Art and activism collide at Brixton-based Survival Guides

Survival GuidesSurvival Guides, a collection of events, workshops and performances, begins this Thursday at Atlantic Road’s Art Nouveau and continues for two weeks. Ruth Waters, Brixton Blog arts co editor met up with producer Alice Moon and curator Jacob Joyce to talk about the eclectic mix of events coming to Art Nouveau, Brixton East and Lambeth Town Hall in the first two weeks of May.

Survival Guides comprises fourteen days of activities ranging from site-specific performance, to spoken word, to children’s workshops. The aims of the event are huge and would have any politician quaking in their boots: “to delve into black history, look gentrification squarely in the eye, think fluidly about queer sexuality and shake up fixed notions of gender identity” – and that’s just for breakfast.

Their manifesto continues: “We will heed stories of African Gods and African LGBT activists who have been both empowered and oppressed by the legacies of colonialism. We will hear poetic retaliations to the oppressive structures that dominate the landscape of London. We will dance to the music that has survived a long journey across the globe and reverberates to this day in the streets of Brixton.

When I meet up with Jacob and Alice, at Kaff Bar across the road from Art Nouveau, the basement of which will form the HQ for their event opening in just under one week, the first thing I want to find out is how does this massive collection of issues form a cohesive whole in Survival Guides. “A dearth of information”, Alice tells me, “is what unites all the different issues and voices which form Survival Guides”.

All of these stories, whether it be about the Brixton Fairies or African Gods and Goddesses, are part of the fabric which makes Brixton what it is today, yet information about them and celebration of them is hard to find. “Monotheistic and colonial attitudes are so omnipresent in British society today that we forget the other stories which are part of the fabric” Jacob adds; “there are all these marginalised voices and we wanted to bring them together and give them a voice.”

What’s behind the name ‘Survival Guides’ ? At one level it’s quite literal, Alice explains to me. “Throughout the event, we’ll be hearing from people for whom survival as an individual is a daily concern.” Whether that be LGBT Africans who live in a daily state of fear in the UK, attempting to carry on their lives knowing that at any time they could be deported back to their home country to face certain persecution  and possible execution for their sexuality. “The whole event is very political” Jacob affirms – “it had to be that way, because that’s the stories and the art we care about.”.

The ‘survival’ of the event title could also be taken to refer to keeping stories, cultures and traditions alive in the modern city – allowing them to survive as it were, Jacob explains. Only in his mid twenties, Jacob has already been involved in an impressive array of workshops, events and exhibitions  promoting and engaging people with black and African histories and cultures; he hopes that Survival Guides will help to keep the stories of the African gods and goddesses alive.

“We hope the mood for the whole event will be one of protest and fun at the same time” Alice tells me – “art and activism” in tandem. Survival Guides doesn’t shy away from the issues which are affecting Brixton today, from life and death to gentrification and gender equality and, with almost all of the events free and open to all, 1-14 May should be a period for different individuals and groups within the community to come together through art and talk about what really matters to them.

survival guides logoSurvival Guides begins on Thursday 1 May with a spoken word opening event at Art Nouveau, followed on Friday with a film screening also at Art Nouveau. On Saturday 3rd May Survuval Guides will present a Gentrification vs  Regeneration forum, with black history walks giving an interactive presentation on gentrification and African history in London and Black Activists Rising Against Cuts looking at the effects of gentrification and the cuts to black British communities at Lambeth Town Hall at 6pm. More events will be taking place until Thurdsya 14 May – full details available here

Ruth Waters is arts co-editor for the Brixton Blog and Bugle and can be found tweeting @MinimalismBlog