I love painting a street-corner mural, creating eye candy that engages the viewer in unique ways. It was art that was breaking conventions, bursting outside of the gallery spaces, and spilling out onto the streets, the concrete jungle became the canvas. For the past 10 years i’ve been fortunate to have travelled the globe painting murals in cities from Sydney to New York, from Dubai to Singapore and learning from these diverse societies about how, through art, we can bring about positive change. Bringing colour and meaning into the walls of the cities we live in, was my mission. But now I wanted to take graffiti-art and take it to somewhere else.
I used to work in the gaming industry for 5 years, many years ago. I would create graphics for the games, it was great at the time, a dream career. Kids still ask with excitement, what games i made in my time! Whilst doing that I learnt a lot about human engagement, using visuals and creating an ‘experience’ that would draw the user and immerse them into a different world, exploring all of the different senses of human beings. Now it was time to take this 2D graffiti-art and engage the viewer in different ways. Theatrical ‘Experiences’ i’d call them., not your conventional form that one might be used to, but taking the viewer inside of the paintings i was creating, working with artists of other mediums to create a rich experience, where visuals, sounds, poetry, video projections and light played with each other to stimulate the viewer in exciting ways.
If Walls Could Speak is a new theatrical experience, i’ve been putting together for a while now. 3 years ago, I put together Writing On the Wall at The REP theatre, following that i did Breaking Down The Wall. Both of these shows were an exploration of live-painting choreographed to performance poetry, video and light projections. These were my attempts to push beyond the limits of what i was used to.
If Writing On the Wall was a blending of these different mediums 3 years ago, so what makes the upcoming show If Walls Could Speak so different? The difference was this show explored something close to my heart – an area i was born and raised in, an area that has received widespread negative publicity in the media, whether it was the implementation of CCTV cameras monitoring the community, to the recent terror arrests. This area was Sparkbrook, the place where my father opened his first Fish n Chip shop back in the 70′s. It was a place i had fond memories of, growing up in quite a diverse community, from white Irish families to South Asian. The community has radically transformed into a predominantly Asian-Muslim community, and perhaps seen as a little segregated now, where have the Irish and English families gone? Are we that divided, are these problems around segregation that bad in the city that i was born in? Great British society may celebrate its diversity today, but how did it get to where it is today, what were the stories of those people.
I felt it was time to explore these stories some of which i had experienced growing up, to explore untold stories of a community and how it evolved over the decades, the struggles of migrant communities that chose Sparkbrook as their home, and lived and worked in the city. I heard stories of the white racists skinhead gangs that would come into the area, to the hardwork of communities that worked in Birmingham’s BSA gun making factory – a place that was a livelihood for different communities, including my father and much of my family. Mention BSA to anyone from the asian community or the English, and you will hear nostalgic stories from the 1940′s to the 1970′s. Some of these common stories had to be shared. We need to know our past – to appreciate where we are today, and some of that local history was buried deeply. Whilst we interviewed people who shared these moments, they became emotional, no-one had bothered to give such prominence to their stoies ever before. This show was going to be powerful.
To tell this story that i felt that was so important, i wanted to bring together artists, the best of the genres. Which artists can i collaborate with to create an epic show. The beauty of this show was that we have a diverse range of artists representing different genres, some of which i had grown up through my teenage years listening to, and now i was able to invite them to tell this story. Cleveland Watkiss, with his lush jazz vocals, was known as the UK’s No.1 jazz vocalist, we have MC Conrad – a pioneer of Drum N Bass MC’ing, Birmingham’s current poet Laueate.Stephen Morisson-Burke, RTKal – a renowned Grime MC, and Manchester’s Martin Visceral Stannage – all artists that connected with the vision- to explore art for social change, beyond art for art’s sake. We brought in the creative genius Leo Kay to direct this epic show, and it showcases right in the heart of the city that i was born and raised – Birmingham, before it potentially hits the road to tour.
/Mohammed Ali – Visual Artist
If Walls Could Speak is on for two nights this coming Sunday and Monday
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