iniva (Institute of International Visual Arts) and the Stuart Hall Foundation are pleased to announce the sixth Stuart Hall Library Artist Residency commencing in May 2023. This residency is a funded opportunity for an artist based in the UK to be in residence at iniva’s Stuart Hall Library over a three-month period from May to July 2023.
The selected artist will receive a total sum of £4,750 and be given support to pursue their research in the library.
Professor Stuart Hall (1932 – 2014) was actively engaged in the arts throughout his life, and in particular the visual arts. He championed the establishment of iniva and chaired its board for more than a decade. Professor Stuart Hall worked closely with artists, filmmakers and photographers, writing about the visual arts, informing critical thinking and influencing public policy on arts education.
The residency is supported by Arts Council England.
Building on the distinct connections between both organisations, the residency offers a visual artist the opportunity to develop their practice by excavating the ideas contained within Stuart Hall Library and iniva archives, taking the writings of Professor Stuart Hall as a starting point.
“Here the whole apparatus of ‘a history’ – periods, key figures and works, tendencies, shifts, breaks, ruptures – slip silently into place. It was an especially bold move to bring together at that point a number of key figures who both contributed to the body of work and were willing to help secure, nourish, extend and contest the terms of its ‘archiving’; for this helped to underline the intention that this should be, not an inert museum of dead works, but a ‘living archive’, whose construction must be seen as an on-going, never completed project.”
– Stuart Hall, Constituting an Archive (2001)
Reflecting on Stuart Hall’s paper ‘Constituting an archive’ (Published by Third Text, Spring 2001) we are inviting an artist to respond to the concept of “the living archive” and consider the multiple ways in which an archive as a site may hold multiple narratives that are contested. ‘Constituting an archive’ is available to read in the Stuart Hall Library and online for a limited period from the Taylor & Francis website until the end of February 2023. Click here to read online.
We are particularly interested in working with an artist or artist collective whose practice is informed by perspectives on politics, identity and activism; who is interested in the language of the international and ideas around diaspora; and whose methodology may relate to notions of archiving and the archival.
We do not expect a fixed outcome of the residency and want to emphasise that the prime focus of this residency is the process of research itself. However, the artist will be expected to produce a digital output of their choice (e.g. short film, sound, blog post, animated presentation etc.) for archival purposes and to co-organise a public event which allows sharing of reflections or work in progress from the residency. Examples of outcomes from previous artist-in-residences include: Ting-Ting Cheng, Squirrel Nation, Alicija Rogalska, Rosa-Johan Uddoh and Rohan Ayinde.
The form of the digital output and the event will be agreed with the artist as appropriate to their practice. The artist is expected to be in residence over a three-month period from May to July 2023, spending at least four days per month researching in the library and deliver their output and public event between September and December 2023.
As the library is in constant use, the artist will be unable to have a studio/production space on site. The residency does not include accommodation.
Stuart Hall Library, iniva, 16 John Islip Street, London, SW1P 4JU Opening hours: Tuesday – Friday, 10am – 5pm
iniva’s Stuart Hall Library is a publically accessible specialist library that centres art and theory publications from the Global Majority, African, Asian, Caribbean, Polynesian, Latinx, and Diaspora perspectives. The development of the collection takes Professor Stuart Hall’s work as a guiding principle, and in keeping with this, the library collects around art, which takes issues such as race, politics and cultural identity as its theme. The library includes over 10,000 volumes such as artist books, monographs, exhibition catalogues, journals and zines as well an archive of iniva’s work and history since 1994.
The selected artist will receive a fee of £4,050, plus up to £700 to cover materials, travel and subsistence costs in relation to the production of the event and digital output.
Your application must meet the following criteria:
iniva/Stuart Hall Foundation Artist Residency is open to visual artist(s) based in the UK with a proven track record of at least 5 years. Current undergraduate and MA students cannot apply. Current PhD candidates are eligible.
Your proposed research project must respond to the residency brief. Please read the residency brief and FAQs carefully before applying.
Explain why your research cannot be undertaken without this residency e.g. would you still be able to carry out your research proposal as a regular user of Stuart Hall Library?
Explain how the list of resources available through this residency aids in the development of your artistic practice and the outcome
How to Apply
To make an application please complete the online application form. Please carefully read the residency brief above and the FAQs below before applying.
