Brook & Daniel’s exhibition Queering Masculinity explored the male form through painting and drawing. Both Daniel and Brook grew up as Jehovah’s Witnesses and their work documents the changes in their life, art and beliefs.
Daniel’s work showed a timeline of self portraits, the earliest drawings in the exhibition were made while Daniel was still a Jehovah’s Witness. The distorted, biomorphic and primarily monochrome images were displayed in chronological order giving us a glimpse of Daniel’s journey, Daniel also presented digital time lapses of his drawings, giving an insight into his process.
Brook’s timeline starts with his beautiful photorealistic paintings, Brook is a self taught painter, their incredible photorealistic work was inspired by the paradise scenes he saw frequently in his youth. Growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness Brook was surrounded by this religious imagery which inspired Brook to hone this remarkable skill.
Brooke’s paintings progressed into freeform male nudes intertwined in fantastical configurations, his last and most recent painting depicts a self portrait of Brook flanked by a giraffe and flamingo, half covered in body paint in his role as Debra the Zebra.
After talking us through their work both Daniel & Brook performed, Brook took us to the plains of Africa where we met a distraught flamingo chick freaking out about their grey feathers, meanwhile Debra the Zebra learned that a zebra must be quiet and blend in, lest you may be eaten! We also met Bwian the Lion, who is teased by all the other lions because of his lisp.
Luckily over the course of their journey, our protagonists meet one another and are able to help one another find their own truths and are able to express themselves in all their unique & quirky glory. Brook’s unique style combines comedy and usually a bit of tap dancing as a vehicle for telling stories about the outsider and their path to embracing and finding strength in their difference.
Daniel put on an experimental performance showcasing his video work and integrating it with his newly established drag practice. For both artists, leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses meant losing family, friends and stability, the queer creative scene of Bristol has held them and given them space to process and grow within a supportive community and move into new ways of expressing themselves.
“What are the stories we tell about ourselves? Who has permission to write them? What does it mean to recover forgotten histories from historically marginalised perspectives?”
This eclectic evening brought together Global Majority & Queer writers, artists, filmmakers and performers in a magical evening of poetry, performance and film. The artists shared work exploring identity, heritage and personal histories set against the backdrop of the once opulent Ashton Court manor house.
The event was hosted by Jack Young who shared writing inspired by his explorations of Ashton Court, asking questions about the untold portions of the mansions histories. This work was accompanied by a photographic instillation by Anthony Elliot who’s haunting document of the mansion hints at countless untold stories hidden in the dusty recesses of the dilapidated upper floors of the building.
Dan Guthrie’s film ‘Coaley Peak: A Fragment’ shot on 16mm exploring otherness, was based upon his experiences growing up in a Black family in a rural white community. This was followed by Tom Marshman’s beautiful multilayered performance, exploring themes of identity, queering the archives and telling stories that have traditionally been omitted through archival silence
The evening ended with two visceral performances from poets Asmaa Jama & Sail Katebe exploring personal and family histories within the wider context of our broken and deeply divided post colonial reality. Asmaa Jama’s poetry wove together a beautiful, gritty tapestry touching on memory, myth, movement and migration.
The evening ended with an explosive final performance from Sail Katebe, a Zambian born writer and performer possessing a musicality to his poetry and a passion for finding connection through story. Sail called on us to reclaim this space, his electrifying performance shook the building to it’s foundations and felt like a battle cry for justice.
It was wonderful to see The Island Open Weekend back and bigger than ever after a quiet few years post-pandemic. We went all out this year with our tenants opening their studio’s and contributing to our open exhibition, we also had dance taster sessions, live performances, a comedy night and a specially programmed clubnight.
Here are some of my favourite bits from the artists studios and tenant exhibition. Come take a look inside…
The Vestibules is proud to host The Coe Gallery’s stunning exhibition featuring paintings by Aboriginal artists, focusing on land and the natural world. The Coe gallery is the UK’s first Aboriginal owned and artist led gallery, founded and curated by Jasmine Coe, a Wiradjuri-British artist and, daughter of Paul Coe.
Paul Coe is an activist and passionate proponent for Aboriginal land rights and was also the first Aboriginal person to study law at the University of NSW. He established the Aboriginal Legal Service and in 1979 took a case to the High Court of Australia challenging British sovereignty, he lost this battle but the case was a step forward for Aboriginal rights.
