Monday, September 07, 2009

Defining Afri-love

Africa is in my veins … in my thoughts and in my actions. I don’t know how love for a continent is made. How the colours and rhythms from one far-off coast can resonate as loudly on the opposite side. How listening to strangers speaking a language I do not know (understanding is different for it often transcends linguistic boundaries) can bring sudden feelings of homesickness. How the rush of sights, sounds and smells, as I step out of a plane, has my being instantly relax in the knowledge: this is where I belong.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder and it also teaches the heart a lesson about its self: about how it is made; about what dictates its pace; and what it requires for beating.

I used to think I was patriotic, I still do, but I believe what I was feeling deserved a different and more appropriate name. It transcends national borders – it goes back before the Scramble. It rises over the barriers of language for communication takes place on several planes.

Meeting people from around the world and sharing our common affinities for the continent has helped, over years, to formulate for me, a way to articulate that feeling I previously could not quite capture. I choose to name it Afri-love. Simple, says what it does on the tin and allows me to signpost the myriad expressions of that feeling that I observe, live and create. Naming is a powerful process – it allows one to lift up a thing, hold it to the light and study it closely. Naming can be dangerous too: it can limit the form and consistency of a thing. However, in this instance, naming is useful to me as an umbrella under which to formulate ideas and mobilize the kind of action that will expand itself. Afri-love breeding Afri-love.

And naming helps to create community. A community already exists but it is not always self-aware. The extensive take up of the Afropolitan idea/identity is proof that Afri-love exists in abundance. Its informal community of agents spread its beauty and energy across the globe, sharing good news about the continent; enlightening people about its diversity and cultural wealth; and destroying the barrage of misperceptions that exist within the minds of ignorant and “worldly” alike.

Perhaps most important is exchange. Bringing language, culture, art, knowledge, belief and music to meet with the language, culture, art, knowledge, belief and music of other continents. Creating something new, powerful and relevant that heralds all of its constituent parts while casting a wider net of inclusion. Respect, fundamentally, running through it all.

Afri-love is about that respect for what came before (to avoid the use of that contentious term “tradition”), learning and taking forward what is still germane and beneficial to growth; leaving behind what is inappropriate and counter-constructive; drawing knowledge and inspiration from whatever other sources are available in our experience; and using our imagination, creativity and passion to make something new.

Something that reflects our individual histories and journies first. When we zoom out and look at the greater tapestry of which we are a tiny but crucial thread, the collective story emerges. In perhaps the most interesting, eclectic and spontaneous fashion yet.

Undoubtedly, the most conspicuous pattern is the energy that connects every person who feels Afri-love. It’s almost irrelevant where you’re from. That yearning to touch the ground, smell the soil and feel the sun’s embrace. To join the dance, both invisible and real. To love your brodas and sistas despite their weaknesses and bad judgement. To be that village that is concerned with the growth of every child. The village that hunts and gathers together and celebrates that collective action with a feast.

It may all sound quite utopian. Perhaps, the one truest sign of the presence of Afri-love is the optimism that we can make our vision a reality: Africa rising to realise its full potential*.

* Borrowing from the vision of African-led UK charity Stand Up for Africa.

Image taken at Kitengela Glass in Kenya, hence the cut-out.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The art of reality

Visiting the Walking in my Mind exhibition at London’s Southbank Centre renewed for me a lot of thoughts around the act of artistic creation and the psyche.

Who is it for?
Just as they say “write what you know”, indeed art is often an interpretation of the artist’s experience. It is a very courageous thing to turn inside out what goes on in your heart and mind. Is it self-indulgent or is it a profound honesty and pure form of communication? Or is it not about the viewer at all?

Yayoi Kusama
created the exhibitions iconic polka dot ’scapes. Explaining her work she states:

“My artwork is an expression of my life, particularly of my mental disease. My art originates from hallucinations only I can see. I translate the hallucinations and obsessional images that plague me into sculptures and paintings.”

Rather than hiding her disease from the masses, she has brought her experience of it to them. She has forced them to empathise and be, like her, “a dot lost among a million other dots.” Is there comfort in this anonymity? Is it more about reminding her of her likeness to her viewers rather than highlighting to them where she differs?