You will be required to submit:
A summary of your research project (50 words maximum)
A research proposal (250 words maximum)
Describe how you would approach your research in Stuart Hall Library (250 words maximum)
Statement of your interest in the specific resources and opportunities available through the residency, the host partners and our networks (100 words maximum)
A detailed envisaged outcome of the residency (250 words maximum)
A proposed budget outline up to £700 for your presentation event production and digital output
CV with at least 5 years history of practice and exhibition as a visual artist. This cannot include time as a student on a further education (FE) course or undergraduate degree. (2 pages maximum, in PDF or Word format)
Supporting visual material relevant to your work and this proposal, which must be supplied as follows:
5 images maximum or 3 video clips (max length of all clips – 5min).
Please supply images in PNG or JPEG format and video files as a link (e.g. Vimeo or Youtube). We will not be able to accept video files in any other format.
The equality monitoring form
The deadline for applications is Sunday 12 February 2023 at 11.59pm
For further information about the residency or if there is a particular reason (such as dyslexia) that may require you to submit a postal application or if you would like to discuss other submission options please contact us at: email@example.com
Applications are now closed.
Selection and shortlisting
The shortlisting and selection for this opportunity will take place in March 2023. All proposals will be viewed by representatives from iniva (Institute for International Visual Arts) and the Stuart Hall Foundation. We aim to contact all applicants by end of March, and the successful applicant will be announced in April 2023.
Q: What is the purpose of this residency? The residency offers a visual artist the opportunity to develop their practice by excavating the ideas contained within the Stuart Hall Library, taking the writings of Professor Stuart Hall as a starting point. We are particularly interested in working with an artist whose practice is informed by perspectives on politics, identity and activism; who is interested in the language of the international and ideas around diaspora; and whose methodology may relate to notions of archiving and the archival.
Q: What is the difference between Stuart Hall Library and Stuart Hall Foundation? Stuart Hall Library is the central and social hub of iniva (Institute of International Visual Arts), a radical visual arts organisation who collaborate with artists, curators, researchers and cultural producers to challenge conventional notions of diversity and difference. The library is named in honour of iniva’s first chairman and cultural theorist Professor Stuart Hall in 2007.
The Stuart Hall Foundation was established in 2015 by Professor Stuart Hall’s family, friends and colleagues. The Foundation is committed to public education, addressing urgent questions of race and inequality in culture and society through talks and events, and a growing network of Stuart Hall Foundation scholars and artists in residence.
Building on the distinct connections between both organisations, the residency is an opportunity to interact with both organisations through this partnership.
Q: How long will the residency last? The artist is expected be in residence over a three-month period from May to July 2023 and to spend at least five days per month researching in the Stuart Hall Library.
Q: How much financial support will the artist receive? The selected artist will receive a fee of £4,050. In addition, the artist will receive a fee of up to £700 to cover all materials, travel and subsistence costs. The recipient is responsible for payment of taxes as applicable and is not employed by either iniva or the Stuart Hall Foundation.
Q: Do you provide accommodation? The residency does not include accommodation. The artist fees will cover materials, travel and subsistence costs (max £750) in relation to the production of the event and digital output. We cannot cover any accommodation costs related to the residency.
Q: Do I need to have a studio? As the Stuart Hall Library is open to public and in constant use, the artist will be unable to have a studio/production space on site. Depending on the nature of your work, you may need to have a working space outside the library.
Q: Is the residency annual? Will the theme of the residency be the same each year? The residency is run annually. iniva and the Stuart Hall Foundation reserve the right to review the brief of the residency on an annual basis.
Q: Is the artist expected to present an outcome at the end of the residency? We do not expect a fixed outcome of the residency and want to emphasise that the prime focus of this residency is the process of research itself. However, the artist will be expected to produce a digital output of their choice (e.g. short film, sound, blog post, animated presentation etc.) for archival purposes and to co-organise a public event which allows sharing of the residency outcomes. The form of the digital output and the event will be agreed with the artist as appropriate to their practice.
Q: Who can apply for the residency? The artist residency is open to artists based in the UK, with a proven track record of at least 5 years.