James Cook claimed the East coast of Australia for the British Crown in 1770, the principle used to claim the Aboriginal land was called terra nullius, latin meaning nobody’s land, meaning that Australia was judged to be empty. Violence followed as land was taken, Indiginous men, women & children were massacred and European diseases and starvation claimed many lives.
Aboriginal people have lived in Australia for over 60,000 years and have lived in harmony with the land. Instead of being owners of the land, they consider themselves custodians – care takers, carefully managing the land so as not to take too much, to stay in harmony with the natural world.
In 1976 Paul Coe & Cecil Patten travelled to England and planted an Aboriginal flag on Dover beach, ‘claiming’ England and challenging the Terra Nullius doctrine, Paul’s work helped to pave the way for the historic 1992 case of Mabo vs Queensland.
This case directly challenged the acquisition of Aboriginal land under Terra Nullius and the High Court threw out the principle, meaning that Aboriginal titles over their land were recognised for the first time. However despite this there are many financial and legal barriers, the process is slow and there are still thousands of outstanding claims.
In recent years Bristol has seen the colonial narrative challenged, Jasmine Coe’s vision for the gallery is in “Contributing towards Aboriginal artists regaining control of their narrative and how their stories are told” . Jasmine’s practice as an artist changed after connecting with her father in Australia after many years apart, she had the opportunity to connect with the land and learn more about her heritage.
As a result of this her practice changed to reflect and embed what she had learnt and, as a Wiradjuri-British artist, acts as a way “of harmonising internal conflicts that arise from having two lines of heritage, which together hold a traumatic history” . The Coe gallery is at The Vestibules until the 28th July, get down quick to see these beautiful paintings in person, this exhibition is supported by Bridging Histories.
It was a chilly April evening, the world is ending and I have an appointment with The House of Savalon. I descended into the Victorian tunnels of Loco Klub, located in the former ash pits of Brunel’s original station at Bristol Temple Meads.
I wandered past used circus props and a miniature dystopia constructed from the detritus of our reality, disassembled, reassembled dolls, small dismembered plastic limbs and houses of horrors, the rooms compartments, fractured thoughts, dreams, nightmares of a dying world, darknesses and light held in little boxes, segmented and fractured, cut off..
I made my way past scantily clad beauties with silver platters, I caught a glimpse of the super sexy Paykubi, Persian Quing of Savalon, who lit up The Revel Puck’s big top the previous week as they opened the show for The Brizzle Boyz smashing it out of the park with Diamonds are a Girl’s best friend.
I made my way to the Carnibar, sat and surveyed the scene, Bristol’s queer beauties out in force. The world is ending and we are awaiting lift off, for there is still queer hope, the dream of a new non-binary reality and our fine vessel, The Savalark, lying behind a red velvet curtain is waiting to take us there…
Mid January I was feeling pretty flat, I hate the winter and it always feels a little like the world is ending. While scrolling endlessly through Facebook I stumbled across ‘Get Queered’, a 12 week experimental drag extravaganza, powered by Arts Council. I desperately needed a bit of glitter in my life so I made my way down to the Queen Shilling and found myself, for the first time in the warm, comfortable, sparkly bosom of the most wonderful House of Savalon.
The residency had already been running for a few weeks by the time I discovered it, I immediately found myself in a beautiful queer space and over the weeks and months I found myself feeling a part of something really special, in a way in which I had never really done before.
Astrozenica, Mother of The House of Savalon, brings such warmth, humour and creativity to the space, bringing in a talent group of new performers. They carved out a beautiful, queer, accepting, gender fluid, sex positive space, which platformed the Trans & Non-Binary communities and this felt really important at this time.
Their messages of self expression, acceptance, respect and radical self love brought a remarkable amount of folx together, week after week on a Wednesday, mid winter, mid covid, it was both a startling achievement and a deeply needed space for connection and expression.
Astro sets the scene each week “This is a place where we support one another, a space where we respect one another, where we celebrate one another and where we uplift one another” and the truth is that as part of the LGBTQ+ community I am all too aware that this is so very often not how we are treated in the outside heteronormative world.
Each week Astro made space for open mic. allowing members of the community who had never performed before to try out drag in front of a really generous and appreciative audience, I suspect this was the beginning of some beautiful journeys.
