15th July 2016 – WOW (Women of the World) Think in at Kala Sangam

The WOW festival is certainly something to go wow over as it is celebrating women all over the world from different backgrounds for their achievements. It is usually held in Southbank Centre in London but recently it has been on the move around the world. This time round, it’ll be held in Bradford for the next three years, and this year it will take place in November 11 to 13. To mark the official beginning of WOW in Bradford, Impressions Gallery had the honour of hosting the event, which attracted more than 100 people from different organisations and backgrounds.

In getting ready for the festival in Bradford, WOW are holding ‘think in’ sessions where women and men are welcome to attend and to share their opinions and ideas with other organisations. The main aim with these sessions is to bring together some amazing ideas that could shape some incredible events for the festival.

From seeing how successful the official launch event of WOW was at Impressions Gallery, myself and Jane Hiley wanted to attend the ‘think in’ session so that we could get a better idea of what organisations would be involved and also to see what the session would be like (neither of us have been to a session like this before.) It was held at Kala Sangam and it was hosted by Evie Manning, who also participated in Citizens of the Word. It was great to see so many women attend from different organisations and they provided some really insightful opinions and ideas for the WOW festival.

For instance, we met a community group called ‘Womenszone’ and they run a variation of activities for women to participate in and to help women who are struggling with the language barrier. It was amazing to hear how women who have been depressed or alone felt welcomed in this community group and it was reassuring to know that there are groups like this out there in Bradford.

By the end of the session, the room was just brimming with so many ideas for the festival, I just hope that Evie will be able to remember them all. This definitely made me feel very excited for the festival, can’t wait to see what it will bring when November comes.

14th July 2016 – Meeting with Graham, Congreve about the publication for ‘No Man’s Land’ by Asiya Hussain

Today, Pippa and I were meeting up with Graham Congreve, Director of Evolutionprint and this meeting would be mainly to see the different publications he’s made and which one would capture our attention.

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Just to explain why we were having this meeting in the first place, New Focus is working on a project called No Man’s Land and throughout the project, we’ll be visiting different archives and unearthing some interesting and hidden facts about women during World War One. Hopefully, by the end of the project we will have created a publication, which will be filled with all the different things we’ve learned and will be accessible for young people to read. This meeting was mainly to give us a better idea of what layout and design would be suitable for the publication.

I’ve never really been at these meetings when you get to meet the brains behind the layout and design of publications so this was exciting for me.

He brought over a box full of publications, big and small, so that made me even more curious to see what he brought. And I have to say, there was A LOT of publications of all shapes and sizes. There were two A3 sized magazines that looked like old fashioned newspapers, which I thought looked really good and there was also a leaflet that had been shaped to look like a mountain, so that when you unfold it each page has a section of the mountain head. (That really impressed me.)

 

But we also had to keep in mind that the really complex but pretty publications would be more expensive to make as it would require a lot more time in producing them. This was evident when we took a look at a large book that had different textured papers and some of them had different printing styles done, some being engraved while others had designs made by laser cutting (wow!) I think we instantly fell in love with that book.

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It was amazing to see all the different possible outcomes in making a publication. It doesn’t have to be a traditional text book with a lot of writing and a few images, it can look like a newspaper filled with nothing but images, or it could be concealed within a package or it could even be pocketsize!

I have no doubt that the next time we have a New Focus meeting, they will definitely be excited to hear all the different options for the publication No Man’s Land.

5th May 2016 – Meeting with the Peace Museum by Asiya Hussain

Following from the success of the New Focus meeting in discussing the new project of No Man’s Land and the different approaches that New Focus can take on it, the next step was to meet up with a potential partner in the project, the Peace Museum. The plan was to tell them about the project and see if they would be able to partner up and if they could contribute something towards it.

From a personal point, it was great to revisit the Peace Museum as I had volunteered there 2 to 3 years ago. Quite nostalgic… The members of the museum who greeted us were extremely friendly and very enthusiastic about the project. They were definitely all for New Focus getting involved with the Peace Museum. They want us to use their archive and that sounded really exciting, you never know what amazing object you could find. Their overall aim in allowing us access to their archive is to make archives in museums more welcoming and accessible for public use.

