A one-day symposium about socially engaged arts and cultural democracy titled Uncommon Ground crumbled upon the slightest scrutiny, and left a good number of the audience disappointed and let down to say the least. In advance of the event which took place at The Lowry on 22nd March 2018, little information apart from two underwhelming personal blog posts were given as lead-in material. The morning session involved four presentations, and NO discussion or Q&A of any kind. Tweets were welcomed to be responded to later – I wondered if they have replaced real nuanced discussion?
It’s the Economy, stupid!
By mid-afternoon it was clear that nobody was going to bring up the economics of inequality or within the arts, nor how arts can have an impact on such structural inequality. An embarrassing omission given that there is a common understanding of inequality being first and foremostly related to economic and political power. In most symposia or conferences, a subject is usually given some broad sweep overview of the history and key pieces of work and debates that have developed over the decades, plus some critical and fresh perspectives on the gaps – those areas which still need addressing. This kind of basic context was completely absent at Uncommon Ground, an insulting slap in the face for those who have tirelessly worked in the field and against the grain for those decades.
India, Africa, the West Indies, colonialism and recruitment, the impacts of war and our ongoing culture of war explored in a free afternoon conference.
Saturday 10th February 2018, 1pm – 4.30pm
at Manchester Central Library (First Floor), St Peter’s Square, Manchester M2 5PD, UK Tel. +44 (0)161 234 1983
This mini conference is a part of the ‘WWI’s Hidden Voices’ exhibition offering an afternoon of presentations and discussions offering the most critical perspectives on World War I in any current public forum. The speakers will expose the full extent of involvement from the British colonies in World War I, the impact the war had on those regions, its legacy for those countries and cultural representation of the war. Sessions include:
The West Indies join the War by Washington Alcott Women’s Perspectives from East Africa by Susan Chieni Cookson Cultural Representation of World War One and other wars by Kooj Chuhan Teaching Hidden Histories in Schools by Dipali Das Community Research from a ‘Southern’ Perspective by Southern Voices
The documentary exhibition ‘From The Shadows Of War And Empire‘ finally gives us a full picture of the vast involvement of people from colonised countries in World War One. ‘The Poppy Retake‘ video art installation looks at how The Great War links with wider themes of war, colonialism, culture and coerced recruitment. This mini conference is an afternoon of presentations and discussions with a range of speakers who will give us a deeper insight into some the themes from the exhibition.
The West Indies join the War
Washington Alcott, teacher and researcher specialising in African and Caribbean history, will look at the recruitment of West Indian soldiers to the global conflict and its impact on the islands.
Women’s Perspectives from East Africa
Susan Chieni Cookson, a Kenyan born high school teacher and lecturer who has a PhD in gender and education, will explore the impact of World War One on East Africa with the focus on women.
Cultural Representation of World War One and other wars
Kuljit ‘Kooj’ Chuhan, Indian-born filmmaker and digital artist, will look at some of the big arts projects that represent World War One, the influence of modern day media and how ‘The Poppy Retake’ came about.
Teaching Hidden Histories in Schools
Dipali Das, British Bengali writer and teacher, has been delivering workshops to primary school children based on Southern Voices’ World War One materials and will discuss her teaching experiences and outcomes.
Community Research from a ‘Southern’ Perspective
Southern Voices will present how they created this exhibition and the difficulties in getting the history ‘right’, plus examples of previous work. They discuss why we need a ‘Southern Perspective’ at all?
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World War I’s Hidden Voices – an exhibition in two parts:
The documentary exhibition ‘From The Shadows Of War And Empire‘ by Southern Voices gives us a full picture of the vast involvement of people from colonised countries in World War One.
‘The Poppy Retake (v3)’ video art installation by Kuljit ‘Kooj’ Chuhan connects The Great War with wider themes of war, colonialism, culture and coerced recruitment.
‘The Poppy Retake’ video art installation by Kuljit ‘Kooj’ Chuhan is the focus for a new short film about the upcoming Manchester World War I exhibition titled World War I’s Hidden Voices which launches on Weds 6th December 2017 at the amazing Central Library building in the heart of Manchester.