What is it for?
I believe that the process of creating art forces the artist to be fully present and self-aware. By confronting what is, here and now (or rather, there and then), one can work through it. “The only way out is through ultimately” sings Alanis Morissette. A significantly therapeutic exercise, it is cathartic in the least and evolutionary at best. Through making something physical or tangible you activate the transformative energy of creation in the psychological realm. In making, you give shape to (your, which is a part of wider) reality.

It brings me back to the idea of constructive selfishness. Only when the work is made for the self, will it be meaningful to others. Only when the artist is honest with him or herself will he or she be able to project truth.

What is it?
It follows that art does not merely replicate what exists but necessarily articulates a perspective or an idea. By doing so, it gives form to the subject in a way that is, and I am making up a word here, metasensory.

What I mean by this is that, the interpretation of a piece often requires more than one sense, even though the medium may indicate otherwise. For example, we assume a painting is for looking at. However a painting also stirs the sense of touch – whether you actually run your fingers across it or not. An installation compels you to consider your physical (and possibly emotional) relationship to it as well as engage your senses of sight, sound and/or smell.

It is subjective interpretation and its metasensory manifestations that enables the artist to move the work from the space of recording to the space of remodeling; reality inspiring new realities.

“Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.
— Bertolt Brecht

Thursday, August 27, 2009

For the love of a city

I have truly fallen in love with all the cities I've lived in. Nairobi, New York, London. They have all had a distinct energy and personality that has resonated with me.

Nairobi: home, Africa, city under the sun, often lush and green, busy, people speaking my language. New York: Brooklyn, summertime, creativity unleashed in the most unexpected corners, my formative years. London: real, a mash up of people and activity, Brixton, Afri-love, SOAS, learning.

And now I find myself in a very different city and one that, a year ago today, I would not have thought I would live in. Not for any particular reason: it just did not cross my mind as a possibility. This marks a very different stage of my life. I found myself in the previous two cities I lived in because of the pursuit of further education. This time I moved for love and sanity, and learning the nature of a new city, not being a student, is a very different experience.

And I'm loving it. It is a slow process: on one hand I don't have the time reserves that student life affords and on the other, I know I'm going to be here for a while still so there's no rush. Let's call it my own slow movement.

I am always interested in discovering the cultural life of a city – locating the creative nervous system if you like. Rainycitytales is somebody that is really doing (us?) Mancunians a great service. If you ever visit this side of the country/world, check that site out for ideas on what to take in (sights, sounds, taste…).

Indeed it does rain a lot here but it also shines. A clear blue sky, bright light kind of shine that I don't recall as a regular feature down south in London. That's right, war of the cities begins!

Photo by tj.blackwell, showing the juxtaposition that Manchester is!

Friday, August 07, 2009

Birthday vows and congruent character

Around my last birthday, I made a vow to myself that, by the time I turned 27, I would be in a different place. A mental space different to the stressful, overly time- and energy-consuming one in which I lived. A place further along the path of realising the things I want for my life.

It is now a few days before that deadline and:
- I have changed my working arrangements
- I skipped town
- I live with a man who makes me incredibly happy
- The time and freedom I craved to pursue my passions is there for the taking (in practice, I have not yet fully disciplined myself in order to embrace this time and freedom. It has been interesting to learn that the acquisition of liberation too requires discipline).

One of the most significant things I have learned in this past year is that, articulating what you want is the most effective way of making progress towards getting it.

Sounds simple enough but, I have spent most of my life wanting so many different things and being unable to put them together into a plan that can be followed; a plan that I can do something about. Luckily I choose to view my experiences so far as having contributed somehow to a plan that was yet known to me (thank you retrospect). However, as of last year, knowing the direction I wanted to go, has been empowering in several ways:
- It wasn’t an end-point, merely a next step and so wasn’t too daunting and out of reach.
- It was vague enough not to restrict how I needed to progress towards it.
- It made clear where I didn’t want to be and thus the traps I needed to avoid.

In short, acknowledging a profound desire, that wasn’t spelled out in perfect detail, helped me to recognize and seize the opportunities that life presented; that were to help me move forward. Because I did not set out a regimented plan, I was able to be flexible. I did not use a tunnelvision approach which may have made me overlook unexpected opportunities. Instead, I was open to the signs and aids of the universe.

