Between September 2021 and January 2022 we were part of an exhibition called In Conversation As Collective Strategy at Humber Street Gallery in Hull, with Film Artists Arwa, Turab and Funke from Other Cinemas, Louise Shelley, the Humber Street Gallery team, and Hull’s Black Heritage Collective.
As part of this exhibition, we had the opportunity to create a mural which encapsulated a lot of our story and learning, symbolized by an individual’s story and her contact with the structures and systems which oppress her.
The central theme and the literal heartbeat of our mural was Defiance. Defiance simply as the life within all of us that wants to keep on living, in the face of all forms of exploitation and oppression – from the most subtle, to the most obvious.
The process of creating the mural and its content together in the run up to the exhibition gave us the space to build on a developing language of ideas around exchanges. We used coins to illustrate how we all must make an exchange of our authenticity for survival, from the very first moments of life. This pattern becomes embedded and reproduced via the giants of oppression that lord it over our adult lives: big Pharma, the corporate drivers that exploit our planet and its people for its own gain, and sometimes even charity and systems of support which have their own dependencies on the individual with ‘needs’.
The core mechanism in common in all of these exchanges is something like persuasion. Or in extreme cases: a total coercion. But for most of us, we are persuaded to exchange pieces of ourselves for what we are told that we need. After our confidence and instinctive trust in ourselves and our own resources (and that of our natural world) has been successfully eroded, or simply stolen, we become dependent on what has been offered in exchange. In this new relationship the dominant gets bigger, while the smaller gets smaller, through a repeated pattern of exchange after exchange… and not everyone survives. Not everybody gets the chance.
For some, through a combination of favourable circumstances and pure defiance, life speaks out for its right to keep on living, and restarts its own heartbeat again.
Now more than ever, we need to connect with those who have this knowledge and can show a way to change and collective defiance. We must also get in touch with our own stories of oppression and defiance, and learn to connect the dots between us, and between our common enemies in the systems that exploit us.
With thanks to everyone whose experiences informed and developed this mural and empowered us with a language of exchange and defiance.
Images courtesy of Absolutely Cultured and Jules Lister