Some of the objects they had in their archives were really incredible. One of the pieces that we were able to see was some sort of stamping block that had the image of a photograph on the base – the photograph was of a women’s peace group. The image was very intricate.

The meeting overall went very well and hopefully we’ll be working closely with the Peace Museum in the near future!

14th April 2016 – New Focus Meeting about ‘No Man’s Land: Women’s Photography and the First World War’ by Asiya Hussain

This meeting was based on discussing the new project No Man’s Land: Women’s Photography and the First World War, which our Head of Programme, Pippa will be curating for next year.

The aim of the exhibition is to explore gender: to consider what we think of as masculine or feminine in relation to war and war photography. Although most histories emphasise the experience of male soldiers, women were fundamentally involved in the war as well.

This project delves into the elements of war that aren’t well known to the public. This should be a really exciting project for New Focus to get their hands on!

With the arrival of some new members to the New Focus team, discussing the new project went better than I expected. Thanks to the introduction of the project from Pippa and Jennifer, everyone was extremely responsive and they were really eager to get started.

We discussed areas such as the barriers this exhibition might have with the younger people and what would interest young people about the exhibition. As soon as the paper came out to make some notes, all the thoughts and ideas just started pouring out from the team.

The project itself sounded really interesting as it contained some intriguing issues that could be explored from different angles. By the end of the meeting, you could tell that everyone left feeling positive and inspired. Can’t wait to get started now!

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The Animated Punk Poster School Challenge

Thursday 30th June 2016 and Friday 1st July 2016 – The Animated Punk Poster School Challenge

As Rock Against Racism is such a fantastic movement that which promotes racial equality through punk and reggae music, it feels crucial that the younger generation of Bradford should be able to connect with the movement in order to get a better idea of how it has influenced society today. One way of doing that is through the power of creativity!

To get the creativity flowing, the gallery invited some schools over to participate in ‘The Animated Punk Poster School Challenge’ and the main aim of this workshop is to show the pupils what it was like back in the 70s in the UK, what it was like to be a graphic designer in the 70s and how racism had become normalized. But instead of simply preaching the message to the pupils, they were given the task of creating their own Rock Against Racism posters, to create posters that reflected on the different meanings of Rock Against Racism and to also reflect on what they have learnt during the workshop.
But wait, there’s more! They’re also able to make a really cool Rock Against Racism photo collage that was brought to life with the help of stop motion animation. The pupils were really thrilled to see their work come alive on the projector screen, I know I’d be thrilled if I were in their shoes.

I was able to help out with two workshops involving Hanson Academy and the Holy Family Catholic School from Keighley and it was really great to see them get into the ‘Rock ‘n’ roll’ spirit. It was also good to see how some of the pupils were already aware about the impact of racism and how it can become mixed up with politics in having an affect on the public. I could see some of these pupils becoming future politicians with how passionate they are about racial equality.

Some of the posters made had some powerful messages and in a way it’s reassuring to know that this is how the younger generation feel about racism. It’s definitely not easy to make a meaningful poster from pieces of newspaper, postcards and magazines.

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Citizens of the Word – Khadijah Ibrahiim presents a lively poetry debate by Asiya Hussain

Saturday 9th July 2016

As a part of the Ilkley Literature Festival and inspired by the current exhibition Rock Against Racism, the Leeds Young Authors presented a lively poetry session lead by Khadijah Ibrahiim at Impressions Gallery. Alongside Khadijah were some amazing poets such as Malika Booker, Evie Manning and Asma Elbadawi who presented their pieces proudly in front of the audience.

It was exciting to see Impressions Gallery being the host for an event like this and I was very eager to see what thoughts and opinons would be exchanged. This session was an open dialogue about the changes in society and how we can make a change. This topic seemed very fitting, especially after the results of the Referendum so I was curious to see what thoughts would be shared. The gallery was slowly filling up with people avidly waiting to get the session started and I always think it’s great to see people who share similar passions get together at events like this.

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The topics that were explored definitely delved into serious matters that have been somewhat sidelined by the media, matters that are too ‘graphic’ to be taken into consideration. In hearing the speakers and members of the audience speak about the seriousness of these topics, it actually made me take a step back and to think about how much I actually knew about these issues happening in society.