I am reminded of the Taoist teachings about the futility of striving,

And of one of my favourite mantras:
“By not trying to be, I realise that I already am.”

It is that powerful idea that, when we align ourselves with our rightful paths, the universe conspires to propel us along them. Everything seems to just fall into place. That once we mentally create space for this alignment, creation will rule.

On congruent character
This week I’ve been thinking about what vow I will make to myself for the next year of my life.

One thing that has come up a lot for me this year is values, in business settings and in personal ones. Indeed the barrier between those two worlds has crumbled for me in the context of values.

Values are uncompromising: they define us and all we do. It follows that they should not be switched off between nine and five. Surely to do so renders us impersonators – of our true selves and/or of others?

I went on an interesting Designer Breakfast some months ago. The topic of the particular session was looking at ways of working alternative to the traditional company structur, with a focus on partnership. Claudie Plen from Edge Thinking believed that key to successful partnership was an alignment of values, particularly the ones that are most important for each party concerned.

I recently went on a refreshing two hour walk with an old friend I hadn’t seen in years and values cropped up again. This time in the context of relationships and how a union between people with incompatible core values is essentially a dead-end.

All this talk of uncompromising values as first appears rigid and unrealistic. In life we often have to deal with people with whom we may not agree. However, keeping your values upfront can actually help rather than hinder. If everybody puts their values on the table, you can see where and how clashes may occur and you can then put measures in place to mitigate them. When you know what to expect, you can manage it better. That is, of course, if, despite the clashes, there is enough values resonance to make the partnership worthwhile.

Sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes relationships expire. Acceptance of this fact has many-a-time eased my flow along that path the universe is taking me.

Here’s to 27!

“Everything that we have been looking for has already found us. It is already waiting within us.”
— Michael Brown

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Kitchen Party Induction

No reference to tupperware parties here. Yesterday I attended my first “kitchen party”. A Tanzanian tradition, its closest Western equivalent is the bridal shower but, this comparison is nowhere near adequate.

The name, I deduced, derives from the fact that it is at this occasion that the bride is presented with gifts that predominantly consist of kitchen utensils and appliances. An entire corner of the garden in which the party took place was dedicated to showcasing these, complete with refridgerator, stove, and table set to mimick a dining scene. I found particularly interesting the interpretation of the wedding gift registry concept. Guests were not presented with the details of things they could go off and buy and then gift-wrap – no pretense of intrigue and surprise here. Instead, weeks before the event, guests contributed what money they desired and the wedding committee then bought items the bride requested. So in fact, the kitchen party is an opportunity to show the guests how their money has been spent.

To me, all this is superfluous (although great for brides; give me a blender rather than a thong any day!) – the real draw of the kitchen party is the ‘teachings’. To my disappointment, I was pre-warned that this particular party would be tame, “modern” (aka conservative). It would not illustrate what I’d heard about kitchen parties where s
“specialists” in the area of how to treat/keep/satisfy your husband, in full uncensored glory, would share their wisdom with the crowd. Instead, each table was asked to write advice to the bride and/or ask questions to the designated experts. Thankfully, there were some interesting, non-conservative questions including ones about sex and “small houses” (i.e. mistresses). What really impressed me was our “teachers” progressive, feminist attitude (and note that they belong to my parent’s generation in a culture where several women accept a subservient role). Answers to questions about what to do if your man wants sex a certain way were refreshingly about sexual liberation and assertiveness. The answer to the question “should you wash his underwear?”, was an opportunity to plead to the older generations to encourage their sons to participate in “matters of the home”, sharing those duties equally and; to the younger generations to accept no less.

And we danced, from beginning to end, in the light and in the dark. To religious songs, to old school and new music, and to naughty taarab songs – showing off how well we could wine our waists. With 150 women, covering at least 3 generations, it was a true “girl power” session!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The body betrays the truth

Last week I learned something very scary – I actually have a physical limit as to how busy I can be. People have often commented, in various degrees of wonder, at how many things I’m involved in, how much I take advantage of happenings in this exciting city and how much work I’m capable of undertaking. To me, it’s not a case of a demonstration of capability but simply that I’m interested in so many different things and want to lap it all up. And so far, in my 26 years, it’s been relatively manageable. I am occasionally exhausted but, nothing that a quiet afternoon and some good sleep can’t take care of.

