Monday, 28 July 2014

A Journey of Words

A few years ago, in the Autumn of 2012 I found myself at a cross roads. After a life-changing trip to Lahore, I came back to London having decided that I needed to leave. I needed some time and some space to think, to process, to write, to come to terms with and to most importantly reconnect with God. And so I quit my job and signed up to go to Wales for a year to study my faith in a remote rural village not far from Pembrokeshire. It would be perfect- I would go for long hikes, seek comfort in solitude and have some time to really figure out who I was and what I wanted from life. 

A few weeks before I was due for departure, I got an email from the institution stating that due to unforeseeable circumstances, they would not be opening for the year; unforeseeable circumstances- the story of my life. And so it seemed that fate had other plans for me, I was to stay in London, and over the next few years I would find this pattern to become a continuation of my life. Every time I would pack my bags and be ready to leave, something would come up. I would randomly land a job I'd applied for a year earlier, or be presented with an opportunity that I just couldn't refuse. 

And so in Autumn 2012 as I tried to figure out what I was to do next, I started working on a casual basis at the Natural History Museum. It was round about this time I decided that to give up journal writing after 8 years. I'd come to the conclusion that my words bounded me, that my words formed and dictated my reality- all I wanted was to be free; free of words, free of my own expectations, free of my dreams. In essence, I wanted nothing. I wanted to be. 

When I began work at the Natural History Museum I didn't think I'd be sticking around for more than a few weeks. What I didn't know then, is that I would be sticking around for longer and that the time that would follow, would be one of the most difficult times I'd ever have to live through. I cut off from everyone. I became sick, spiritually and physically. I could no longer talk to people, they wouldn't understand and I didn't have the energy to explain. I became a mute. I would spend so much of my time alone, trying to fight my sickness, trying to find the will to go on, to live and to live well and to re-teach myself the meaning of my life. I would escape to the coast, to the country. I would wander. I would think. I would not think. I would learn. I would break. I would break. I would break. And I would, once again, come to write. 

Art is a refuge and a compensation. I think there's a certain kind of person that is especially disposed to creativity. It is an escape. A compensation- for all that we are, all that we aren't, all that we want to be. I've always written- in particular, I've written to understand, to process, to try to connect the dots. My life has been vaguer than vague, maybe everyones has, comprised of ten thousand encounters in ten thousand places, cut and paste images of landscapes, foreign-ness, strangers, friends that become strangers and strangers that become friends, the conversations we share- all the epiphanies, paradoxes, the signs, serendipity, all the moments that shape and reshape, that mould the self and the identity. And of course pain. A poets best friend, at times, a poets only friend. August 2013 I undertook a journey into pain and poetry. Pain and poetry were all I had. 

One day, I can't remember exactly when, I wrote a poem, and it healed a part of me. Since then, I've written over 800+ poems, some happy some funny some absurd and ridiculous some angry some political - all trying to shed light on reality and experience. But a lot of my poems, a lot of my best poems are really quite sad. I guess we only write when we're sad, when we're up against everything, trying to find light when all that surrounds us is darkness.

I don't write so much any more, I've stopped thinking in rhymes. I seem to have lost the ability. Back then, everything I wrote was real, raw, hard to read, frightening, sometimes beautiful. And so last year I self published two books of poems and I sometimes read them. A lot of them I've shared on my poetry blog. But its only recently I feel like enough time has elapsed from than and now, to be able to really share them and not feel like I'm sacrificing parts of myself- to let people into a world that no longer is my world (of course parts of it will always be) So recently I decided to start a new project. I bought a dictaphone and set up a sound cloud and have decided to share my poems. It's quite an incredible experience, writing, recording, editing, creating sounds, recreating emotions, it's difficult to share, but its important too, its accepting yourself and reality and history and the future. If you're interested in hearing any of my spoken word, keep an eye out on my Sound Cloud page. I'll be updating it a lot. All track cover photos are originals and reflect the poem. 

