When being black, female and sensitive just gets too much…

Earlier I went to the South London Gallery in Peckham to visit their current exhibition ‘The place is here’. It’s actually a decent exhibition with a collection of videos, photographs, mixed media pieces and archives relating to prominent black British art and artists in the 1980’s and 1990’s, at the time of Afrocentrism and riots.

I was there for a fair bit as I wanted to really get a sense of the space and the content. [context – I used to study black British art of this particular period as part of my history of art degree at SOAS…SOAS represent!! 🙌🏾]

There were artists I knew of like Eddie Chambers, Kieth Piper, Sonya Boyce, Mona Hatoum and Rasheed Araeen. So it was great to see their works close up! Although it didn’t help that when I arrived staff there decided to walk up near me and randomly have a convo about their personal life, like ‘Hello? I’m trying to engage with this video, not your life!’

I digress.

It was after when I exited the gallery that a very panic-stricken woman came up to me whilst I was texting on my phone and asked for money.

I usually just say sorry and keep going (keeping it real here). But she caught my attention so much I couldn’t ignore her.

She was in a right state. She begged for £6 to help her pay her council tax bill as well as food for her children. “I”m suicidal! I tried to take my life earlier. I had to have sex to buy this [points to her carrier bag with a bread loaf in it], and he cummed in me and I have to get tested for AIDS now [and a lot more rambling that I couldn’t figure out because she was distressed]… I’m suicidal, I’m going to kill myself!!”

Wow.

“Don’t do that please”, I firmly said because who knows? She was that manic, that she may have just jumped in the road.

“Look at my feet, they’re all dirty… [mumbling again that I couldn’t make out as she was distressed]” She then took off her right shoe and revealed some dutty feet.

“It’s okay, you don’t need to do that” – This is going far now.

I gave her £2 in the end – “no I need £6” – I still gave her 2 quid and she was off.

Walking up to my bus stop, I was a mixed bag of emotions – what should I have done? Should I have just said sorry and walked away? Should I have googled a helpline for her? Should I have said “Everything is gunna be alright”. This lady looked Caribbean and distressed and I really felt for her but I still felt like I was being conned. But then, I just got out of an exhibition all about the struggles of British black people in the U.K. especially London, and here I am confronted by a real life example. I couldn’t help but to do something for my British black women community. But still.

I just felt helpless.

I knew my money probably didn’t go to her bills, but then this woman doesn’t need money. She needs a support system. People who have her back. People who can help her and won’t oppress her for having brown skin and curly Afro-Caribbean hair, for having outspoken opinions and a different form of banter. She may have had a history of mental health problems or just the struggle to have basic human rights is what made her this way. I don’t know. All I know is this shit ain’t right. And yes it’s upsetting. Today I really felt all the troubles and frustrations that people with brown skin have to endure in London. Sometimes it gets to me more than others and I do have a heavy heart…This shit ain’t right…

 

What would you do?

 

100 days – DONE

Finally after 100 days (originally 100 consecutive days) I have completed my little project #100daysofminicreations!!!

My main intentions for this project were to:

  1. maintain consistency and regularity
  2. continue exploration of artwork, and to
  3. capture a highlight or feeling of the day.

Link to my blog post – “100 days of mini creations!” in August 2016.

Did I do that overall?

  1. yes, somewhat (it’s a marathon not a race)
  2. yes, for sure
  3. yes.

Apart from the checklists, the start of this project was really a pivotal moment for me in my life. It was the start of my public art life.

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I have always been ‘into’ art and have always appreciated it – my family and friends will tell you so, but it wasn’t until this time that I made an active decision to make myself known to the world as an artist. Prior to that I was too afraid,  I had a lot of self-doubt about labelling myself as an artist, the pressure, the self-criticism (and still have, a little – I’m human right?) about my abilities, not being good enough or if I should just stick to the grind of a ‘proper job’.

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But, you know what, I’m glad I quit my full-time job. I took a major risk, and became unemployed for 2 months (scary), but I don’t have regrets and I already feel in a much better head space for it. If I didn’t do that, I wouldn’t have randomly done this project.

It was a really good chunk of time for me to really reflect and digest the ebbs and flows of my movements, my thought processes, who I am as an artist, who I am as an introverted private person and a contributor to social media, the power I have to influence people, what mini creations were more popular than others and why, what I did when I thought ‘nah i’ll do it next time’, what opportunities I got out of it (which I did get some!), the wonderful support and positivity I got from people, the people I know who really were loyal. For me mostly, it was also the confidence. The acceptance of myself and who I am and my ongoing learning, creative journey.

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Lastly I wanted to say a big massive thank you for all the people who really engaged with my creations and commented and who will probably be reading this! I am really appreciative and thankful for your support 🙂

Stay blessed,

Meron xx

 

 

 

 

Look beyond the label.

Labels are everywhere, right? You have Gucci, you have Autistic, you have Terrorist, Millionaire, Gluten-Free, Smart, Tourist, Organic, Quiet, the list goes on. How positive and how useful are labels though? We have them in society for convenience of categorisation. It’s easier to classify someone or something as a label as it seeks to identify and associate an idea or a schema to that label. But I find it so damaging. 

You have White, Black, Asian, Latina, Poor, Rich. And you have a lot of stereotypes. 

This really annoys me. 

It annoys me because people are lazy or perhaps don’t have the time to look beyond the label to see who or what it is that they are dealing with.

Black: We all associate the term Black with negativity. And the ‘black race’ (i.e. people of African descent) with negativity. At least refer to people as Brown. That would be more logical. And it’s even more odd when people assume that I must be mixed race because I don’t look ‘black black’. What’s that even supposed to mean? “Oh right, you’re not in the ‘Black’ club so I’m not going to respect your ancestors?” It’s an issue that many people of Ethiopian and Eritrean descent face including me, as we have features very much similar to that of Arabs or European. 

Ethiopia geographically and genetically is at the birthplace of the Homosapien whether people care to recognise or appreciate it, or not. We are about as ‘black’ as you can get – if you were to refer to that scale. As a continent, Africa is the most genetically diverse in the entire world and Africa is pretty huge. People forget. It’s bound to be genetically diverse. What people are really referring to when they mean ‘black’ is people from west African societies as there are probably more descents of West African/Bantu origin outside of Africa then the other ethnic societies in Africa ( although Ethiopians are everywhere, especially in Washington D.C.). And don’t get me started on those Ethnicity Monitoring Forms which get you to label yourself into a nice little box. For me, ‘Black British African’ or sometimes I don’t even state it. 

Labels are damaging and it needs to stop or at least people need to look beyond the label  a bit more. That goes the same for clothing labels. Kanye loves him some Louis V. and they sure love his money and advertising! I personally don’t always buy into labels, both economically and psychologically. I’m not going to spend £2,000 on a designer handbag just because it’s popular or a status of wealth. Especially if I know I’ve got bills to pay and food to buy. I’ll buy a handbag because it looks cute and is functional and I actually like it for what it is. Not the label.