I went to a talk a few weeks ago where Alain de Botton talked about his new book: The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. He made a suggestion about the Sabbath actually serving to prevent megalomania. By forcing those who observe it to stop – to cease all but the most basic and involuntary endeavour – the Sabbath acted as a reminder that we cannot do it all.

Being somebody who observes the weekend as an opportunity to do work (not the kind that pays my bills but that which nurtures my curiosity and my soul), my “Sabbath” came in a different form. Conscious, and concerned that I had been working above a sustainable level since January (and possibly before), and unable to fully communicate the seriousness of the implications of this to my colleagues, I woke up on Thursday morning, unable to get out of bed. Not the ‘I really don’t feel like going to work today’ inertia, but something that was a combination of a physical reaction and one that had to do with my will giving up on me. If ever there was a wake-up call that could not be delayed by snoozing, this is it.

Is it a question of balance?

Like many, I often feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day. In addition to keeping up with friends and family and nurturing those relationships (which at the moment too is a struggle), there is so much I want to do that isn’t within my job description and thus achievable during work. However, by the time I get home, after preparing food and unwinding, I find I have very little time to get stuck into exploring, learning, practicing, developing or attending to any of my interests or “extra-curricular” commitments. The frustration comes when I look at the bigger picture and add up how much of my life I will spend doing my job rather than doing my work (my “life’s work”). Yet, in my particular situation, there is such strong resonance between the two. The undertaking of one is quite directly beneficial to the other. But it’s like unrequited love – the potential is there but what’s lacking is the time to give both the attention each requires and the space to start forming and strengthening the inevitable links.

Like a fool, I can now admit, I have tried to force this time and space where there is none. The conclusion my body has drawn is that, it’s not possible. So, how is this work-life balance thing achieved? BusinessWeek took advantage of that great communication platform, Twitter, to collect suggestions for achieving work-life balance (I’ve interspersed screengrabs of the tweets from that article here).

Or is it a question of doing away with false barriers?

There seems to be some consensus that the separation itself, between “work” and “life”, may be the fundamental obstacle in finding balance between them. For me, work should be the reason you get up in the morning. Work should be something that creates meaning. For many, the ‘work’ they do in their jobs is furthest from bringing any kind of meaning to their lives! What if ‘work’ was not confined to the space you spend most of your waking hours in order that you may pay for shelter and food. This is not to say that you should be doing your job outside of ‘working hours’ but that the definition of work should be revisited. Work as our greater purpose and our jobs merely facilitating this. Some people have jobs doing what they love – doing their “life’s work” Some people do jobs that enable them to do what they love (by providing the necessary resources, usually money but also transferable training, skills and knowledge).

If you don’t like your life you can change it

I am often encouraged by the fact that flexible-working and working from home are more and more being embraced by business because I think it MIGHT be a step closer to helping us integrate the different tasks we carry out in our lives so that there is less of a distinct barrier between ‘work’ and ‘life’.

However, it’s very easy to carry the same obstacles from the office block to the home office. In some cases, people end up doing more work when working at home because they feel they need to prove to their managers that they’re not slacking. It seems to me then, that what needs to change is attitudes towards where and how ‘work’ is done. We need to do away with a culture where you feel guilty calling in sick when you’re bed-ridden by the flu. We need to do away with a culture that gives employees no time for personal development because of obsessions with meeting targets when in actuality, giving employees that time and space will yield greater creativity and improve their work.

With the current economic situation and a lot of people being forced out of work, I’ve witnessed a lot of positively life-changing stories. People no longer have the dream-inhibiting excuse of being too busy at or exhausted from work. They are forced to stare their life and dreams in the eye and take action. They have lost the luxury of inertia enabled by employment.

And those of us who managed to hold on to our jobs? Well, we’re having to cope with even more work than we had before. We’re perhaps accumulating even more excuses to stray from the path that will lead us closer to embracing our “life’s work”. The garnish is increased stress, unhappiness and resentment – but at least we have a job, right?

I’m not so sure that the latter is worth all that comes with it. And my body is pushing me to question that. I remember coming across a poster in the London underground, probably sometime last year. Amidst the throngs of zombie-like bodies on auto-pilot during rush hour stood this shining light simply stating: “If you don’t like your life you can change it”. It’s such an obvious fact, so simple yet, something that’s so easy to forget. So easy to challenge with poor reasoning that gets you out of having to face the clear truth.