‘The Poppy Retake’ is partnering with the extensive ‘From The Shadows Of War And Empire’ set of educational graphic panels by Southern Voices to create the exhibition, which runs from 7th December 2017 – 24th February 2018. Key details below: Continue reading →
At the exhibition launch of World War I’s Hidden Voices (6th December – CLICK HERE TO REGISTER) the Manchester actress Rani Moorthy will perform a dramatised reading of a powerful poem reflecting on the effects of the First World War from an Indian and colonised country perspective. She will be accompanied by musician Jaydev Mistry and also VJ projections by Kuljit ‘Kooj’ Chuhan. The poem is by Sarojini Naidu and is titled The Gift Of India, written in 1915 while the war was ravaging.
The exhibition features The Poppy Retake art installation by Kooj Chuhan, the launch event will be on Weds 6th December from 5.30pm and the performance and speakers begin at 6.30pm. More information at www.metaceptive.net/poppy-retake . The event is free but registration is strongly advised at www.hiddenvoicesww1.eventbrite.co.uk . #poppyretake
About Sarojini Naidu
Sarojini Naidu was a distinguished poet, renowned freedom fighter and one of the great orators of her time. She was famously known as Bharatiya Kokila (The Nightingale of India) and was a prolific poet with over three books of published poems, highly praised by Rabindranath Tagore. Sarojini Naidu was the first Indian woman to become the President of the Indian National Congress and the first woman to become the governor of a state in India. Continue reading →
India, Africa, the West Indies, colonialism and recruitment, impacts of war and our ongoing culture of war explored in two parallel exhibitions under the title World War One’s Hidden Voices
The Poppy Retake (v3) by Kooj Chuhan // From the Shadows of War and Empire by Southern Voices // #poppyretake
On show 7th December 2017 – 24th February 2018 at Manchester Central Library (First Floor), St Peter’s Square, Manchester M2 5PD, UK // Opening times 9am-8pm Mon-Thurs and 9am-5pm Fri-Sat (Sunday closed) Tel. +44 (0)161 234 1983
OPENING NIGHT – 6th December 2017 5.30pm-7.30pm including speakers Ahmed El-Hassan (Southern Voices) and Colette Williams (Mbari), plus live performance from Jaydev Mistry (music), Rani Moorthy (dramatised readings) and Kuljit ‘Kooj’ Chuhan (VJ projection) // First Floor exhibition from 5.30pm, then speakers and performance from 6.30pm on Ground Floor Booking for this free event is strongly advised: www.hiddenvoicesww1.eventbrite.co.uk
MINI-CONFERENCE – 10th February 2018
thought-provoking talks, workshops, films and discussion for World War One’s Hidden Voices– full details to be announced www.metaceptive.net/poppy-retake
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THE POPPY RETAKE (v3)
…colonial narratives, spirits from the dead and video war games…
video art installation by Kooj (Kuljit Singh Chuhan) – new version
Modern war propaganda began with World War I which obscured its pointlessness and deep colonial connections, while pretending to be the ‘war to end all wars’. This artwork explores coercion into war, involving an African woman working for a war-themed park. She finds herself caught between colonial narratives, spirits from the dead and video war games.
Since the end of WWI we have seen numerous wars with the majority in regions once colonised. Modern video gaming is now the epitome of obscuring both the horror and the colonial roots of much conflict. The Poppy Retake suggests our multiple connections with wars as forms of cultural recruitment but which impact mostly on people from ex-colonies. It extends the perspectives developed in the documentary exhibition ‘From The Shadows Of War and Empire’.
Few know about how European powers brought colonies into World War I, took resources from these countries and took the war to ‘fronts’ outside Europe. An exhibition which finally tells this major part of the story from the colonies’ point of view. We focus on India, the West Indies, German and British East Africa, and Nigeria – the British Colonies.
Did you know that the first and last shots of World War One by ‘British’ forces were fired not in Europe, but in Africa? Or that 1.5 million soldiers from India fought for the British? The exhibition examines the impact of 1914-18 on these selected colonised countries from the viewpoint of the colonised peoples themselves – their situation as colonies, the impact of the war on them and on anti-colonial struggles. Accompanied by ‘The Poppy Retake’ art installation by Kooj Chuhan, this exhibition gives us incredible context and information about World War One’s Hidden Voices.
