Monday, 29 July 2013

The Ramadan Tent

The Somali Relief and Development Forum sponsored SOAS Open Iftar Ramadan Tent for the first 10 days of the Holy Month. The initiative led by an inspiring guy named Omar Salha, sought to bring together the homeless and people from an array of different backgrounds to share food, conversation and the Ramadan spirit in the heart of London as Muslims broke their fasts at sunset.

On the very first day, sitting on the floor on the green outside SOAS I was overcome by a strange and an almost unreal sense of déjà vu. I'd been there before. I'd lived through the experience. You know it's crazy in life how things add up, how we somehow come to possess our very own unique sense of intuition along with this incredible ability to connect the dots, to both relate and to an extent relive the same experiences over and over again in completely different contexts and in completely different times.

As I sat quietly on the floor, watching from a distance as a crowd of strangers came together to talk, to laugh and to share, this familiar feeling washed over me, a kind of warmth. I think what made the Ramadan Tent so special, is the opportunities that it created; I think these opportunities were so much greater than perhaps its noble conception imagined.

All my life I've found myself in the midst of very different characters; sharing, laughing, connecting. Those of you who know me will know that a big part of my life has been about connection; trying to connect with others, with moments, with art, with writing, with life, with reality, with myself, most importantly with God. My life has been made and unmade by a never-ending series of (dis)connections and the sheer magic that comes with these. Over the years I've found myself in the strangest of situations, in the most surreal of places; sharing with people idea's, memories, thoughts and perhaps most importantly food. I've shared meals with strangers in underground food joints in Damascus, with diplomats and peacekeepers on fancy tables in Caux, on the cold floors of far-off relatives' houses in Lahore. I've shared food and conversation with colleagues and friends at the wetlands, in day centres, housing estates, in schools, in pharmacies. I've shared hot potatoes with tree-cutters by a bonfire at Saltbox Hill, and breakfasts with strangers in random youth hostels. A space, some food and conversation, these three things can truly bring people together.

Despite all this, my visits to the Ramadan Tent took me back to three quite specific experiences/ times in my life.

1) Back in 2008, I spent a whole year volunteering for the South London Refugee Association. Every Thursday afternoon I would get the bus St Mary's Church in Balham, where I'd help a group of colourful characters who very quickly become like family to me, cook and prepare meals for refugees, asylum seekers and the homeless.

We followed the same routine every Thursday without fail; we'd set up the creche for the children, we'd fold out the tables and line them up, pull out the chairs and when people finally started coming we'd plate up the food and give it out. Often we'd get the same wonderful people coming, people who had in a very short period of time become my friends, my teachers and my guru's. Coming from a whole range of backgrounds, from Iraq to Somalia, each and every individual who came had a story to tell, and I wanted to hear it.

Over lunch I remember listening to some of the most inspiring, beautiful, horrifying and death-defying stories I had ever heard, and what made these stories so incredible were the fact that they were true; the kindest woman you'll ever meet had been the victim of abuse (of every kind); a small girl's father had been shot and killed by a member of the Taliban, a man had lost his entire family to war. These were real people, who'd come through hardships most of us could never begin to imagine. The resilience, the strength, the dignity of these people was more than humbling. St Mary's was a sacred space; a church that every Thursday afternoon would fill up with people from all different faiths, communities and cultures. The availability and accessibility (physical, mental and spiritual) of that space is what rendered it so special. The Ramadan Tent offers that space, and more than that it offers people the opportunity to connect, to share, to experience and to better understand.

2) The Ramadan Tent also brought my first novel, Freegan Freedom to mind. I started writing Freegan Freedom in 2007, it was an incredible journey to undertake. Freegan Freedom explored the relationships between a group of dissimilar Londoners living in an abandoned building brought together by fate and connected through shared anti-materialistic and communitarian ethos. This book is about finding peace and coming to know yourself through others. It's about finding common ground with someone you may believe to be belonging to another world, a world completely apart from your own. One of my favourite parts of this book, is towards the end when the Freegans put together a feast, made up wholly of the waste of others in order to cheer up the protagonist, a searching young homeless lad named Sebastian. It is the fusion of space, conversation and food that brings about this warm and beautiful moment and I sort of believe this moment was, on a level, re-created and came to life at the Ramadan Tent; a space belonging to no-one but everyone too. (Check out past projects if you'd like to buy the book)

3) Last but not least, the Ramadan Tent reminded me of the Tooting Transition Shop, a community arts project I was involved in last year. The shop turned the very idea of a 'shop' on it's head. It became a meeting place in which to collect and exchange experiences, memories, objects, journeys and thoughts about past, present and future everyday life in Tooting. Through performance, film, photography, visual art and text, light was shed on the way we live and exist in a shared space. Again it was about having a space to come together and connect and share:

The Ramadan Tent was an ambitious project, that was brought to life by all the people involved, not least those who came together to share a meal. A simple, but incredible endeavour. 

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Film Club #2: Before Midnight

“It’s not time they’re lost in; it’s perception.” 
“How is that different from time?”

Film Club sort of resumed after a very long hiatus, with a few of us taking a trip to Brixton Ritzy to see Before Midnight. (Check out the link below for more information on the first two films, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset.) 