(Artist: Mark Titchner)

I’m deciding to walk on the side of truth. The saga will continue …

Friday, April 10, 2009

Work and the democratisation of art

Connecting art, class, work and happiness

(image courtesy of Indigo Arts Gallery)

"I cannot ever forget, nor should I, that I come from a blue collar, in fact in some cases no collar, background. By no collar, I mean slaves. Craft and handiwork were a form of communication for slaves, and are also traditionally African: within those communities there were no artistic echelons. Everybody was engaged in some kind of art activity, whether they were musicians, singers, dancers or visual artists, as a normal aspect of their everyday life. Artists per se were not separated from the rest of their community. I didn't want to forget my heritage, I wanted to extend it. My mother's grandfather was a basket maker and a blacksmith; he made brooms and sweet grass baskets. Both of my grandmothers were quilt makers. My father's father was a woodworker who made decorated canoes. I'm very specifically proletariat in the sense that I know that I'm engaged in this same activity. You have to consistently look at what I do and challenge your own ideas about what is 'visual' art and what is 'fine' art. I think that there is something strange about the idea that it's not as aesthetically profound for someone to make a cup as it is for someone to make a painting of a cup."

— Joyce Scott, artist

Earlier this week I went to hear Alain de Botton talk about his new book, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (more about that later). Afterwards, in the bathroom, I overheard an intriguing snippet of a conversation between two, relatively young girls: "…condescending middle class conversations…". It's quite mysterious – were they referring to the Q&A with the author? Judging purely from observation, the auditorium did seem to have been filled with a middle-class, mostly caucasian, Guardian-reader audience. And indeed a lot of the conversation was about the shift from work being regarded as punishment to a point where for people to do their best work, they often need to take some level of enjoyment from it. This idea of doing work you love, is often seen as a luxury for the privileged – the poor are seen to prioritise feeding their families, facilitated by any work necessary.

However, I'd like to challenge this assumption and go back to Joyce Scott's point. To go back and, in this instance, put artistic endeavour back into the picture of the everyday (and design is a part of that). People who are not necessarily engaged in explicitly "artistic work", still incorporate art and/or design in their daily practice – through how they eat, how they entertain themselves and others, how they interact, what they wear, their working environments. I mean, look at the barber shops and hair salons in deprived African neighbourhoods – these are sites of work! And love is often visible in the products of blue collar work – often even more conspicuous than in the products of white collar work!

So maybe the middle class white collar elk has got it all wrong and their (our?) empathy has been distorted by a certain megalomania. Does the magic – and the reason why so many white collar workers seem to be unhappy with their jobs – lie in the fact that blue collar work tends to be rooted in the present moment? Is the blue collar's attention to the everyday, as opposed to an automatic dismissal of it because of its perceived mundaneness and triviality, what makes her/his everyday richer (and happier)?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

On Stupid weekends and winning

This weekend, The Age Of Stupid will be screened at theatres across the UK, posing a crucial question to moviegoers: “why didn’t we save ourselves?” I’m not going to delve into what the film is about because, and Mayor Ken agrees, it’s a film that should be compulsory viewing for all 6.7 billion of us! But I will ask: why aren’t we saving ourselves? Is it that we don’t believe we are worth saving?

It’s an interesting time of resonance. Earlier this week, the Affluenza exhibition opened, a project that looks at how consumer values are affecting our emotional health. Consumerism, which as suggested in The Age of Stupid, is the most successful movement in the ranks with democracy and religion. We buy this and that to look ‘better’ and feel ‘better’; we aspire to be like this and that person because they are ‘better’ and we settle for the acquisition of the trappings that constitute their lifestyle. Our consumption facilitates carbon emissions, contributing to our superficial sense of contentment and to climate change!

What if we didn’t look outside ourselves?
What if we valued ourselves enough so that we valued each other? What if by doing so we took away the power of people who play on our differences? Differences that when articulated, amplified and embellished are often the basis of conflict. Conflict that is exacerbated by climate change with devastating results.

