Awkward Bastards, T-shirts and Oracles

Brief for presentation at Awkward Bastards ii:

We would like you to give a 5 minute presentation which gives your personal slant from the distinct perspective of your own practice and experiences, on the responsibilities to our pasts and our futures.

How do we ensure that underrepresented artists and practices are represented in cultural histories – what kind of archival and legacy projects and approaches address issues of exclusion and invisibility.

How do we rewrite and reclaim histories. How do we equally invest in the future – supporting future generations of makers and cultural leaders in meaningful and instrumental ways.

Your presentation can take any form you wish – a polemic, a manifesto, a performance, a lecture, or a whatever.


I had some pointers for myself for this presentation, because I never feel as though I do these things right – I’ll share them so you know, maybe it helps:

I will try not to be cryptic

Make it personal. It is personal. It is still structural and systemic.


I have developed a fear – through dance training, through colonialism, through capitalism and all the systems we/I live under or inside of – of desires that are not my own, instincts and logics that aren’t my own, guiding me. I have a mistrust of what I might think should ‘come next’, or how I read and misread signs/code. My work right now is trying to get in touch with my desire because I believe I have suppressed it or lost it all a long time ago and I have just been on survival mode, which has meant cutting off bits of myself in order to get by, because it felt impossible to hold so much internal(ised) conflict. I am trying not to do this anymore. I am trying to shed the bits of me I picked up to replace those bits cut off because I don’t want them anymore. At the same time, hanging in the balance – feeling that being responsible to past and future is only possible simultaneously – I carry my past selves and all my future selves…

I move from thinking about starting to think about preparing this presentation to thinking about preparing the presentation and I think about how I think that I am invited here as a black woman artist who puts herself in public – body and text – and has been doing so for some years now; as someone who is not yet ‘old’ or ‘older’, as a dancer in a Live Art scene; a UK – London-based – person. I remember that I was initially asked to talk about a thing I do with a friend, Sara Sassenelli, called HOTLINE. Now a monthly unfunded event where we get three people to present/talk about something they’re interested in at the moment and then open it up into a conversation with the room. I think about how maybe you never really know how you fit into the puzzle, and how so often I feel like a pawn on a chessboard.

Later, I think about FKA Twigs Nike campaign that I walk past on my way to my studio and have watched on the little screen of my iPhone: “Do you believe in more?”

I think about the t-shirts you can buy in Topshop that say, “Feel no fear”, “Females of the future” and “Babe, you got this”. Slogan t-shirts always make me think of my secret desire to buy a “Nobody knows I’m a lesbian” t-shirt from Camden Market aged 13, to project an image ahead of me, future-me. (I didn’t really have any word for my sexuality. I just knew it was deviant).

I think about how all this stuff – t-shirts, packets of crisps, tubes of toothpaste, adverts on the tube that tell me I am too embarrassed to look into the eyes of the person sat opposite me – is talking, pushing itself outwards, trying to get somewhere, trying to communicate, anticipating that I will respond somehow. Conversation is a difficult thing to realise and requires a lot of navigation, negotiation, censoring, side-stepping, skipping over but first, an encounter, a meeting…

I am thinking and dancing about alienation a lot at the moment, the impossibility of un-fractured togetherness and the acknowledgement of constant, shifting divisions and points of separation rather than a quest for wholeness, oneness, unity, that at this point just looks and sounds like forgetting and erasure. Instead of looking for commonality to be a starting point, can we just start from here? (wherever here might be) I could speak about dancing and say that I am not interested in creating a shared language that deals in repeated forms and fixed definitions but an understanding or engagement that happens on different, multiple levels through some kind of performance of an embodied engagement with myself and my forming/unformed logics as a space of rupture to everyday practices of communication. We all speak in tongues across continents and back and forth through time, simultaneously telling many stories at once. Bodies are complex time-travelling beasts of many intersecting and conflicting systems.

I had a conversation the other day and it reminded me that the future is contained in the present. Not some dream but the thing I create with all my actions and choices and the thing that I am imagining when I make those actions and choices. Looking at what is here now, already, and the politics assumed within gestures, taking them apart and looking at the little pieces and seeing what they tell about the past, and about the future…

Nothing ever really goes away, and fetishising newness and innovation is totally colonial, the performance of a continued forgetting, erasing and ignoring. I had a Year 3 teacher who told me that energy cannot be made or destroyed, only transformed. I have thought about this every day since. Every day I am trying to figure out how to transform.

At the moment I am thinking about ‘instinct’ and rhythm, musical genres, what these rhythms have to tell about a body, about a moment, and about what will follow. What vision of the future is contained in those aesthetic choices?

The other week I had a woman pressing her fingers against left side of the protruding bit of my pubis before it gives way to the genitalia. She was asking me about my mother’s abortions and reading the deaths of unborn creatures parasites copies of myself, from that touch.

My body is archive and oracle. As is yours. Nothing goes away and once you have seen, you can’t un-see, so what do you do then?