Q: What counts as a proven track record of at least 5 years. We have defined a track record as presenting or exhibiting work publicly in physical space, print and online broadcasting over the last 5 years. This can include time previously spent during a Masters degree, a PhD or other alternative post-graduation learning course. This cannot include time as a student on a further education (FE) course or undergraduate degree. Current undergraduate and MA students cannot apply. Current PhD candidates are eligible.
Q: Is the residency for visual artists only or are the applications accepted from artists who work in dance, performance and live art? The residency is not limited to visual artists only. We welcome applications from artists working in all disciplines as long as they meet the criteria.
Q: Can curators and art writers apply for the residency? The residency is predominantly for applicants who work within an artistic practice, however, if you are an artist whose work also touches on curating or writing you are eligible to apply for the residency.
Q: How has Covid-19 affected the residency and will I still be able to access the library? Stuart Hall Library is now open again for physical visits from Tuesday to Friday, and can be accessed in-person during the opening hours of 10am-5pm. If the resident artist is unable to visit the library for health reasons, then the library team will be able to work with them to access materials digitally and support their research progress online where possible.
Q: How to apply? To apply, please read the brief carefully and complete the online application form by 11.59pm on Sunday 12 February 2023. Late applications will not be accepted.
Q: How to complete the application form. All applications must be submitted using the online form. Complete each section and ensure that you do not exceed the maximum number of words in each section. You will not be able to submit the form if you have exceeded the maximum number of words.
Please submit your visual material using the online form. Please note that you can only upload images. If you would like to submit video files, please provide us with a Vimeo or YouTube links. Please do not share files with us as we will be unable to download them.
Please submit 5 images or 3 video/audio clips (maximum lengths of all clips – 5min).
Q: The brief states that the applicant may submit 3 videos or 5 images. Am I able to submit a combination of video and images? (e.g. 4 images and 1 video, or 3 images and 2 videos)? The stipulation of 3 videos or 5 images is intended to give flexibility to artists who might prefer to submit moving image material rather than stills, you can submit a combination of video and images.
Q: Is it possible to see the space before submitting the application? You are welcome to visit the Stuart Hall Library, which is located at iniva, 16 John Islip Street, London, SW1P 4JU during the opening hours of 10am-5pm without appointment.
The library catalogue can be accessed on the iniva website, where you can find more information about the Stuart Hall Library and visiting guidelines: www.iniva.org/library
iniva’s archive require 3 days advance notice to visit with of list of up to five items emailed to the library and archive team. For more information visit: www.iniva.org/library
Q: Where can I read Stuart Hall’s essay ‘Constituting an archive’?
‘Constituting an archive’ is available to read in the Stuart Hall Library and online for a limited period from the Taylor & Francis website until the end of February 2023. Click here to read online.
Q: Is the residency open to international applicants? No, the residency is open only to artists based in the UK.
Q: I am an international artist currently living in the UK. Do I need to prove that I’ve been living in UK for past 5 years to be eligible? No, if you are a currently living in the UK, then you are eligible to apply irrespective of the date you arrived in UK.
Q: I am not a British Citizen; can I still apply for the residency? Yes, anyone who is currently based in the UK is eligible to apply for the residency.
Q: Are the dates of the residency fixed? The artist is expected be to in residence over a three-month period from May to July 2023. The artist should be available to start the residency in May 2023, however, some flexibility may be considered for the selected candidate.
Q: Am I able to apply for the residency if I am a part-time or full-time student? Due to the nature of the residency, we are unfortunately not able to accept applications from students. PhD candidates are eligible.
Q: When will I hear if my application has been successful? The shortlisting and selection for the residency will take place in March 2023. All proposals will be viewed by representatives from iniva and the Stuart Hall Foundation. We aim to contact all applicants by end of March, and the successful applicant will be announced in April 2023.
Ayinde’s work oscillates between abstract drawings, audio-visual poetry, performance and sculpture, and is interested in the ways that abstraction can function as a method for thinking about black radical thought as a form, or a poetics. His research during the residency will take Stuart Hall’s description of “diaspora identity” with the work of Frank Bowling as a starting point from which to develop a grammar for thinking a contemporary poetics of blackness/fragmentation. Through this research, Ayinde aims to create a series of audio-visual poems that “weave through the journey that black radical thought takes us on, seeking to give space and credence to the fracture it gives voice to and hopefully arguing that the fracture is a generative place into, and out of which, to make art”.
