By Mohammed Ali Aka AerosolArabic (founder of Soul City Arts)
Its been exactly one week since If Walls Could Speak showcased in the city of Birmingham to an audience of 400. This time last week i was getting text messages, ‘any chance of squeezing any tickets, they telling us its sold out..’ I had to resist from replying with ‘Did i not warn you? I told you it would sell out….’ There really was was no more room. There were queues winding around the building in a way i have never seen before. The theatre had never been so exciting. The word has spread in the city, that if Walls Coulf Speak was the show to be at.
Indeed the show was exactly what i had hoped for, sold out over two nights in a venue that many would never normally engage with. Young and old gathered. Black, White, Asian, Arab and everything in-between came together. Its taken me a week to recover and gather my thoughts on a theatrical performance, that has taken so much out of me. I have put my entire life on stage. My story, of the area known as Sparkbrook. The place that i was born, and where my father settled, after journeying across the world. The true stories of me helping my dad in his restaurant since i was 11 years old, the things i had seen, i had felt, and it was time to share that. Sharing a part of me, that i felt had made me what i am today. Yet the story wasn’t an egotistical exploration of me – but ‘me’ was everyone, it was those unheard voices, it was untold stories that have never been given that platform before. Do you ever hear the voice of the waiter in the restaurant that had to deal with drunk, racist customers? That was a voice i wanted to share. It made me who i am today, it makes me do what i do today, which is scream out, and want to make a connection. Connect people. Thats what i’m about. Even if the stories you hear make both sides feel uncomfortable. I had to explore this. I create art that has to serve a purpose, not just a load of eye-candy, good art has to stir people within, whatever that feeling is, it has to make you feel things you’ve never felt before. Thats why i do what i do.
I’ve been dabbling for a while now in bringing together different mediums into one space, in particular the live-painting element. As a graffiti artist for the past 20 years, it occurred to me that the movement of a street-artist painting a mural was almost a performance in itself. The large sweeps of the arm, through to the delicate thrusting of the wrist finessing those intricate details, i felt i had to bring my performance of paintings into a different dimension. Having worked in the games industry for 5 years, i had a passion for bringing different mediums into one place, immersing the viewer into an all-round ‘experience’ much like how i was producing graphics for video games, taking the gamer into a different world. Combining my live painting with the lush vocals of a jazz vocalist, combined with the rawness of MCs and Poets, set to the backdrop of video projections – the story of inner city Sparkbrook in the heart of the city of Birmingham was being told in exceptional ways. This was exciting. United Kingdom sit up and take note, because the untold stories of a people that one might assume as sterile and unimaginative are coming forward.
Reading some of the reviews that have been circulating over the net over the past week have been great to read, especially as they are so on-point. They capture pretty much exactly what we had aimed for, exploring the questions we had hoped to embed within the audience. The show gave no answers, but was designed to leave you with questions. Following the show during the Q&A, there were plenty of questions for the cast, which lasted for around an hour. People told me in the days to follow of how those questions and conversations continued on the journey home from the theatre, and even into the late hours of the morning. This is when i knew we had sparked off something special. People had woken up.
What mattered to me more than anything was the people from the community of Sparkbrook who had turned up in big numbers, and how they felt. The word got back to me… they were happy. They were more than happy and felt proud to see their stories told that night. Not only were these inner-city voices expressed loud and clear on a major platform, but they were told through the voices of world class performers, with the hype around the show being almost like that of a ‘big movie production!’
When i designed the branding for this show, from the flyer design to the video trailers circulating and even the posters for sale on the night, it had to be have so much hype that it would make the people feel proud. This was a show that truly had to do justice to them. This was a show that was delivered in style that made up for the fact that they had been misrepresented over the years. An area that was long forgotten and ignored. This story had to make the people proud, and if my dad was alive today, it would make him proud of the story that had him in the centre of it.