Sam COOKs KISSmyBLAKartsCOLUMN
– May 2007
‘COFFEE COLOURED PEOPLE BY THE SCORE’.
The SamORIGINE is BLAK in England. Having been a yo-yo visitor three times last year I was busy making history, making contacts, riding the Underground like a local and promoting BLAKSTAGEtheatre. This time I’m on a three-month immersion and indulgence as the first AbORIGINAL artist to undertake the UK sponsored International Arts Fellowship.
My being here is not so much a fascination with England or a love of Ol Blighty. I’m hardly one of the The Neighbours – ‘Madge and Harold’ invaders, those archetypal Aussies who in their maturity return in bucketloads on a pilgrimage to pre-convict roots. Or the pub-crawlers who can be seen draped in an Aussie flag strolling down the centre of Leister Square crissed as a picket. Like a bunch of lemmings they surge forth on their way to the nearest cricket telecast to drown in a pint of Fosters, and can be heard screaming in the broadest of accents ‘Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi’. As IF the flag wasn’t enough of a giveaway!
I just sit there shaking my head, sipping my overpriced latte thinking Jeezuz, lets keep the Yobbo stereotype alive in the international arena why don’t we. Then again I tend to not be the Koala Bear tourist, awkward in their travel regimen, obvious in their Australiana regalia and a clear mark for a hustle. I simply slip under the radar and take a seat at the observation deck.
And it’s a fascinating place to be. From the brim of my latte I start to see the true face of the Y2k7 British Nation. But it seems as if I’m not the only one. Identity is a big focus at the moment. With that, comes denial.
The blood quantum fixation is clearly rife in English society. This to me, explains some of the insanity behind the caste systems that have caused and continue to cause so much trauma in postcolonial societies. On the telly, there’s countless purist heritage shows and studies, the most interesting of which is the DNA study to find the ‘Face of Britain’. Here they take samples around the country and break the news as to whether these 4th, 5th or 6th generation English are Celtic, Anglo Saxon or Viking. It seems no one wants to be Anglo Saxon, few want to be Viking but it’s like a winning lotto ticket if you’re a Celt. In fact, it seems that Anglo Saxon is a dirty word with connotations to invasion, pillage and plunder. So is this the reason why England chose to fuck up Indigenous Nations worldwide? Some form of pay it forward from the hunter gathering Celts who were brutalised after their migration from Eastern Europe? Dayum you Anglo Saxons!
In the final episode there was an attempt to create a composite of the future face of Britain. Surprising to me was that it was white. I’d hedged my bets on coffee coloured people. It was an educated guess informed by the streets as I look around and clearly I am immersed in a truly multi-cultural society. There are strong communities from Asia, Africa, West Indies and the Middle East with a great influence on the cultural landscape. Added to this, its almost rare to see an Anglo Saxon, Celt or Viking ancestor pushing a pram with a pure Anglo Saxon, Celt or Viking child. The melting pot prophecy has definitely cometh.
Perhaps I shoulda stuck around for the credits to see if the program was sponsored by the British Nationalist movement. It’s not hard to see their push for a return to the Ye Olde England of the past is a last stand against the inevitable. Still their literature calling for an end to minority immigration seemed to be littered along the walls of the Underground and stuck in the elevators of major shopping centres so there is definitely a One Nation-esque underbelly spread across the country. Its also widely known there are some areas still in existence identified as British Nationalist and the sight of a Muslim or Hindu would be unheard of. Simply they are not welcome. Then again its said that these pockets haven’t evolved too far from the debauched incestuous burrows of pre-industrialised England, time warped, inept and these days more like a Ripley’s Believe it or Not theme park.
But as these old world oddities whittle away, they make rise to new burrows, cluster’s of Diaspora re-branding the face of Y2k7 Britain, infusing culture and tradition from distant and not too distant shores. This again has created the rise of extremism and historical warfare which I managed to be in the thick of when violence broke out at the celebration of the end of the Sheik Harvest. A full police contingent lined up in riot gear brought down what was intended to be a family friendly community event as the handful of young warriors sought after their own resolution. Their anger affording the WHOLE community the mis-labelling, mis-understanding and a racial profile skewed by this fringe. The repercussions of their action resulted in similar celebrations being cancelled indefinitely.
I don’t pretend to know the history behind such clashes but it highlights that we continue to live in complex and angry times. Diaspora have a tough time and to be real multi-culturalism comes with its own set of complexity. But the reality of the world is that we are multi-cultural and its not going away.
In a performance as part of my host organisation SAMPAD’s production Asian Spring, a group of young dancers presented a piece looking at this complexity. It was a strong voice from the young Diaspora – not seen as the face of England, expunged by their country of origin as Non Residential, they were languishing in the cracks trying to find a fit. These youth called themselves the ‘Doomed Generation’ and their performance was a cry for help. It was a sobering and important statement from the generations who sit at the step of their adult journey through multi-cultural society. For me their message has global relevance and their cry was loud and clear because if this is how OUR future they see THEIR future, then we have a lot of work ahead.
Over the course of the next three months, I will be featuring leading UK arts organisations the first of which is my host SAMPAD.
ABOUT SAMPAD – BIRMINGHAM UK
SAMPAD exists to develop a deep and distinctive structure of South Asian Arts in Birmingham and Britain through production, promotion, advocacy, education and outreach activity. SAMPAD aims to be inclusive in all its practises and will be as concerned with the pursuit of excellence as it will be with widening access.
This Mission Statement is underpinned by the following core values:
• Provide a rich, complex and deeply satisfying experience of true cultural diversity.
• Maintain a special sensitivity to serving those South Asian groups whose cultural aspirations and contributions remain unrecognised and under-representated.
• Reflect the socio-cultural and identity issues affecting communities of South Asian Diaspora.
• Develop and maintain a commitment to working inclusively with all sections of the community.
• Education and life learning will be at the heart of all SAMPAD’s work.
In 2006, SAMPAD produced a diverse range of projects. These included international collaborations and hostings such as SAMURDA, a Kerala based Indian Contemporary dance company, WEATHER REPORT, an anthology of poetry and creative writing by young people from Nepal, India, UK and Bangladesh, the opera DIDO and AENEAS and Un-KAHI, an issue based visual theatre production on domestic violence and post natal depression.
Audience development is a big objective of SAMPAD and over the financial year the company had attracted an audience of 12,500 to 49 performances, presented 44 education sessions and 143 community and outreach sessions to 4950 participants, worked with 108 artists and commissioned 5 new works. Additionally they run a significant training, arts referral and support program. They are based at the MAC, the Midlands Art Centre which is a hub of local Birmingham community activity. With a staff of 8, SAMPAD achieves significant milestones within the small to medium arts sector and not surprisingly, do this within a similar regime of minimal funding and inadequate resourcing, that is a mirror to the Australian S2M regime.