Monday, 17 June 2013

Yoko Ono's Meltdown | Activism Weekend

 "Time is running out for the planet. The only option is do something or do nothing... I believe in people. People change things." - Yoko Ono

I went along to the first day of Activism Weekend at the South Bank Centre on Saturday. It was pretty extraordinary (def £15 well spent!) I came away feeling thoroughly overloaded with information. I also came away feeling very very inspired. It was strange for me to try to put in context all that I learnt on the day and at the same time relate the theoretic's and the stories relayed to my own personal journey of activism/ art/ writing/ politics. 

On top of that it was a challenge to try to make sense of some of the very interesting conversations on social media and communications. David Babbs (director of 38 degrees) talked quite a bit about people power and the ability to mobilise the masses through new technology. During the talks on 'Technology and Activism' I picked up quite a lot on the unifying power of social media and found myself again relating certain topics back to my life, in particular my job as a communications officer. 

There were also some really interesting discussions on personal responsibility and the need for artists and non-artists to share and convey and to be active. In fact the one thing I took away from the day, was just that; the need for us as individuals to be free-thinking and active.  

As a student I could probably be described as an activist. I remember going around school when I was in year 11 taping Stop the War flyers all over the windows and doors (I got in a lot of trouble for this) and then working with others to take it outside to the wider world. I used to attend all sorts of protests and demo's and public and underground meetings. Then at university, I took a different approach; I established a newsletter as a platform for discussion and debate. Not to long after I gained funding, I remember one of the issues had to be withdrawn because it was deemed too 'radical' at which point I moved away from writing and towards other more 'legitimate' and 'safe' art practises such as film/ photography. After University, I went in a completely different direction. I developed a quieter and more personal form of art and even now, through much of my writing and photography I try to make a difference (however small that may be). Through conversation, through my work, I really try to push people to think for themselves, -to think a little differently. 

As someone who's always been branded an outsider by the mainstream (coloured/ muslim/ youth/ from souf london) I think I can pretty much tick off every minority box. That's not to say life is about boxes, it isn't. It isn't about ticking boxes, or living in/ within the confines of boxes. I mean I think so much of life is about honesty, being honest with yourself about yourself and being honest with others. Nonetheless being consigned/ branded, being told constantly what you believe/ who you are and what you are by external forces, really does push you to go deeper, in a way that I think 'insiders' may never understand.

In so many ways, I feel like I'm incredibly privileged to be in this unique place, where I can really experiment with ideas and philosophies and practises. I feel like I've had the space to develop this kind of unique vision, just by existing outside the 'norm.' Anyway it's strange when you try to map out your journey in certain contexts especially if you've undertaken so many separate journeys.... I still feel like I have so much to learn in terms of figuring out my role in all this. 

Ah I've gone off on a tangent again, so during the day I went to three talks of which I've included more information about below. The highlight for me was when two members of Pussy Riot, covered in their bright coloured balaclavas came out and spoke about activism and the need to do it for yourself and to just be fearless and to have the courage to do and say what you believe is right. I also really enjoyed listening to the inspirational Jenny Sealey talk about disability and the arts/ and the effect the cuts had on Graeae and also the mainstreams ignorance and unwillingness to take on disabled actors...

Anyway, it was a very informative and inspiring day... I've included information on the talks I attended below as well as some pictures I took. 

Art and Activism

A panel discussion exploring the different ways artists respond to complex social issues, political situations and important personal causes. Chaired by Shami Chakrabarti, the panellists are artist Bob and Roberta Smith; Artistic Director of Graeae Theatre Company Jenny Sealey; and Heather Ackroyd, of artist partnership Ackroyd & Harvey.

Technology and Activism

This panel explore some of the ways that activists are successfully using new technologies and tactics to change the status quo and some of the barriers they face. Chaired by Olivia Solon, Associate Editor of, the panellists are author and activist Cory Doctorow; Director of The Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at DEMOS Jamie Bartlett; and Executive Director of 38 Degrees David Babbs.

Let’s start a Pussy Riot Book Launch

 Pussy Riot members made a shock appearance
Loud, controversial, fearless — Pussy Riot undoubtedly ushered in a new era of feminism and political freedom with their protest acts. Their dialogue continues in this new book Let’s Start A Pussy Riotwith contributions from Yoko Ono and over 30 other artists – and, exclusively for Meltdown, expands beyond the pages.