kit got stolen, and then we ran out of time, and then there was an emergency and we had to go to the bank instead – let me live! The stars have not aligned, Mercury was in retrograde, the prophecy has yet to be fulfilled and I’m all out of sage to get this run of bad luck off of myself. Give me time, soon come, soon come. Also you better donate when that video does arrive, cheeky bum – I’m looking at you.