This article originally appeared in ‘The Let’s Evolve’ issue of BRICKS, originally published in September 2020. This issue is still available to purchase from our online store.
The ‘portraits’ section of our print issue has always been a space we’ve been particularly proud of as it allows us as a magazine to shine our spotlight on those in our community doing work we truly believe in highlighting. Throughout our different issues, this space has been filled with a variety of faces, each in keeping with the issue theme – including body-positivity icons in The Body Issue, future innovators in The Future Issue and community activists in The Rise Together issue.
For 2020, our eighth issue explored evolution and how this monumentally challenging year has and will force creatives to adapt, whether this is practically, mentally or emotionally. Meet the faces of the Let’s Evolve issue Portraits series and hear how they have been evolving during lockdown.
On the 28th of May, Tony Mcdade was murdered by the police. On the 25th of May, George Floyd was murdered by the police. On the 13th of March, Breonna Taylor was murdered by the police. On the 5th of April, Belly Mujinga died after being intentionally spat on by a civilian with COVID. There will be no prosecution. Say their names, and all the others.
Adaptation for Black people is both innate and impossible. Adjusting oneself, one’s attitude, one’s anger to exist within the status quo of a structurally racist society is expected. From an incredibly young age, I was taught the best way to be, how to code-switch and who to mimic, not only to achieve success but for my safety. I no longer know the difference between adaptation and performance, or the difference between the apocalyptic and the everyday. During this time of social distancing, where so many people want things to go back to “normal”, I think of my friends who don’t leave the house for weeks due to depression and dysphoria. I think of my own experiences of homelessness, my family’s relationship to the criminal justice system and what “normal” could be for transgender people.
Evolution is necessary and both Black and gender non-conforming communities are leading the way. The genius that has led to creating modes and methods to simply exist and the dismantling of age-old ideas about gender represent an evolved thinking that will lead us into a future of our own. Get ready, the tides are turning…
My life isn’t over yet; I am grateful for that. What I can speak on, is how I have evolved in my 28 years on this earth. I am the Scorpion; my sign is that of rebirth and evolving! I have emulated this at every stage of my life, whether consciously or subconsciously. I have learned to adapt in the way of accepting my body, my spirit, my energy and myself as a whole person both in the best and worst times, and to love myself throughout those periods of time. I have evolved to be completely unapologetic and in love with who I am. As a child, I struggled throughout school with my weight and height; I had disordered eating which I struggled with and I was always looking externally and elsewhere to be or see myself in someone else, anyone else that wasn’t me. I was on this path for many years, which only led me to a space of sadness and a feeling of a void that I was always trying to fill up with unhelpful things. I can honestly say in the last 4 years that I have really flourished and become who I am supposed to be, which is a proud plus-sized Black womxn. I’ve adapted in the best way, becoming fully Nyome without apology. My evolution is still ongoing…
Evolution, for me, has involved sequences of radical acceptance and letting go. I’m soft and gentle and engaging with a world that’s at war and in pain. I am learning that where it’s “not soft or gentle” is where I exist, as both the nurturer and the warrior. The state of our planet requires that. It’s like we’ve all learned one or the other. We’ve forgotten that growth means you have to acknowledge sides of yourself that aren’t always going to be a pretty picture on a summer day. I know the stories I want to bring to life are vital to the collective rewriting of Black Africans in Britain, but some of them are just about celebrating a body I haven’t been kind to for a very long time. This current stage of evolution is about finding new skin under decay, celebrating small wins, and co-creating joy with the earth!
Charles Darwin describes the four principles of evolution as being: variation, inheritance, selection and time.
In variation, to me evolution means understanding that my very being is unique in itself. If institutions like the media did not perpetuate the pressure to look a certain way or size, beauty brands would be obsolete.
In inheritance, evolution means understanding how it’s a privilege to bear the same facial features of the woman who birthed me and the great lineage of womxn who preceded me. It means remembering that I come from a heredity of strong matriarchs who stood their ground in times that made them doubt their own strength. My evolution means holding the same baton that they fought with and continuing forth.
In selection, it means taking care of my choices of who I surround myself with – my chosen family. Surrounding yourself with people who, for example, “do not see colour” essentially means they do not see you or your struggles, and someone who doesn’t acknowledge that your existence is political, not out of choice but out of survival, is an unneeded form of emotional exhaustion.
In time, evolution means growth in my multitudes of being. Time is liquid; ever-changing and I possess the right to embody these same characteristics. As a Black womxn, especially in these trying times, I must continue to move forward even if the rest of the world halts still. This is the reality shared by many and in its own little way, the reminder that I am not alone in this process is a testament to the fact that evolution is necessary.
A flower that grew without water is how I would say I have grown in the past few years whilst studying Graphic Design at Leeds of College of Art. Coming to university with no economic backing has caused more mental health issues than I could have anticipated, especially noting that I am Black and queer. There have been some dark moments in my life in Leeds over the last 3 years that have caused more pain. Figuring out a productive way to channel my frustrations resulted in a zine I created called RACEZINE that consumed most of my second-year studies. The zine, to my surprise, has facilitated over 90 live and creative opportunities for POCs in Northern England. It has evolved into a platform for workshops, panel discussions and QTIPOC clubbing (safe) spaces such as TONGUE ’N’ TEETH. I understood my pain as a queer person of colour in Leeds and used it to create something I could not have foreseen becoming so positive and life-changing. With the love and support of the allies of both queer and POC communities, it has confirmed further that my work and platform is more than just breaking a mould, it is finding strength.