Back in the tunnels of Loco Klub and the velvet curtain was drawn aside and we embark in queer twos and poly threes and fours and fives. Astro in ravishing red PVC welcomes us aboard and begins the count down to lift off 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and ignition…
I watched with sadness as the blue and green planet which had been our home became smaller, diminished, distant. We fared an emotional goodbye to the Moon, whom did not seem at all ready for our departure “Are you leaving me??” , “Why??”, “Why??” “Noooooooo” “Why…?”….. after a fraught break up with the Moon we moved further into the solar system and said a final goodbye to earth.
Next stop Uranus, we took a tour with the oooh-sooo-sexy Florence Squelch with the most divine glittery lipstick. Florence elegantly went through the ins and the outs of Uranus, it felt like a pretty in depth induction, though enticing as it was, our journey was not set to end here.
A little further into the cosmos and we met Swiss royalty, the wonderful Mir.I.Am Queen who’s razor sharp dry wit left me always amused and at times a little scared. I have heard that Mir.I.Am Queen is an arm wrestling hustler, beware! The next planet saw the monstrous Buoys Buoys Buoys, Swansea’s best paper mache bard, who had pulled out all the stops for this performance.
On to planet Trans, led by the gender bending power house that are Bussy Patrol, flying the Tran’s flag loud and Proud. Bussy Patrol is the supreme combo of Blondie & Roux, Blondies powerful solo performances at Queen Shilling had an immense energy, and a style all of their own, in the words of Astro, “Here is some aggressively gay content” and I loved it.
Props included a reel of red and white barrier tape, 1 roller-skate, a fracture boot, a kids trikey and a toy microphone with effects buttons, to give you a taste of the up close mayhem that ensued, and do expect splash back, the energy was palpable.
Roux also put in some super memorable solo performances at Get Queered including ‘Our Mycelium’ talking about found family and likening the Queer community to mycelium networks “mycelium is an essential part of the forest” lying “beneath the forest floor, to communicate, to share nutrients, queer community is like our own little network to share information, love, warning, lessons, just goes to show queerness is a part of nature, a part of life itself.”
The most memorable moment of Get Quierd for me had to be Roux’s touching cover of ”It’s ok to cry” a heartfelt and beautiful performance for Trans day of visibility, Roux’s message of radical self acceptance in the face of prejudice and radical self love called me to question myself and my own thoughts, feelings and beliefs.
Next up an out of this world performance from Miss Dynasty & MisFortune, MisFortune is a part of The Islands wonderful Ballroom Community who could be found cutting up the Get Queered dance floor. The first time I saw Miss Dynasty was at Queen Shilling celebrating Chinese New Year, this wonderful performance was followed by fortune cookies chucked into the air, one happily landing in my pint. It seems that Excitement and Intrigue will follow me closely wherever I go, not sure how I feel about that.
On the last planet we witness the scintillating Elektra Duboir emerging from a sparkly cocoon, and just when things are hotting up disaster strikes! Astrozenica, Mother of the House of Savalon is kidnapped & ball gagged by an alien duo. Has our hope for a queertopia been dashed, is it all over?? The future is uncertain, our fates swing in the balance, to find out how this saga will end we will have to wait until the next thrilling installment…
The council’s Bristol Rules campaign has been tackling the problem of harassment in the nighttime economy, you may have noticed posters around the city defining what sexual harassment is, in the hope of educating perpetrators and making people feel safer going out.
As part of the campaign, there have been free workshops for nighttime economy staff to set a precedent for the sorts of behaviors that are and are not acceptable, and to help staff tackle incidents.
“We’re inviting you to call it out: We all have a part to play in protecting women in our city. Be an active bystander and if it’s unwanted, tell them it’s not OK.”
“We’re asking men to consider ‘Am I being a Creep?’ – a poster campaign throughout our night time venues will invite you to look at your behaviour and question. Is it unwanted? Is it OK?”
There was also a Bristol Nights’ Shine A Light Parade on Thursday 24th of March from 6:30pm when Bristol came together to send a zero-tolerance message around the harassment of women.
The final stop was Lloyd’s Amphitheatre, where there were performances by Booty Bass alongside poems and stories from speakers and artists; each with a powerful message to send to the city.
Stokes Croft Land Trust is at The Vestibules this week raising money to purchase The Peoples Republic of Stokes Croft’s building through community ownership. Help protect this space and build a sustainable alternative for our city…
Our Halt Harassment exhibition at the Vestibules showcased artworks, policy documents, and a podcast by Ngaio who began the Halt Harassment campaign during her role as Artspace Lifespace Inclusion Officer. In the podcast Ngaio talks about how and why the Halt Harassment project started, she also talks to Alice Newton about her work in the nighttime economy, including her involvement with the Sistxrhood area at Glastonbury festival providing a man free space and safe haven for women and non-binary partygoers.
