Survival Guides is a creative crossroads where activist and art communities overlap to interrogate the oppressive structures that dominate our collective socio-political landscapes. We harness seductive potencies of a diverse range artistic practice; introducing our audiences to marginalised narratives. Working closely with many young British performance artists, grassroots activist organisations and the London Lucumi Choir. We exhibit forgotten histories, reject gender binaries, reclaim disused space, reflect on privileges, we make/share tools, celebrate struggles, preserve oral traditions, raise funds for LGBT asylum seekers, support young artists and we also like to dance.
Survival Guides started with a two-week exhibition and a series of eleven events that delved into local black history, looked gentrification squarely in the eye and introduced large audiences to African and Afro-Cuban Gods.
Our opening night was illuminated by an eclectic array of spoken word performances that responded to issues of oppression, marginalisation and disempowerment. Patrick Cash, founder of Spoken Word London, a budding spoken word community that is rapidly changing people’s perceptions of the art form, selected the programme of performers. The evening was a powerful and direct way to introduce some of the themes that Survival Guides explored throughout the following fortnight. From sonnets about being a single mother in the time of Thatcher to free form tirades against the education system and a spectrum of responses to binary notions of sexuality, ethnicity and gender identities.
We also displayed archive materials that documented the rich history of activism that has taken place on the same road as the gallery over the past forty years. Part of the reason we chose Art Nouveau Brixton for Survival Guides is that Atlantic Road/Railton Road was once full of squatted buildings including women’s shelters, queer social centres and black panther bases: an intersectional history which we reflected in our programme of events.
On Satuday the 4th of May DIY science fiction film workshop, Carnival of Cult filled the Gallery with costumes, props and smoke machines. The workshop utilised the entire gallery and performance space even turning some of the sculpture from the exhibition into the protagonists of their DIY sci-fi short. The film had teams of participants with no experience getting stuck into costume making, set design, script writing, soundtrack and acting.
On the same day, Gentrification vs. Regeneration Black Histories and Black Futures took place at the Impact Hub within Lambeth Town Hall. Lee Jasper of BARAC – Black Activists Rising Against The Cuts – gave a talk that provided a platform for group discussions on the rapid gentrification of Brixton and the negative effects this has on the black community. Lee Jasper Spoke from a position of experience and frustration as some one who has spent decades working to improve the rights of African, Caribbean, Asian and minority ethnic communities in Brixton.
Black History Walks gave a presentation that investigated the systemic racism within gentrification processes globally and how it has often had negative consequences for African and Caribbean communities throughout the African diaspora. Black History Walks used archive footage from apartheid South Africa, New York City, Peckham and Brixton to illustrate their talk. This event was free but RSVP tickets completely sold out via the Facebook and Eventbrite links. The social enterprise, We Love Brixton connected us with Lambeth Town Hall enabling us to use the Impact Hub for the afternoon.
Sunday the 5 of May Survival Guides invited The Out and Proud Diamond Group, a network of LGBTI African asylum seekers, a selection of Queer poets of from the African diaspora and a talented young drag artist named Miss Cairo, to take part in an event called Queer African Voices. Inspired by a previous night of the same title at Bar Wotever we celebrated the stories of the OPDG and raised funds through a bar and donations. The night was a river of emotional stories, immersive theatre, music and dance that highlighted the many issues faced by those seeking asylum from countries with anti gay laws.
On Monday the 5th of May Survival Guides focussed its attention to sustainability and invited our audience to creatively explore their destructive and restorative powers through workshops and discussions.
Thursday 8 May was the most theatrical night of the Survival Guides May 2014 programme.
Oya, Oshun and Yemaya are three deities from the West African language, religion, culture and philosophy, Yoruba. Worshiped throughout the Caribbean, Latin America and across the African diaspora, we celebrated these deities with the music of the London Lucumi Choir, the Folkloric dancing of Yolanda Perez and the contemporary stylings of Hannah Anderson Rickets and Ffion Campbell-Davis. Jacob V Joyce, the curator of Survival Guides brought these performers together and gave context to the music of the choir with folkloric stories about these three African deities or Orisha.
The translatability of the Orisha is intense; these deities have survived slavery and colonial obfuscation because each Orisha symbolises a body of self-empowering processes. We have had interest from audience members asking to recreate this event in schools, in audio books and at future events. We are already planning something that champions African history, performance and music in the same way.
Eat Our Shorts, featured documentary films by five different emerging artists, and the results of Carnival of Cult’s DIY film workshop. This was a thematically coherent programme, with each film’s subject matter directly responding to themes of social housing, local history, queer sexuality, sex work and gentrification. Taha Hassan and Tuuli Manninen both made documentaries that presented different aspects of Brixton’s history; Tuuli’s film, ‘The Barrier Block’ interviewed current residents of the Barrier Block, presenting different narratives of life on the Southwyck Sestate, and Taha’s film, ‘Brixton Fairies: Made Possible By Squatting’ interviewed people who lived in the queer squats on Railton Road/Atlantic Road in the 1970s. We also screened a film by Ellis Suzannah Slack about her experiences as a sex worker.