A public event where Ayinde shares his research will be presented towards the beginning of 2022.
About Rohan Ayinde
Rohan Ayinde is an interdisciplinary poet based between London and Chicago. His work is centred around creating “otherwise” potentials (Ashon Crawley), and in so doing breaking down and simultaneously reconfiguring the ideological architectures that shape our daily and generational lives. Most recently, his work is shaped by a dance around the possibility opened up by the logics of black holes, specifically when read in conversation with the historical and material conditions of blackness.
Ayinde is one half of the wayward/motile collaborative duo i.as.in.we, with friend/producer/dancer Yewande YoYo Odunubi. He received his MA in Visual and Critical Studies from SAIC (2019). He is the gallery manager for Blanc (Chicago), is a curatorial fellow with ACRE, and has curated shows at Blanc, ACRE Projects, and NOW Gallery.
Rosa-Johan Uddoh (2020)
Rosa began her residency in May 2020. The jurors selected Uddoh for her ongoing interest in her practice concerning the construction of the performative act and characterisation in popular culture that produces the black or British subjectivity. Uddoh’s previous work has drawn on popular figures such as Moira Stuart, Hercule Poirot, Venus Williams, Una Marson.
During this time, Uddoh will focus on researching Stuart Hall’s lectures and other archival material available online. Uddoh explains that she will be “using the library resources to contextualise his charismatic presentations with performance art of the time.” She plans “to study Hall’s Open University lectures as performances for late-night television and his published papers as scripts. Exploring Hall as both performance theorist and performer himself, this research will culminate in a pantomime.”
Through this research, Uddoh will explore Hall’s commitment to disseminating knowledge through different media channels, which acquires a renewed sense of urgency in the context of the current global situation. A public event will be presented in 2022.
About Rosa-Johan Uddoh
Rosa-Johan Uddoh (b.1993, Croydon) is an interdisciplinary artist working towards radical self-love, inspired by black feminist practice and writing. Through performance, installation, ceramics, video and sound, she explores an infatuation with places, objects or celebrities in British popular culture, and the effects of these on self-formation.
Rosa studied Architecture BA at Cambridge University and MA Fine Art at The Slade (University College London) as a Sarabande Foundation scholar. Recently, Rosa has shown work at: Tate Modern, Jupiter Woods (solo), Black Tower Projects (solo), Nottingham Contemporary and New Contemporaries 2018. She is a Liverpool Biennial & John Moores University Fellow and a Lecturer in Performance at Central Saint Martins.
Alicja Rogalska will be in residence at Iniva’s Stuart Hall Library from April to July 2019. Rogalska’s proposed research project explores Stuart Hall’s ideas of citizenship through his writings on classification as fundamental to human culture and, simultaneously, as a system of power. The research will situate Stuart Hall’s work within the contemporary context of immigration law and global citizenship discourse utilising the Stuart Hall Library, itself, as a site of classification.
The Stuart Hall Library Artist Residency is an annual funded opportunity established in partnership between Iniva and the Stuart Hall Foundation. Building on the distinct connections between both organisations, the three-month residency allows a visual artist the space to think about some of the key themes related to the work of Iniva and the Foundation, including the language of the diaspora, culture, identity and archiving.
About Alicja Rogalska
Alicja Rogalska is an artist living in London and working internationally. Her practice is research-led, interdisciplinary and focuses on social structures and the political subtext of the everyday. She mostly works in specific contexts making situations, performances, videos and installations in collaboration with other people. Her projects are attempts to practise a different political reality in the here and now, create space for many voices to be heard and to co-exist, whilst collectively searching for emancipatory ideas for the future.
Alicja graduated with an MFA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths College and an MA in Cultural Studies from Warsaw University. She was artist in residence at PARADISE AIR in Matsudo/Tokyo, MuseumsQuartier in Vienna, IASPIS in Stockholm, MeetFactory in Prague, National University of Colombia in Bogota and TATE Britain in London. She attended the Home Workspace programme at Ashkal Alwan in Beirut, received grants from Arts Council England, Instytut Adama Mickiewicza, European Cultural Foundation and artist bursaries from Artsadmin and a-n. She is currently leading social practice Peer Forum at Peckham Platform/Artquest, participating in Syllabus IV and working on Radical Thinking, a solo commission for Focal Point Gallery and Art Exchange in collaboration with the Faculty of Social Sciences at Essex University.
