On Thursday 22nd May 2014, I was invited to speak at the new, shiny Library of Birmingham. It was wonderful to be in one of the most exciting new buildings in the city that I was born and raised in — a building really that is like a microcosm of Birmingham itself, with all walks of life passing through its doors.
I was asked to share my work and deliver a talk, so I decided to share some specific thoughts on the theme of ‘Transforming the City’. I deliver a lot of talks at schools, colleges, universities and public venues, where I talk through my work and share stories along the way. This time I wanted to begin a conversation and speak specifically about some important questions I have been exploring. I wanted to explore how we as human beings see ourselves within the cities we live in, how we feel about the power we have to affect change in our city. How the visual landscape of our cities is shaped around us, without any input from the people that exist within that space. Is it really public-space and does it belong to us? Why do we resign ourselves from having an impact in how our cities are physically shaped around us? Architects, town planners and city authorities, as they build the metropolis around us and shape the physical space that we use, do we ever have any input on that, and if not, why not? Do we see collaborative thinking when it comes to some of our social problems? Do we see academics, city councils and policy makers sitting with artists to explore issues we face together?
Many may already know that I paint murals within communities; murals that encourage people to reflect on important issues in society, but also murals that blend with the environment and resonate with the very people that surround them. For the past ten years, I have been travelling to great cities around the globe, painting concrete jungles and connecting with different communities, and learning along the way. Making human connections through art is paramount for me — if your art is not emotionally connecting with the audience, then it should be questioned. After all, the art must serve a purpose. However, I also went beyond just painting murals and launched Soul City Arts, an arts organisation that is dedicated to using art to engage with people from different communities. We then launched an arts centre called ‘The Hubb’ four years ago. That was all part of our initiative to bring art, in a wider sense, to the lives of ordinary people. As a graffiti artist, I have a strong belief in art being accessible for all, not just restricted to certain places and venues. Art must be embedded in our daily lives and our environment, and it can have a huge impact on our social condition. We underestimate the impact of colour on us as human beings. We are surrounded by ugly concrete jungles devoid of any colour. I write this post only to begin the conversations around ‘Transforming the City’ through remarkable ways. I hope this can be the beginning of us exploring these issues together.
I’m not a great writer, I’m a visual artist, but I do feel it’s high time that we begin to explore new and exciting means of connecting us as human beings, exploring how neutral spaces can bring people together physically. How can we engage with current spaces, but really engage with different audiences? Yes, we know there are various diversity tick-box exercises in engaging with diverse “BME” communities, but aside from all of that, on a very real level — let’s start important dialogue and explore creative approaches to connecting us as human beings.
The Hubb is an arts space I ran in the heart of Sparkbrook, Birmingham, where I was based and delivered a lot of programmes from. It has now since been closed down due to council redevelopment. We have a new space on the horizon and recognise the need for a physical space to explore these conversations in. Keep a look out for that and keep connected with us, as we may need your support for that initiative.
We have a hashtag #Transformingthecity’ — those who were present during the Library talk I gave as well as the general public, please do contribute to the continued conversations about how we can use creative expression to transform our city.
Here are some links to continue the momentum, so do Like our Facebook Page to continue to hear about Soul City Arts initiatives, including our new space.
Peace and Blessings,