It was so strange to see Jessie and Celine finally together 10 years on from Before Sunset. This film was quite different to the first two, in that it focused on the difficulties of them being together. Here both work through the resentments they feel towards each other, resentments that they've both collected during the past two decades, from Jessie having to give up his life and move away from his 14 year old son, to Celine trying to take care of the family while working to save the world and at the same time retain her own sense of identity and independence.  

What I really love about Before Midnight, in fact what I love about all of the films is that both the characters, are so real and so human and so flawed. It's so refreshing to see a film, completely stripped down of all grandeur and action, to be so simple in its nature and yet so engaging. As ever I loved the dialogue- the conversations they both shared, the arguments they engaged in, all revealing of themselves, their insecurities and enduring search to be at ease with who they are and how they've chosen to live- together yet apart.

We also come to see how much they've changed (and how little too) with both having made sacrifices, both trying to, in one way or another come to terms with the decisions and indecisions made throughout their journeys, separate and shared. It was also interesting to see how the dichotomy of perception/ time played out. It wasn't time that had caused this friction between them, but the way they had come to see things. Both have come to the realisation that life, is no fairy tale. I don't want to give too much away but I think the 'end' of this trilogy was pretty perfect.  

I felt like I could really relate to Jessie in so many ways, as a writer, as someone who's also always felt disconnected to a degree, as someone who has tried to compensate and better understand through stories and story-telling. If there was one thing that really came through in this series is that nothing can substitute the spoken word. If you get a chance, def see this films. And to fans of the incredible Before- series, you won't be disappointed.

Memory Palace

If you could keep only one memory, what would it be?

I went to this fascinating exhibition at the V&A today. If there's one exhibition you go this summer, make it this one! Info below- (taken from V&A website)

Memory Palace brings together a new work of fiction by the author Hari Kunzru with 20 original commissions from leading graphic designers, illustrators and typographers to create a multidimensional story.

The way we read books is changing. Memory Palace explores how a story might be imagined in a different format – as a walk-in book.

The Story

Hari Kunzru's story is set in a future London, hundreds of years after the world’s information infrastructure was wiped out by an immense magnetic storm. Technology and knowledge have been lost, and a dark age prevails. Nature has taken over the ruins of the old city and power has been seized by a group who enforce a life of extreme simplicity on all citizens. Recording, writing, collecting and art are outlawed.

The narrator of the story is in prison. He is accused of being a member of a banned sect, who has revived the ancient ‘art of memory’. They try to remember as much of the past as they can in a future where forgetting has been official policy for generations. The narrator uses his prison cell as his ‘memory palace’, the location for the things he has remembered: corrupted fragments and misunderstood details of things we may recognise from our time. He clings to his belief that without memory, civilisation is doomed.

The Commissions

The chosen practitioners work across a variety of fields, from comics and editorial illustration to advertising and typography. The broad selection of contributors demonstrates the exceptionally diverse and expanding worlds of contemporary graphic design and illustration.

Kunzru’s story is written in a series of short passages that move in a non-linear way through the dystopian world he created. Each of the designers and illustrators worked on a different passage of text from the story, responding freely to the text. The resulting commissions vary dramatically in scale and format, from intricate hand-drawn works to large three-dimensional environments.

Video on the exhibition: 

The Resistance of Others

My sister's collective OOMK zine co-organised this event last night along with The Leaf Network. It was pretty RAD(ical) and really inspired! I especially loved Akala's powerful performances. Antarma was brilliant too and so was Hollie who performed her well-known  'Mathematics.' (see below)

I have so much respect for all the artists and speakers that performed. I hope one day I have the courage to go in front of crowds and read out my work with just a fraction of the passion and strength as these guys. Also much support as ever to Hamja Ahsan in is campaign to bring justice to Talha. I hope he and Marcia Riggs and all the other families affected by police brutality and injustice will continue to gain support and bring light upon truth.

More info and pics below-

The Leaf Network and OOMK present:
"The Resistance of Others: with Akala and Ken Fero"
Friday 5th July- The Albert, 1 Albert Road, NW6 5DT

Join MOBO award winning rap artist Akala for a live performance and audience Q&A session with Migrant Media's director Ken Fero on police brutality. The event will start with a screening of Migrant Media's film 'Who Polices the Police?' Guest performers: Antarma, ANG. Guest speakers: Marcia Riggs, Hamja Ahsan

Ken's award winning film 'Injustice' documents over 2000 police custody deaths that have occurred since records began in 1969. The film narrates stories of the struggles for justice by the families of those that have died in police custody. It sheds light on the fact that there has never been a successful prosecution of police officers, and human rights abuses continue despite overwhelming evidence. The film has won several awards at the BFM London Film Festival and One World Film Festival, including the best documentary for human rights.

Migrant Media is a non-profit group of radical film-makers with a focus on work about resistance, race and class. Leading the group is director Ken Fero, who's work visually documents experiences in various communities since 1989 in television and cinema production. Migrant Media has a strong community grounding with an international reputation for challenging and innovative work. This event is intended to raise awareness for MM's upcoming film 'The Resistance of Others', due to be released in September. All funds will go towards the post-production and initial distribution costs of the film.

View the film 'Injustice' here:

Brush-strokes on a Wall

The View from the 7th Floor

Tuesday, 2 July 2013