The Community Learning Festival 25th-27th July 2017 at MMU Brooks Building (Birley Fields Campus) is set up to celebrate the diversity of learning happening in the local area https://birleycommunityfestival.wordpress.com/ . It includes a lot of consciousness-raising activities and possibilities for activism towards progressive goals. The Poppy Retake installation is set up there in a compact version, supporting the talk by Southern Voices about Colonialism and WWI, and also Kooj (me) will be delivering a session about using video for community activism with references to The Poppy Retake installation.
The installation looks strong, here is how it looked yesterday (some components might be added today – trying to keep playful with trying things out here):
A year ago today, a dear friend of mine died of cancer. She was old but not that old and youthful in spirit, her name was Jaya Graves who I will miss dearly. Her death at the time was overshadowed by the far more devastating loss of my own son just 10 days earlier, and its taken me until now to put this all too brief post up.
I first met Jaya in the late 90’s as part of some activities supporting refugees and people seeking asylum in Manchester. She later became involved on the management committee and then as occasional collaborator with the artists’ collective that I had founded, Virtual Migrants www.virtualmigrants.net and we used to meet at the Southern Voices office at St Peters House Church and Chaplaincy.
In 2003, while she was a member of the Manchester Museum Community Advisory Panel, I was commissioned to create a series of video works for permanent installation in the at that time new galleries being built, and one of the videos was of Jaya. Here it is along with another two from the same series of videos.
The more recent work on environment, climate change, race and migration was co-developed with her vital contribution, meeting at her house. It was Jaya who suggested we call the project The Centre Cannot Hold, from the WB Yeats poem. I valued our reflective, analytical, critical and good humoured chats enormously, as well as the ideas and knowledge she introduced me to. We were good friends even though we only met occasionally, and I miss her. I count her as an inspiration and influence on my work and my humanity. May she be carrying on in the way she always did so well wherever she may be.
PS: Regarding my dear son Naseeb, mentioned earlier, I have not felt the need to put a post about him on this website since there is a memorial website dedicated to him already at www.naseebchuhan.wordpress.com .
A new video art installation The Poppy Retake at Z-arts Centre launched on 18th April to a diverse and appreciative crowd. The main projection screen follows the story of an African woman (performed by Tracey Zengeni) working in a woodland park devoted to the theme of war. Subtle clues suggest she herself has a refugee background.
Objects from World War I draw her into an alternate reality of video games which she can’t control and which mix between playable wars and real wars. Through a magical mirror, she meets her own spiritual alter-ego who tells her to escape before it’s too late, and also an elderly Sikh spirit who tells of the realities of World War 1 from an Indian perspective. More about The Poppy Retake at www.metaceptive.net/poppy-retake .
A powerful accompanying set of graphic documentary panels were exhibited by Southern Voices, titled ‘From The Shadows Of War And Empire’. They narrated the story of the contribution by and impact on the colonies from World War I. More about this project at www.southernvoices.org/sv-proj .
There were thoughtful speeches by Southern Voices’ WWI project coordinator Kirit Patel, community researcher Washington Alcott, artist Kooj Chuhan, and a tribute to the late Deyika Nzeribe by his brother Ikem. There was poetry performed by Afshan D’souza-Lodhi, and finally a fantastic musical set by Serge Tebu (Keyboard) and Emmanuela Yogolelo (vocal) along with backing on bass and drums by Joe and Ephraim.
Words and poetry within The Poppy Retake at Z-arts
During the dramatic video sequence within The Poppy Retake at Z-arts Centre there are the words of soldiers from India and the West Indies during World War I taken from letters they had written, which are a part of drawing the main character into the war loop. At the launch event, one particularly strong and relevant poem which was read by Afshan is as follows:
The Gift of India by Sarojini Naidu (India, 1915)
Is there ought you need that my hands withhold, Rich gifts of raiment or grain or gold? Lo! I have flung to the East and the West Priceless treasures torn from my breast, And yielded the sons of my stricken womb To the drum-beats of the duty, the sabers of doom. Gathered like pearls in their alien graves Silent they sleep by the Persian waves, Scattered like shells on Egyptian sands, They lie with pale brows and brave, broken hands, they are strewn like blossoms mown down by chance On the blood-brown meadows of Flanders and France Can ye measure the grief of the tears I weep Or compass the woe of the watch I keep? Or the pride that thrills thro’ my heart’s despair And the hope that comforts the anguish of prayer? And the far sad glorious vision I see Of the torn red banners of victory? when the terror and the tumult of hate shall cease And life be refashioned on anvils of peace, And your love shall offer memorial thanks To the comrades who fought on the dauntless ranks, And you honour the deeds of the dauntless ones, Remember the blood of my martyred sons!