For example, there was the discussion about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) which I feel remains to be a sensitive topic that many people don’t want to delve into. I have to admit that when I first heard this term and learnt what it meant, I wanted to simply ignore it and hope that it wouldn’t be brought to light again.  But hearing it from the perspective of young poets brought more clarity towards the issue and it highlighted how this act cannot be ignored by society. This appears to be a topic which people are too frightened to speak about, not knowing how to approach it or afraid of learning too much. But this session would destroy those barriers and tackle the issue head on.

In introducing the topic, a short video by studio12.org.uk was played in showing three girls reciting a poem about the barbarity of FGM, explaining how the practice is a form of ‘enslavement of the body … it is male domination over women’ and how it is viewed as ‘a cleansing and purification of the body’. The message was clear, millions of women and girls in the world have been ‘cut’ and something needs to be done to bring awareness to it. I was horrified to hear how this is seen as a cultural practice, it has been ‘normalised’ and embedded into many people’s minds as being an ‘orthodox’ practice which makes it difficult to eliminate as the women who have been ‘cut’ have also been taught that it is necessary.

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The issues surrounding media and identity and stereotypes was also explored and this was very fitting for the current exhibition Rock Against Racism. I feel that these three issues go hand in hand as the media play a big role in the construction of people’s identity and in creating stereotypes around certain ethnic groups. The young speaker Becky read out a poem written by herself about her identity and exploring how her skin colour is seen as being ugly to some. It’s truly remarkable that these young poets read their poetry in front of a live audience and were able to deliver such an amazing message about themselves and society, I don’t think I would have been able to do that!

Looking more closely at media and identity, speaker Asma Elbadawi explained how the media always shows for example, a certain type of Muslim or a certain type of African, their identities already being made for them whilst they remain silent and unheard. To break the cycle of the media misrepresenting people, Asma explained how she combined both her passions of basketball and poetry together and in essence, created her own identity. In addition to this topic, speaker Evie Manning elaborated on stereotypes and how they become an expectation for people, they dictate our actions and restrict what we can and can’t do. From a personal point of view, I agree with how stereotypes have played a role in how society perceives certain ethnicities, that they must behave in this way or act in this manner.

It definitely felt like the topics discussed were reflections of the current exhibition, showing how issues back in the 70s have resurfaced again and need to be dealt with. There was an interesting point made by Malika Booker in discussing the lives of refugees and asylum seekers that was stuck in my mind. She mentioned how the rich are able to move across borders with ease whereas the poor  who are fleeing from war zones are unable to cross borders. For me, this highlighted the struggle of not only the refugees nowadays, but of the migrants from the past who struggled to travel to Britain or elsewhere.

The discussion was then handed over to the audience and to elaborate on the topics discussed. They had the choice of going to a set of different tables that would discuss in depth the topics recently highlighted and to form some sort of solution for each issue. Instantly everyone leapt out of their chairs and dashed out to their tables, eager to discuss more in depth. It was clear that everyone was passionate about the topics discussed and they wanted to meet some sort of solution to it. I don’t think I’ve heard the gallery filled with so many intrigued and passionate voices before!

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In ending the session, Khadijah explained how when she was growing up in Britain, she understood what racism was and she was constantly told in school that she was black and ugly. She explained how she was confused at hearing this as she has never been told before that her skin colour was ugly, only in school did they say this to her. She also grew up alongside Rock Against Racism and instantly fell in love with the movement, hooray! She then read one of her own poems out which was inspired by Rock Against Racism. It was a very fitting way to end the session and she even mentioned how the gallery was the perfect place to host this event, to get inspired by Syd’s photos and to see what the movement was like back then.

Considering that this was the first time I’ve been to a poetry event like this, I have to say that it definitely opened my eyes wider to issues I thought I understood and made me more aware about the changes in society.

Brunch Against Bigotry by Asiya Hussain

Friday 17th June 2016

Brunch Against Bigotry was slightly different to the events that usually happen at Impressions, but it’s still jam packed with amazing insight into the exhibition and the photographer’s aim. As it states in the name, the event was a combination of a brunch and an informal exhibition tour with the photographer behind Rock Against Racism, Syd Shelton.