Take our beautiful continent Africa. Rare in that it contains all that humankind could want: oil, minerals, fertile land etc. Yet present: gross underdevelopment, famine, disease and war. There is little need for me to shout about obvious connections. The continent’s beauty derives from its diversity and yet, this same diversity is manipulated to exploit and encourage blindness, silence and complicity. Complicity on all sides, people on all sides essentially not valuing themselves and what they have and own.

What if we valued ourselves enough so that we valued the environment? What if we did not bite the earth that feeds? Surely if we valued ourselves enough, we would not want to live in an environmentally deteriorating or devastated world? What if we didn’t choose to hide behind self-satisfaction and claims that our backyards were taken care of and that it was those other places that would suffer? Ultimately, all of us, around the world, are connected through the products we buy and sell, the places we visit, the decisions we make and the actions we take and so on. Despite distance and circumstance, there are often way fewer than six degrees of separation. If we’re not feeling the negative impacts today, we are not exempt, merely asleep.

A, b, c, none of the above
All of this is irrelevant, unsubstantiated and ludicrous! Life continues as normal. We’re all going to die eventually anyway so I might as well enjoy myself as much as I can.

Shit! This is serious. I would like to do something but what can I do? Can anything I do make a difference? Probably not. I better enjoy myself as much as I can and numb the guilt feelings.

Shit. This is serious. I need to find out what I can do to make a difference so that I can really enjoy myself and feel good about doing so.

Could we be winning?
…And improve my quality of life in the process! Many complain about the breakdown of society, of family values, of ‘tradition’. Of people becoming more selfish and individualistic and losing a sense of the greater good and of community. Across history, common adversaries have united the most hostile of folk. Here is a common enemy for us to fight and in the act of doing so, possibly rebuild our fragmented societies and nations.

Indeed, what if we didn’t look outside ourselves, and instead practiced a constructive selfishness? What if we undertook every activity with a view towards truly increasing our individual wellbeing? Not a vision of wellbeing that we’d bought or been co-opted into but one that we honestly delineated for ourselves. An introspective view that would allow a clearer lens for looking out!

One of my uncles has a favourite greeting that takes the place of the rather vague and uninterested “how are you?” He asks, “Are you winning?” Interpret as you will but I see it as a great prompt to focus on a more aspirational way of looking at your life. No more numbness and “fine” – instead: drive and resolution. Ultimately: affirmation!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tip: Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, London

Human Rights Watch gives voice to the oppressed by bringing international attention to violations of thteir rights so what better way to solicit this attention than through that ever-powerful and -pervasive medium – film!

The 13th Human Rights Watch International Film Festival began yesterday in London and runs until the 27th of March. Including a truly international selection of stories covering everything from immigration and the often treacherous search for a home, to the potency of women organising to liberate their country from civil war; from indigenous people battling one of fthe world's largest oil producers, to friendships tested by border lines.

Tip: Affluenza exhibition begins in London

What do consumer values and emotional wellbeing have in common?
The Affluenza exhibition begins in London today (in brief).

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

It's just the women

International Women’s Day (IWD) was this past Sunday (8th March). I know I’ve been extremely busy lately but I don’t believe I live in that inacessible a hole as to not have come across any IWD communications! Correction: the hints I did receive were due to a subscription to a mailing list on HIV/AIDS and following Reuters Women on twitter. Why is it that a day that is relevant to HALF of the world’s population, should not have had more widespread coverage? Why weren’t there events taking place in every locality, making it impossible to ignore? One would have even expected the capitalist engine to be running on full blast, promoting this or that consumable in the same way that Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Christmas encourage. Is the attention given to IWD, symbolic of the vast amount of progress yet to be made in actualising gender equality?

Here are a few snippets and food for thought! Please share voices from around the world!

“Feminists across Europe demand a different approach than patch it up and go on with “business-as-usual.” A gendered analysis of our economies as based on both productive and reproductive work, and how this can and must be coupled with issues of equality, should together with sustainable development perspectives become center stage at a moment where we look for new models for the financial and economic systems.”

Brigitte Triems – president of the European Women’s Lobby
Check out their campaign: 50/50: No Modern European Democracy Without Gender Equality


“I believe that International Women’s Day is an important reminder of the work that still needs to be done and it is certainly a powerful moment of solidarity across time and space … I want to reclaim the day. Reclaim it back from the hands of empty ritual and rhetoric and from those that treat it like another public relations opportunity.