Selected through a hugely popular open call, the collective Squirrel Nation was in residence at Iniva’s Stuart Hall Library from February to April 2018. The three members of the collective – filmmaker Erinma Ochu, visual artist Caroline Ward and curator Bianca Manu – will explore the evolution of diasporic identities and how a sense of belonging or isolation is shaped in the context of cultural and social locations, and technology.
Taking the archival material as a starting point, Squirrel Nation will use social media and modern technologies to develop a forward-looking approach to explore how individual experiences of diasporic communities today relate to the experiences of previous generations. By finding cultural ‘touchpoints’ between the generations, Squirrel Nation will create an artistic intervention to rethink the politics of blackness, diversity and inclusion
About Squirrel Nation
Squirrel Nation is an international collective comprised of visual artists, writers, designers, sound artists, scientists and curators who create experimental works across a range of settings. The core members are filmmaker Erinma Ochu, visual artist Caroline Ward and curator, Bianca Manu.
Caroline Ward is a deaf visual artist and experience designer, trained originally in fine art and film. She is interested in intersectionality and the crossovers between nature-culture and technology. She has innovated future experiences at BBC and as Digital Associate for The Space. She is currently studying at The Royal College of Art.
Erinma Ochu is a filmmaker and writer, originally trained as a neuroscientist. She’s interested in the afterlives of creative practice and what remains from creating or experiencing intersectional work. She recently held a Jerwood fellowship with Manchester International Festival, attached to Yael Bartana’s What if Women Ruled the World. She teaches at The University of Salford.
Bianca Ama Manu is a curator and producer invested in exploring socio-political, environmental, new media and identity matters. Working between London, UK and Accra, Ghana, past work includes the Wellcome Collection and The Netherlands Embassy, Ghana. Her current role is as curator for Nubuke Foundation, an arts foundation in Accra.
Stuart Hall Foundation and Iniva (Institute of International Visual Arts) launched of On the Desert Island, an interactive audio site-specific work by artist Ting-Ting Cheng which was presented in Iniva’s Stuart Hall Library (1 June – 1 December 2017). The artwork is the outcome of the first ever Stuart Hall Library Artist Residency.
Offering a unique way to explore Iniva’s remarkable collection, On the Desert Island takes its cue from Professor Stuart Hall speaking to Sue Lawley on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in February 2000. On the long-running radio show, the presenter asks the guest to punctuate their conversation with eight records they would choose to take with them if they were cast away on a desert island.
Ting-Ting Cheng draws on the recording of Professor Stuart Hall’s interview to create an audio map which imagines the Stuart Hall Library as islands with its bookshelves and contents as land mass to be negotiated. Using the library’s categorisation system that places exhibition catalogues according to their geographical location, the artist’s tour encourages the listener to wander between Great Britain and Jamaica as if they were part of an archipelago. On this physical journey they will follow Professor Stuart Hall’s conversation about identity and diversity 17 years ago in the context of Britain today. Revisiting Professor Stuart Hall’s commentary On the Desert Island casts a curious light on today’s political, social and cultural realities where issues of sovereignty and the rise of uncontained xenophobia are as prophetic as he imagined.
On the Desert Island was vailable to listen to in the Stuart Hall Library from 1 June until 1 December 2017. The work is available as a free, solo, 45-minute experiential journey around the Stuart Hall Library. For this reason, pre-booking is essential. To book your place, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
SWEET TOOTH is a cross-disciplinary music theatre piece devised by vocal and movement artist Elaine Mitchener. It uses text, improvisation and movement to stage a dramatic engagement with the brutal realities of slavery, as revealed by historical records of the British sugar industry and to illuminate its contemporary echoes. The work was commissioned by Bluecoat Liverpool in partnership with the Stuart Hall Foundation and the International Slavery Museum. It was premiered at the Bluecoat, LiverpoolinNovember2017andatSt.George’sBloomsbury,LondoninFebruary2018.
Gilane Tawadros (GT): How did you come to conceive SWEET TOOTH as a performance work?
