Burning the Books – debts to go up in flames in Brixton

Ella Eyre in concert - Birmingham

What is debt? What can it mean to people? These are the questions artist Alinah Azadeh wishes to explore with Burning the Books. A live and touring project, Alinah launches a Book of Debts in different places around the UK, encouraging people to contribute stories of their experiences of debt, exploring the moral power debt exerts on people and societies. People write their stories onto the blank pages. The Book of Debts is then recited and burned in an act of absolution, and a wake held, to celebrate the stories committed by the community.

Alinah opened up the Brixton Book of Debts at the launch event at 198 Gallery on Thursday 12 March with a reading of a provocation, an introduction to what debt can mean, and what she hopes will fill the pages over the next month. This Brixton book brings the number of volumes up to nine so far. The Brixton events are being curated by Barby Asante, who thought it important for the project to engage with this community undergoing many changes. At the launch, Binki Taylor, from the Brixton Pound, said that the book is ‘a beautiful way to create a community legacy, and let it go’.

Alinah with the Brixton Book of Debts

The project started in Liverpool back in 2011, after Alinah was inspired to make art out her personal experience of debt. She was struck by the lack of study of debt in the wider world, but soon after the first burning, Alinah discovered texts like David Graeber’s Debt: the first 5000 years, and Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics – these books on debt and alternative economies will be discussed at a workshop at 198 Gallery on Sunday 15th March, with writers from Malika’s Poetry Kitchen, and Susan Steed from the Brixton Pound.

Financial debt, emotional debt, ecological debt, and beyond, debt can be positive and negative, creative and destructive. We all owe someone something. What do you owe? Contribute to the Book of Debts, volume IX, at the 198 Gallery, around Brixton when it tours from the 20th, or online.

The book will wait for debt stories to fill its pages until the 29th of March, and at 2pm, the book recital and burning will take place at St Matthews Peace Garden. Burning the Books Brixton is produced by Barby Asante – get in touch if you are interested in becoming a co-reciter. @burningthebooks

Written by Gargie Ahmad