As tax payers in the U.S. are aghast at upwards of $700 billion dollars going to “bail out” the financial system, little is said of the fact that this figure is also the approximate annual military budget of the U.S. Global military spending currently exceeds $1,204 billion dollars annually at 2006 prices. The combined budgets of the United Nations entities working on women’s issues amounts to approximately 0.005 percent of that.

The World Bank estimates the cost of interventions to promote gender equality under Millennium Development Goal 3 (universal access to education) to be $7-$13 per capita. The world’s military expenditure in 2006? $184 per capita. This is the financial crisis. That investing in weapons and war and creating human insecurity is prioritized over investing in peace, development and gender equality. This is what we should be questioning and working to change as we stand together on International Women’s Day. And if the governments and corporations of the world really want to show their support for this day, then ending militarism would be a good place to start.”

Sam Cook – director of the PeaceWomen Project


“In Christian theology, it is axiomatic that God is neither male nor female. Yet persistently over history God has been normalised as male, and men have therefore been seen as closer to God than women.”

Reverend Dr. Miranda Threlfall-Holmes

(Image by Miranda Bergman)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Change is Beautiful

I chanced upon a 3 minute Wonder on Channel 4 the other night.

Lemn Sissay (and friends) delivers music, poetry, spoken word, commentary on climate change, capitalism, global inequity, greed, chaos theory, mysticism, Darwin – it’s got something for everybody (and all in 3 mins!)

Also coming out soon is the film "Age of Stupid" – I'm telling everybody I know to go see it if it's the last film they see this year! It should be compulsory viewing for all … and the filmmakers are making it very difficult for it not to be seen. The "People's Premiere" is planned for the launch date on 15th March – a "100% eco-friendly" tented screening extravaganza, bang in Leicester Square, London. And if you can't get to that or the several other screenings across the UK, it will be available for all to watch online.

One thing that comes strongly across in these films, short and long, is that we have agency. Of course, there are plenty of excuses to be made … Sometimes I truly wonder why we human beings can appreciate and create such beauty on the one hand, and totally oppose it through our actions on the other. And we've all been quilty at some time! Age of Stupid illustrates these contradictions so well (it's half fiction/prediction and half documentary).

I think it's wonderful that an issue as urgent as climate change, that affects all of us so directly (though we may realise this or not), finds such rich creative expression. If artists are the custodians of a society's consciousness, surely their works canwake us and inspire us to wonder and to dream? And in being reminded to dream, will we not want to keep the dreaming plane alive for ourselves and others?

It's affirming what I passionately believe to be true: the arts are an incredibly powerful conduit for positive change. I see these examples as explicitly addressing climate change in a way that is entertaining, accessible and inclusive; potentially changing our perceptions of change away from something that's a negative disruption to something that might actually improve our lives; and slightly more implicitly, rousing us to change for good.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Designer Rant: The Mac doesn’t make the (wo)man

In one of my lives I am a designer. I like to be as vague as that because it is too easy for people to package you into small compartments of their understanding and never again recognise that as a human being, you are dynamic and multi-faceted. I’m a designer. I use design thinking to create solutions, usually (but not always), of the communications variety.

What is design thinking? There are many views and conversations. Victor Lombardi’s take is quite perfectly on point.

Could it be that design thinking is really just common sense thinking? What seems to make the distinction however is that designers have particular skills to augment their thinking. In my specific training and experience, this has included: drawing, light and colour theory, three-dimensional design, visual communications, graphic design, illustration, painting, photography, advertising art direction, copywriting, art history, design history, printmaking and branding (CV available upon request!). And yet at work, sitting behind a “big, shiny Mac”, people seem to see the machine and my ability as inseparable. Missing the fact that the machine is merely a tool for expression, of which there are several. And I’ve only listed the tangible ones. In addition to these, every designer draws inspiration and influence from their individual lives. This means that every single designer’s eclectic repertoire is necessarily unique.

We designers are not people who do something, we are something. The distinction between these two might not be immediately apparent but it is very important to me. A crude example: I am not defined by the computer programmes that I know how to use; using them does not fully constitute my being a designer. Take me away from a computer and I am still a designer. Even before computers, there existed designers and no, they didn’t just draw pretty pictures! Hmmm, I think my next rant just might be entitled, “Death to the ‘Pretty Picture’”…