Elaine Mitchener (EM): Musical ideas spring from the strangest sources. The idea for SWEET TOOTH came from a shared addictionofScottish Tablet with my late father. That crumbly sweet substance sparked many questions in my mind concerning the deadly cost to human life and livelihood of one race in order to feed the addiction and greed of another; and how far people will go to satisfy their desire to gain wealth and satiate an appetite.
The Sugar Trade and the enslavement of millions of Africans, represented the zenith of capitalism; in other words, the removal of its most costly item: paying people for their work. By dehumanising one race, another gained in prosperity and wealth and the vast funds received in turn were used to develop Western society at all levels – education, culture, medicine, science – which we profit from today.
How could I tackle this vast topic through music? Was music the right medium through which to examine this area of human history? Did I have a right to? I had no idea how all-consuming this exciting journey would be.
My practice works primarily in movement and voice. Over the last five years working collaboratively with the choreographer Dam Van Huynh, I have created a technique which is grounded in classical vocal training (my teacher Jacqueline Bremar is brilliant) but also enables me to employ the physicality of contemporary dance. My philosophy of encounter-enact-engage allows me to develop and devise works combining found texts, sound, movement, vocalization, improvisation, and collaboration to create intimate and experimental music theatre performance pieces. Pulling together a team of extraordinary musicians, Sylvia Hallett, Marks Sanders and Jason Yarde along with Dam Van Huynh and invaluable guidance and insight from historian Christer Petley, we undertook two years of research and development.
I started creating from a blank space. The only definite idea I had was that I knew I wanted people to experience the work live and that sound would be integral. Through reading research, discussion and learning, it became clear to me that the work required a strong aural basis and not just a physical one. Meditating on what it might have been for enslaved Africans to experience the unknown and the sound and smell of fear, the strength, self-determination and resolve of rebellion; the essential activity of song and dance as a constant reminder of one’s own humanity, history, tradition; these became the cornerstones of the work from which I was able to build a skeletal framework to hang ideas on.
The next stage was to ask the team to engage with the topic fully and to find their own personal ways into it. To embody the feelings for themselves; place themselves and their families into the situation and to express their reactions musically. What became clear (and what I had in mind) was that this work was not going to be a comfortable experience for us or the audience and it ought not be. I will have failed if people applaud loudly, whoop and cheer. So far the response has been silent reflection and thoughtful discussion afterwards, but I can’t prevent an audience from responding to the work in a more enthusiastic way.
GT: SWEET TOOTH is a very uncomfortable piece to experience and it is an experience rather than a spectacle. It draws you in to a sequence of episodes or movements but has no overarching, linear narrative as you would expect from a fictional novel or a historical account. Can you say some more about the piece’s relationship to historical research and how your approach to source material differs from that of a historian?
EM: It’s such an immense subject that it was very clear early on that I would need to work with an expert to check facts and to alert me to current research and resources that might prove useful to the development of my ideas around the work and how to present it. Working with Dr Christer Petley proved
invaluable and I believe we learnt a lot from each other. I wanted to avoid voyeurism, victim ‘porn’ or any kind of spectacle and the idea was to try and evoke an unnerving sense of tension, claustrophobia and entrapment. Of course, one can never know what that really felt like, but we have narratives and accounts, diaries which describe each step of the experience, albeit mainly from the oppressor’s point of view.
Not being a historian enabled me to focus on other aspects of the source material. Being a musician, I decided to draw the audience’s attention to sound as the narrative, the sound of people, their voices, their expression of rage, fear, defiance, joy, comfort. These would be reminders that, although reduced by their oppressors to being part of the huge machinery of slavery, enslaved Africans were people who dreamed, loved, hoped and resisted, and finally overcame.
The vast knowledge base of historians is enviable. They are able to digest what they’ve painstakingly researched and re-present it for public understanding. However, I find that this is all conducted in a clinical way, as though these events are being viewed under a microscope or at arm’s length. The purpose of SWEET TOOTH was to give a voice to those millions of people lost to slavery. Recalling their given names reminds us of their humanity. Referencing their work songs and rituals allows us to honour the culture which they developed and the legacy of which remains to this day. My job was to liberate the dry historical facts and somehow breathe life into them.