The exhibition Rock Against Racism revisits a significant moment which altered people’s views towards politics, culture, fashion and music. It was a groundbreaking movement from 1976 to 1981 formed by musicians and political activists to fight racism through music. The photographs by Syd Shelton capture the many moments of Rock Against Racism in all its glory.

Before the brunch had even begun, it was great to see the gallery filling up with a wide variety of people from different age groups and backgrounds and how everyone easily connected with the movement. I think it’s amazing to see how Rock Against Racism is accessible for almost everyone who visits, for those who grew up with it and those who are just learning about it now. You could almost argue that the exhibition is applicable within society today as racism remains to be an underlying problem within society.

You could tell that the majority of people present were very eager to meet the man who has managed to capture such iconic moments in Rock Against Racism. I was excited to hear about the stories behind some of the iconic pieces and to learn more about what society was like during the 1970s.

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It was an informal walk and talk around the gallery with Syd leading the talk and exploring the turmoil that was happening during the 70s.

I was really surprised to hear how normalised racism had become, and how such hatred towards non-white people was almost encouraged by some political groups. From a personal perspective, I was shocked to hear how terms such as ‘paki bashing’ were used very casually and how non-white people were automatically characterised as being muggers or murderers, it was a bit too surreal. It was also scary to hear how the National Front were gaining more followers and power at the moment, that they were becoming very popular amongst the public. (I’m glad it isn’t like that now.)
I also felt inspired when I learnt that the Asian youths of the 70s were also prepared to stand up against racism and pave a way for the new generation of south asian children born in the UK.

But despite the power behind racism during that time, it was reassuring in a way to hear about the great success of Rock Against Racism and how no one even anticipated that it would last for more than a few days. It was great to hear how punk and reggae bands and singers came together and wanted to put an end to the horrendous racial abuse. The photographs really show the explosion of UK reggae and punk combined.

When looking at some of the photos, you can see that there’s a story or a conversation happening between the person being photographed and the photographer. And it definitely sounded like Syd had many interesting encounters when shooting the majority of photos present in the gallery. The photograph with the two skinheads for example was definitely an interesting story to tell. He explained how in order to get some sort of reaction from them, he began to provoke them by saying things like, “The National Front is rubbish.” That definitely got one of the skinheads clenching their fists in anger. I was surprised and amazed at how he didn’t get punched by one of them.

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Skinheads, Petticoat Lane East London 1979 © Syd Shelton, courtesy of Autograph ABP

Another story that I thought was amazing was a photograph of the lead singer from Sham 69, looking back towards the photographer. According to Syd, the lead singer received numerous death threats from skinheads and racists, telling him to stop performing. What is truly amazing is how he ignored these lethal threats, despite being advised not to attend, and he literally burst onto the stage and was met by thousands of fans.

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Jimmy Percy and Sham 69 Carnival 2, Brockwell Park Brixton, London 24 September 1978 © Syd Shelton, courtesy of Autograph ABP

To be honest with you, I could just go on and on with listing all the different stories that Syd mentioned in the talk, like how an eager fan jumped on stage and he managed to capture the shot before being thrown off. I feel that these stories really illustrate the power and determination behind the Rock Against Racism movement and how it hasn’t really faded. It’s actually amazing to see that he’s managed to capture all of these amazing shots, these photographs almost give the digital camera a run for its money. When he explained how it’s almost like a gamble when working with camera negatives, it makes these images all the more special as they were literally captured in the moment, no re-dos or second chances. But despite that, he said that there’s something magical about working with negatives and how there is something special about the abstract nature of black and white photography, how it can take something away but at the same time bring something new into the image.

If you’re reading this so far and you’re thinking “Hmm… I really like the sound of that exhibition!” Then please come over and become enveloped in the punk/reggae atmosphere of Rock Against Racism. And if you want to hear more from the photographer Syd Shelton, then please book a place on the In Conversation: Syd Shelton and Carol Tulloch on the 23rd July, 2.00pm to 3.30pm.

For more information on the exhibition visit Impressions Gallery website here