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Short Films

I've been really getting into film making lately- here are a few short pieces I've been working on.

On a different note, I don't get much time to update my blog these days but you can stay up to date with all my creative projects by following me on twitter @sysprints 

By Time

Hallucinating in the Bird Gallery


Fly, Away Home

float on

float on butterfly
over sea and under sky
float on          
till your wings
                give out

25 Eccleston Street

I randomly joined this decolonisation women's gurilla group the other day, the discussions were incredible and quite cathartic and it was held at 25 Eccleston Street amongst a load of props and colourful clutter... kind of trippy...


Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Story Behind Settling In

Bostall Gardens. It took me over an hour and a half to get there- 40 minutes on the tube, 30 minutes on the train and another 15 on a bus. To be honest even when I got there, I had no idea where there was. Or what to expect. My work takes me to some pretty obscure and out of the way places and often it's in these places that I get to meet the most extraordinary people and hear some of the most inspirational stories. 

A few days prior to my expedition, I'd received an email asking if I could go along to take a few photographs and to cover a story. The Mayor of Greenwich Cllr Angela Cornforth was paying a visit to the gardens to show her support for the thriving community gardening project and meet some of the people involved, many of whom were part of a Nepalese group.

When I got to Bostall Gardens, a sleepy and rather unassuming little park in Abbey Wood, I tried to call my colleague to find out where the group was, but alas she wasn't picking up, and so I paced up the main pathway all the while silently praying I was in the right place. As I paced I noticed a figure in the distance, an old women pushing a wheelbarrow. I decided my best bet would be to follow her and so I did. I followed her to the back of the park, through a gated area and straight into a secret garden. I was in awe at what I found.  In a green space in a relatively unknown suburban area of south east London, on a sunny day I was met with a group of women dressed in ten thousand colours, with beautiful weathered faces, digging and planting and laughing together. In the background was a glorious, almost otherworldly polytunnel. I felt at that moment as though I'd stepped into a different country.

I spotted a few colleagues as I entered, and walked over to them and after a few quick introductions, I began, eagerly, to explore the space. I began trying to gather enough information for the story. However, more than finding out about the project, I was (from the very beginning) interested in finding about the women. And so I floated, smiling, slightly unsure of myself, DSLR in hand and as I floated, I overheard a few words that I recognised. To my surprise and delight I very quickly came to realise that a lot of the Nepalese women spoke Hindi. I could communicate with them! I was overjoyed. As a photographer (and as a photographer on duty) I was happy that I could direct photographs of these stunning women who had recently migrated to the UK. 


More than that I was happy that I could speak to them, ask them questions, find out their stories. I was happy that they could speak to me and ask me questions and find out my stories. And we did talk, we talked about home, we talked about life, we talked about gardening and South Asia. To me, by the end of that visit, the story was a lot less about the Mayor's visit and more about the women, their journey's, their spirits and their life stories and how they came to be part of this very special gardening group.  

Of all the women, there were two that I really connected with, Toku Maya Gurun and Hira, our friendship grew over the months as the project developed. 

I remember the first time I met Toku, she wearing a baseball cap with a weed leaf sewn on, she had a strong face, charisma and brilliant sense of humour. I was drawn to her. And so were all her friends. She called me bhaji (sister) and told me of how gardening was a nice way to pass time, and how she was living alone in England, and that Bostall Gardens reminded her of home, it gave her the chance to spend time with her friends. I was inspired by her. I wanted to learn more. And I was very inspired by Hira too- by her humility and sweet nature. When I was filming in the garden she said to me in the most endearing manner, 'I am old woman.' I'll never forget that. And I'll never forget our first conversation, it ended with her telling me to stay away from 'baadmashes' (gangsters) who take drugs. I felt privileged to be able to communicate with them. As a Londoner whose parents are originally from South Asia, and belonging to two different worlds, I felt like I could almost bridge that gap. I felt like I understood these women, more than that, I felt like they understood me- the dualism of my life, my heart, my soul and my home. 