It was a challenge for me to view the historical material researched with an academic eye. I had to seek ways to absorb information, much of which was deeply upsetting, disturbing and difficult to accept. I had to digest it as historical fact and allow myself to find a creative and artistic response to it.
My decision to work abstractly with words was a conscious one in that I did not want them to obstruct the sound experience. Where words are used, they are used sparingly and are quickly fractured. Because SWEET TOOTH is also a visual work, I felt strongly that any ‘narrative’ could be felt and heard without the use of words.
GT: Can you say something about the episodic structure of SWEET TOOTH which has been conceived as a series of distinct chapters or movements?
EM: The decision to call these movements ‘chapters’ was a deliberate way of anchoring the work and the fact that it concerns a tragic episode, not only in the history of black people but in the history of humanity. This holocaust has repeated itself at different periods of human history. I employed a creative
semantic approach to liberate the source text material from books. Slavery in the British Caribbean was operated at a conveniently safe distance (not within the British Isles as in North America), and therefore I couldn’t draw upon personal familial accounts or records. In this way I was more like an historian because of the slight impersonal distance.
GT: You are also a jazz musician, working with other musicians and using improvisation and other techniques to create unique sounds and compositions. How has this influenced the way in which you approached and composed SWEET TOOTH?
EM: I consider myself as a musician who works across and draws on difference genres: experimental/free-jazz, avant-garde contemporary new music, gospel, Afro-Caribbean (Jamaican) music, free-improvisation and I think these influences can be heard in this work. I never thought about ‘composing’ the work. Having worked with composers and performed works by composers, I realised that my approach would need to be different to work effectively. I always wanted a sonic experience and with movement SWEET TOOTH is a work that is seen and felt. Early on I imagined it as a radio piece (so I’m pleased it was eventually broadcast on BBC Radio 3), but as the piece developed over two years it told me that it also had to be a visual / movement experience. Lighting also plays a musical part in this work and Alex Johnston has designed incredibly striking lighting moods which move the work forward.
The artists I have brought together for this project bring with them a wealth of experience and expertise along with an openness to trying new ideas. We are all well versed in the world of free-improvisation, however, for SWEET TOOTH I knew its musical world couldn’t be defined or restricted in this way. So we came together to workshop and research ideas and devise the piece along with Dam who was invaluable in helping us to access organic natural movement whilst playing.
Over time I was able to construct a method of structured improvisation upon which we were able to hang the skeletal form of the work. This method allows us the freedom to improvise whilst retaining the structural, musical form of the work. So although the concept is mine, how we arrive at realising it is very much a collective effort. My job was to work out what to retain or mull over an idea and to have the confidence to discard something because it’s not right for the work. It’s very important that each of us feels ownership of the work and finds our own narrative that can be communicated. It then becomes a powerfully direct statement of humanity to humanity.
GT: The events and experiences to which SWEET TOOTH refers took place in the historical past. What can this past teach us in the present?
EM: According to Michael Craton in his book Testing the Chains: Resistance to Slavery in the British West Indies, ‘Historians who believe history to be the story of man’s rise to civilisation tend to define civilisation to include the acceptance by all classes of their place with the socioeconomic system.’ Even from a liberal point of view its appearance is essentially that of accommodation and acceptance. These ideas have been challenged by writers and commentators such as CLR James and Herbert Aptheker, also the Jamaican writer and cultural theorist Sylvia Wynter and her theory of the human, which she discusses in her essay “Unsettling the Colonially of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, after Man, Its Overrepresentation – An Argument.” The Atlantic Slave Trade, the Middle Passage, which largely took place during the so-called Age of Enlightenment, marked a brutal and catastrophic period of human history. The past teaches us a lesson that we seem unable to understand and learn from: humanity’s capacity for inhumanity. Professor Catherine Hall said that it’s easy to think that those involved in the slave trade are different to us, that we are different to them. We are not. Only when we acknowledge this simple truth are we able to change and make changes.
Gilane Tawadros is Vice-Chair of the Stuart Hall Foundation.
SWEET TOOTH has been supported with public funding from Arts Council England. Commissioned by Bluecoat in partnership with the Stuart Hall Foundation, London and The International Slavery Museum with further support from PRSF Open Fund, Edge Hill University, John Hansard Gallery, Centre 151 and St George’s Bloomsbury.