If ever there was a perfect time to examine the complexities of the various curds Britishness has congealed into, it’s now. Racism and hate crimes are spiking alongside rising popularity of the alt-right. Just the other day I retweeted a video of the Tories cheering as their vote denied public sector workers a pay rise following the Grenfell tower incident. Is there a vision of our times more evil?
For BME women living in Britain, perhaps there is. Perhaps it comes in the form of daily, lived experience, or a constant state of heightened awareness to fight for the basic right to be seen.
We Are Here throws us into those moments of looking.
Work appears as a smattering of memories and stream-of-consciousness snatches: some stuff of the subconscious, where associated meanings float calmly alongside another and others visceral and direct, telling us firmly that this is how it is; this is what it looks like to be me.
Largely representational and direct, these narratives are clear in what they’re trying to tell us. There are stories of being on the outside, of being displaced, lost, distorted, forgotten, and manipulated, but also of living, breathing, and loving. Despite mixed mediums and different narrators, each piece is yoked together by a sense of solidarity that almost feels electric: a repressed need to scream one’s name.
Lurid and intricate, Olivia Twist’s neon-and-sharpie scenes merge ideas of the familiar and the alien. Her characters visit the chicken shop but have skin made from an interconnected pattern of lines, almost as if representing naked muscle. They are existing in real space but somehow don’t appear as ‘real’ by the conventions we know: their skin is a separate, pulsing being, that’s breathing against a fluoro sky.
Halfway Home by Erin Aniker
Erin Aniker’s sharp illustrations are simple but arresting. In Halfway Home two faces swim against a ontological plane, staring us down as they float between ideas of home and familiarity. The are floating but firmly in place, deliberate in their choice to sit on this world’s central axis. Or perhaps it wasn’t a choice at all: perhaps Aniker is trying to tell us that this is the way things are for these women. This is the position they must occupy whether they like it or not.
These words describe how these works made me feel and what I took away from them, but what I feel is completely irrelevant. These stories are not about me. An assertion of being, of identity, of a group — particularly one that is marginalised within the society and systems it is forced to exist within — is something so powerful that it can only, and must only, truly center on the self. The best thing all others can do is to pay attention, in the best and more earnest way possible, and challenge ourselves to think about better ways we can share space.
Still Waiting by Sofia Niazi
Untitled by Kariima Ali
Work in Progress by Freya Bramble Carter
We Are Here is running at the Alev Lenz gallery in Dalston, London, from July 6-9 2017.
Featured image Untitled, Olivia Twist