I have often wondered how many versions of myself live in the minds of others. Expired, outgrown and obsolete lives, I have since forsaken. Three years have now passed since I left the North East to find a better life in London, yet I find myself incessantly wondering who I would have been if I stayed. Before fleeing the nest, I had very low self-worth and no purpose. Putting myself out there was impossible, due to the fear of what others would say or think. When you carry trauma, trusting in yourself can be difficult. Learning to validate yourself is an uncomfortable, but crucial step to becoming at peace within yourself. Self-care is not all bath bombs and avocado toast, but relentless honesty and reflection. I have learnt that I cannot run away from myself, but must face myself instead. I know it’s cliche, but it’s true that life exists outside of your comfort zone. I’ve accomplished things I’ve never thought I was capable of, because I trusted in myself that no matter what the outcome, I would grow from the experience. I have made peace with the fact that I am a different person to everyone I meet, and not everyone will like me. We are all multi-faceted, complex humans, constantly evolving and changing. Our past is not our present, but merely mirrors our growth.
Post-pandemic, I have a more positive outlook on the future regardless of the uncertainty lingering in the air. Whilst lockdown has been somewhat lifted, collaborating with other creatives has proven to be an integral part in building and expressing my creativity with other like-minded individuals to spark more inspiration for growth. As a Black female artist, I struggled to see other women like me represented in art throughout history, and when I did it would be depicted in a negative stereotypical way – either as over sexualized, aggressive, or a subservient slave.
Because of these notions, doubt was a common theme that set in and was incredibly debilitating for growth. As I experienced life and understood what fuelled my passions, I made it my mission to draw on personal experiences to create art that challenged perceptions in society and conjure up conversations that broke that negative cycle through storytelling, without fear of making others feel uncomfortable when speaking my truths. As an artist, being free to express myself is a form of therapy, one I implore everyone to take up.
From a young Muslim girl in Malaysia to a modern feminist living in Brighton, the steps taken in this journey have been tiring but also worthwhile. I struggled with my identity and sexuality back home but found peace within myself through making music. However, home was beginning to feel a little artificial for me. I craved unlimited freedom, and freedom of judgement from the community that I was born into. The move to the UK has been a significant decision in my life. I pursued music in university, but even with the full support of my family, as an immigrant, I still sometimes felt I was in a place that I didn’t belong. Nonetheless, I persevered and carried on honing my craft so I could go on to be a better musician. As I became more familiar with my adopted hometown, I started becoming more active in issues concerning the BIPOC and LGBTQIA community. I began to find like-minded people with similar hardships that I could relate to and with this new sense of belonging, I was finally able to properly reflect and overcome my time in Malaysia growing up. Knowledge is power, and it has been the key factor in helping me adapt constantly in this ever-changing world. But most importantly, having a community that accepts you for who you truly are is the tool that allows you to evolve. It is this acceptance that fuels the true power of your potential.
I thought I’d finished evolving at 21. I’d already worked through my shame of being queer. I’d already moved from Scotland, to France, to London, worked several shitty jobs and had several shitty experiences. I really thought I’d tapped out, experienced all the issues that make one grow, expecting plain sailing from here on out.
It’s hard to figure out when exactly it started, I always knew something was wrong with me, but refused to pay attention to it until it became unavoidable. I suffer from a chronic pain condition, of which I’m still unsure. I exist currently in an ongoing fluid state of change; trying to work out who I am now, in relation to my body and my pain, after losing parts of myself I was content with. I can’t drink coffee or alcohol anymore or even eat tomatoes. I cut myself off from the concept of evolving, and it came back and smacked me so hard I still don’t know what to do. As an art student, I found myself looking for examples of my own pain and sickness in other artists. I couldn’t find it. Are these physical issues not important enough for their own artwork and discussion? Or is the revulsion at physical sickness too strong to allow us to acknowledge our pain within art?
I am blessed with problems in my uterus, digestive system and bladder, outdatedly described by medical professionals as “women’s issues”, which explains the complete lack of awareness on these topics in general, let alone within the art world. I couldn’t find any films, physical pieces, or academic papers that chronicled anything similar to my story. I started performing and creating my own works to fill this gap I saw in art/film/media; about chronic pain and digestive issues. In doing this, I had to change my whole way of working into something I could do whilst in pain. I managed to graduate from Central Saint Martins with first-class honours. My struggle with my evolving sense of self, trying to fit with the narrative my body has now given me is ongoing, and I’m proud of my work and my continuous efforts to bring to light this struggle within art.
I think the most important thing I’ve learnt in terms of my own personal growth is to not try and do everything at once, and ignore the persistent fear of not ticking every box or not taking advantage of every opportunity. Great opportunities are only great opportunities if you’re not burnt out/having a meltdown/able to pay them the attention they deserve! Saying ‘no’ to things every once in a while isn’t being ungrateful or rude and it’s often necessary in order to fully respect the things you’ve already decided to take on. I’m still terrible at taking my own advice and I still burn myself out half of the time, but I think during lockdown I got to a point where the line between work and downtime had become non-existent and I had to start planning in time to work and time to definitely not work. On the flipside, lockdown made me realise that I don’t have to be either working or socialising if I’m not asleep — it’s probably better for both my work and my social life (and myself) if I let myself take breaks from both of these things when I feel like it.
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