Tracey Bowen’s exhibition at The Vestibules made visible issues around consumer privacy, AI, ethics and inbuilt electronic bias. Tracey came upon this project by accident during research, she was alarmed by the social inequalities being reinforced and magnified through digital technologies.
In our modern western world technology is ever more prevalent in our lives, it affects our ability to access money, to find accommodation, it monitors us as we travel and makes decisions about our lives, it opens and closes doors. Tracey Bowen, currently working with the Mozilla Foundation on Black Interrogations of AI has seen the need for a Balck led task force to challenge these bias, Tracey explains:
I am setting up the UK’s first Black Tech Task Force to monitor and address Algorithmic Bias and Discrimination, and to engage the wider public to raise awareness of this critical issue.
Hope Immersive makes visible the inequalities programmed into systems such as facial recognition technology, it is concerning indeed that these technologies have the same bias as their designer and that the use of these discriminatory biases and data set’s in programming is largely unchecked and unchallenged. The effect of this is that social inequality and biases are replicated and propagated in the digital realm, and this has a very real impact on the physical world.
The introduction of facial recognition technology, for both private and business use has reason to cause great concern, especially to already minoritized groups. There have been at least 3 instances in the US of Black men being falsely arrested because of flawed facial recognition technology. In one case a Black man was arrested in Detroit on his front lawn in broad daylight in front of his neighbours and young children. He was taken to the station and held in awful conditions for 30 hours before finally being taken to an interview room.
The police asked how long ago he had been in a specific watch store, he replied that he hadn’t been there in years. The police told him that his face had been matched to CCTV footage of a shoplifter in the watch store and that his identity had been verified by facial recognition technology.
The police produced a grainy, partially obscured image from the store CCTV, when the falsely accused man saw the photograph of the offender he was shocked as the image from the watch store’s CCTV footage was clearly not him. The man confronted the police who had to concede that the image had no likeness, though they still had no authority to release the falsely accused man until he went in front of a judge hours later.
I first became aware of this to some extent when I found out that zoom is calibrated for white skin, the effect of this is that those with darker skin can find themselves partially erased. Being white I was completely unaware of this, which is true of so many inequalities which do not affect us directly.
As a child of the 80’s I grew up with science fiction and have always had a passion for the genre. I love the glowing, smoggy dystopian streets of Blade Runner, I guess this is a kind of nostalgia for a stylized 80’s dystopian view of now. Science fiction was of its time and for me it was a warning which came from deep feelings of anxiety over the impending changes to our lives and societies brought about by new technologies.
Tracey also has an AR research project underway investigating where in the city people might like to see statues celebrating African founders. Working alongside Dr Edson Burton, Tracey sees the need to change the narrative of the city and be more honest about the foundations upon which it was built. As Edson Burton explains in the documentary Hope Immersive ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52d9uOPni_U ) the legacy of the slave trade can be seen in the wealth brought to the city, by the buildings and churches, a wealth built upon exploitation of enslaved peoples, largely originating from Africa.
In Tracey’s documentaries we also visit the cobalt mines in Congo, we use cobalt in products such as aircraft engines, in electroplating and lithium ion batteries. The boys and young men who work in the mines live in terrible conditions, in a toxic and extremely dangerous environment and here we can see that we really haven’t moved forward, we are still exploiting and dehumanising people and we are still destroying the natural world.
Through this exhibition I also learnt a little about power guzzling cryptocurrencies and how numberplate recognition technologies are being used to collate and store vast amounts of information about our movements over weeks, months and years. This exhibition left me with much to think about and also left me with much cause for concern.
In particular I was surprised and troubled at the complete lack of accountability of designers and companies producing software which links personal data to invasive systems. In fact I found out that these companies can even conceal their algorithms, yet still sell them to institutions and governments, an example given was software used to identify DNA from mixed specimens, as is clear here faulty data sets and algorithms are potentially enough to destroy innocent people’s lives.
The message is clear, the longer the public is unaware of what is happening and the longer these inbuilt biases go unchecked the more ingrained they will become and in our increasingly digitised lives inequalities and barriers will grow. The Black Tech Taskforce has taken a lead in challenging big tech to try and build a more equitable future and to try and protect those who are not able to protect themselves.