By the end of the day I left Bostall Gardens feeling very blessed and happy to have met the women and to have stumbled across their secret world. I felt like I still had so much more to learn and they had so much more to teach me (personally). When I returned to the office with my photos, I wrote (an almost dry story) about the Mayor visit adding a few quotes from Hira and Toku that I had translated into English. I then put the photo's on Groundwork London's Facebook page, and emailed them around to my friends before publishing on my personal blog. A lot of friends, upon seeing them, asked me if I had been abroad. They asked me who the incredible looking women were and when I told them I met them in south London they were more than a little surprised.

This is when I decided to pitch a very vague idea for a film which would seek to get a little deeper in sharing their stories. It was during this time I was approached by my colleague Clare, she told me of how she was creating an women in migration oral history project with another colleague Nicky and asked if I wanted to make a film that could document this project. Of course I said yes and after a few sessions of brain storming, we decided that we had a clear(ish) idea of what we wanted the film to be about and who we wanted to involve. We wanted it to be about song and craft as a means of connecting to each other. Further, as this was part of a wider project to integrate third country nations, it was open to people from other nationalities. And so over the next few months I met and connected with more incredible women, from Brazil to Morrocco. 

Over the next two months, Clare, Nicky and I spent time conducting interviews with women of Bostall Gardens on song and craft. I filmed all these interviews. We then spent a subsequent three weeks at Woolwich Community Centre, where I filmed workshops on singing and craft. The craft sessions were run by Women of Cloth member Carol Grantham and the singing workshops, by Osnat Schmool of Filament Theatre. This project, the Women in Migration project was part of a wider project entitled Cultivating Communities which sought to facilitate the integration of third country nationals. Though to me personally, the project was about the integration of UK nationals to people from other countries. Because integration isn't a one way stream, it works and only works both ways, and to be able to integrate, to connect with others, is a gift and a blessing and something we should cherish. It is only through understanding others that we may come to better understand ourselves. This was true, at least for me. 


The women involved in this project are all so strong and interesting and have so much to offer- and through song and craft they have shared some of their beautiful stories with us. Filming was the easy part, what was really difficult was making a short 7 minutes film from more than 8 hours of footage, and to do this all within a week- the gap between the final session and film screening at Woolwich Community Centre. My friend Raquhel helped me a lot on in process in putting it all together, we stayed up till 2am everyday for 7 days to get it done, and despite all the technical hiccups and challenges, we were pleased to get it up for the deadline! 

At the end of it, it was incredible and humbling to see Woolwich Community Centre packed out, and to see many of those which were involved! I was really happy that the film was well received. I learned a lot from these women, migrants have a so much to offer- as well as sharing with us a whole new way of seeing, they share with us their culture, soul and spirit. This small and humble project shows how a group of dissimilar women came together through song and craft.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Alberto Matinez: A Cuban Painter in Brighton

I was in Brighton for a bit the other day when I stumbled across the fantastical paintings of Cuban painted Alberto Matinez. His work is incredible- trippy, colourful, surreal and out of this world. Click here to see more of Alberto's work

'My name is Alberto Martinez Hernandez. One first name, two surnames. I was born in Cuba in 1977 in a very small village surrounded by sugar cane plantations and all sort of agriculture hardware. Dad was a tractor driver, mum a housewife. I'm the youngest from 4 siblings. One girl, three boys.

When I was a kid I wanted to be a tractor driver as any self respected boy in the village would. Destiny had other plans I guess. My first memories of any art related activity are drawing the passing steam engines with trucks full of sugar cane 50 metres from our house. By a mixture of luck, good preparation and help from relatives and friends I got a place to study sculpture at the Fine Arts Academy "Oscar Fernandez Morera" on the beautiful city of Trinidad. I graduated in 1997.'