Towner Cinema – Jamila Prowse

Posted on 14/08/2020

This month we asked writer and curator Jamila Prowse to explore the recent shift the art world has taken towards the digital realm. Read on her for thoughts and to find out what she’s been watching. Jamila seeks to interrogate and dismantle the colonialist, racist and ableist structuring of the art sector through curation, writing, and collective organising.


Over to Jamila:

I spent the summer of 2019 intermittently housebound due to an exacerbation in mental illness I’ve had for most of my life. The little flat where I lived at the time in Stoke Newington, became my base to watch as the world went by. Sounds of the warmer months, kids playing in the park across the street, an ice cream van’s familiar song alerting us to its arrival, all drifted in through the balcony door. Unable to leave my house, I experienced life largely at a distance. As a curator, there is often an expectation or unspoken pressure to stay up to date with the developments of artists and galleries. This becomes difficult when you are unable to physically get to a space. Although, through social media, there is an increased access of artists sharing their work online, prior to COVID-19 cultural institutions had a sparse online presence. As Sophie Hoyle explores in a recent essay for Festival Gelatina, online programming, rather than being a requirement which ensures that anyone who is not physically mobile can access the work of arts institutions, was perceived as a non-necessary add-on and unreasonable cost.

At the beginning of the government ordered lockdown in London, I began writing a piece for Art Work Magazine on the ways COVID-19 has made culture accessible for disabled and chronically ill audiences, and those who were socially isolated prior to the pandemic. For someone routinely unable to leave the house, who was previously locked out of much arts and culture, the increased access we’re now experiencing feels all the more pertinent. From my bed, during periods of worsened mental health as well as points where I have been more stable, I have been able to traverse the imaginative spaces of many incredible artists and thinkers. I have watched countless moving image works, including ones that I missed when they were installed in physical spaces in my home city, watched talks collectively with thousands of other people across the world, and had the chance to read and approach researching with a slowness which has placed me distinctly outside of the fast-paced, inflexible capitalist time I am accustomed to (and which is often unattainable to me as someone who is regularly debilitated by their mental health).

Throughout the past few months we have collectively witnessed and experienced huge shifts and traumas play out across the world. The resurgence in public support for the Black Lives Matter movement following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, Riah Milton and countless others as a result of extrajudicial and racially motivated killings, created a notable re-contextualising of online spaces as sites of resistance, knowledge sharing and protest. For black communities the world over, in collective grief, these murders reaffirmed the statistical probability of premature black death (a lived reality black communities have faced for centuries). Personally, the ancestral and lived trauma this brought up as a mixed-race person of black South African parentage, led to a reckoning with the lived experience of my father and his ancestors, many of whom lost their lives prematurely as a result of violence, poverty and sickness. A good friend of mine suggested that a way to process and understand this trauma would be to absorb myself in the writing, thought and art of black thinkers, artists and academics. 

Much of this list I share with you today is informed by a slow and deep research, and a commitment to surrounding myself with the work of black and non-black people of colour, as an act of self-preservation, self-care, communal healing and resistance. What I must make clear, is that the experience of viewing many of these moving image works and conversations from my home (whereas before I would be likely to encounter them in a white walled gallery space) has allowed me to reconnect art-making and imaginative thinking with its radical, anti-colonial, anti-racist potentialities, in a way that might not have been possible in another context. This is a non-exhaustive list of just a few of the expansive and generative modes of thinking I have come into contact with, I hope it inspires you to continue seeking out routes and imaginings of your own.

Contoured thoughts, video (still) by Evan Ifekoya (2019)

Moving Image Films

Obsidian Coast presents an online programme, (Extra)Terrestrial Currents, of screenings and commissions of moving image works, and a reading list. Until Sunday 16 August you can watch Himali Singh Soin’s To Tehran in My Dreams, which traces the historical development of long-distance communication, followed by Evan Ifekoya’s contoured thoughts from Monday 17 August, considering the radical underpinnings of rest.

On Cell Space Project’s homepage, until Friday 28 August, artist-in-residence Shenece Oretha offers an interactive holding and breathing space. Incorporating words, sound and moving image, Oretha compels listeners to pause in suspension, to fully encounter and consider the moment of shift we find ourselves in. 

I missed Imran Perretta’s The Destructors when it was shown at Chisenhale Gallery in the first three months of 2020, then heard rumblings and echoes of its deep impact moving through conversations and dialogues succeeding its closure. Thankfully, Baltic have made the film available to watch through their online archive, Baltic+. The film centres on a group of young men as they navigate the social pressures of growing up in a society that has come to view them as both a physical and ideological threat.

Towards A Black Testimony: Prayer/Protest/Peace by Languid Hands (2020)

Talks

Current Cubitt Gallery fellows Languid Hands (a collaborative duo of artists and curators Imani Robinson and Rabz Lansiquot) sat in conversation with Michael B. Gillespie and Gail Lewis, in honour of what would have been Abbey Lincoln’s 90th birthday. The centre point of the conversation was Languid Hand’s first collaborative artwork, a moving image piece entitled Towards A Black Testimony: Prayer/Protest/Peace, commissioned by Jerwood Arts in 2019, including individual responses to the film from Lewis and Gillespie.

Curator, artist and current Director of Programmes at Cubitt Gallery, Amal Khalaf, and moving image and performance artist, Rehana Zaman, sat in conversation for Other Cinemas. They discussed their three-year collaboration with a group of Black and POC women affected by the criminal justice system and their attempts to collectively produce a film that speaks to this process. The conversation, titled Everything Worthwhile is Done with Other People takes its cue from a quote and interview of the same name by organiser and Pr*son abolitionist Mariame Kaba, in Adi Magazine.

Research

Throughout lockdown I have been slowly and carefully spending time with Jemma Desai’s generous research This Work Isn’t For Us. Shared publicly and openly via a google doc, the research considers Desai’s 15-year career working as a programmer and curator in the film industry and what it means to be a BIPOC — or in Desai’s words “embodied in difference” — when working within white institutional settings. Desai is further expanding considerations of the research in a public setting, through a series of online talks with Lux, with the third and fourth iterations taking place on Tuesday 25 August and Wednesday 9 September.

 

Jamila Prowse seeks to interrogate and dismantle the colonialist, racist and ableist structuring of the art sector through curation, writing, and collective organising. Her practice is engaged in collaborating with art workers, as an antithetical method to the alienation of being a BIPOC working within, alongside and adjacent to white institutional settings. Presently, her ongoing research Can We Surv[thr]ive Here? considers the potentials and limitations of institutional work for Black, non-black People of Colour, and disabled artists and art workers, and is informed by Jamila’s own experiences of being a mixed-race curator with lifelong mental illness.


We are proud recipients of the BFI FAN Covid-19 Resilience fund with thanks to the BFI Film Audience Network awarding funds from National Lottery.