New version to be developed
This is the first showing of The Poppy retake at Z-arts, it will be expanded and developed further into a new version to be shown at Manchester’s Central Library for three months from December 2017 to February 2018.
The evening was dedicated firstly to Deyika Nzeribe and Jaya Graves, both of whom were members of Southern Voices and who died within the last year www.southernvoices.org . Secondly Kooj dedicated The Poppy Retake at Z-arts to his son Naseeb Chuhan whose conscious attitude and cultural interests influenced the video art installation, who used to work at Z-arts, and who also died within the last year www.naseebchuhan.wordpress.com . A big thanks to all who were involved and helped out, a list of credits is at www.metaceptive.net/poppy-retake .
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THE POPPY RETAKE is a new video art installation by Kooj Chuhan with an alternative take on World War I by connecting colonialism and computer games with a systematic war culture. The installation references the involvement of and impact on European Colonies by World War I and was supported by the experiences of the actor, Tracey Zengeni, herself having sought refuge in the UK. Its going to premiere at the fantastic Z-arts centre gallery on Tues 18th April from 6pm, and will be on show there for nearly two weeks. There are full details at www.metaceptive.net/poppy-retake including of the opening preview night. Here is an introductory trailer for the work:
Essential details for The Poppy Retake:
at Z-Arts Gallery, 19-28 April 2017
335 Stretford Road Manchester M15 5ZA 0161 226 1912
Open daily 9am-9pm except Saturday 9am-5pm and Sunday closed
PREVIEW: Tues 18th April 6pm
Speakers: Susan Chieni, Kirit Patel and others / Poetry: Afshan D’Souza-Lodhi / Music: Serge Tebu & Emmanuela Yogolelo
FREE ENTRY but booking advised: www.poppyretakeshadows.eventbrite.co.uk
Will wars ever end? Was World War One’s ‘Lest We Forget’ a deluded slogan by Europeans who endured enormous suffering yet ignored even greater calamities for their colonies? Is war in fact the default future human addiction as global economics, culture and inequality spell more conflict forever?
The Poppy Retake is a new piece of video installation art by Kooj Chuhan which poses these questions. The artist Kooj uses dramatic sequences of imagery that mix aspects of culture today, recent conflicts and refugees with world war one and the historical realities for people in previous colonies such as India, East Africa, The West Indies and Nigeria.
Who knows that the first and last shots of World War One were fired not in Europe, but in Africa? Or that 1.5 million soldiers from India fought for the British? The installation will be exhibited together with an extensive series of documentary history panels created by Southern Voices, titled ‘From the Shadows of War and Empire’. In all this will present a unique exhibition taking an African and South Asian perspective on World War One and the role of the British colonies within it.
Art that can re-interpret, re-situate, connecting wars, colonialism, games
Kooj hopes to get people to shift from the usual and massive stereotypical icons of World War I and understand its part in the ongoing process that has got us where we are today, and how young people are influenced and co-opted into cynical acceptance of conflict yet remain oblivious to colonial histories and geopolitical power interests. This war was fuelled by rivalry based much on competing colonial portfolios between European countries, and colonies were enormously affected in critical ways during and after the war.
However, Kooj is quick to point out that, “As an artist my job is not to stuff a load of history down people’s throats, but to draw out a human experience in simple and metaphoric ways that bring people closer to the underlying meanings and hidden agendas of the war.”
The Poppy Retake installation depicts a never ending loop which we can’t get out of, played out through a current character with a refugee connection from today. The work is inspired by resistance to wars and colonialism in history especially the WWI period focusing on narratives that have often been suppressed such as schoolteacher John MacLean from Scotland who was instrumental in the Clyde revolts during and after WWI, or Indian revolutionaries such as Kartar Singh Sarabha, or the many women from East Africa whose families died from a famine made worse by European demands for resources to support the war. Within the installation we encounter hints of these people and events but we remain stuck in a continual loop of wars, games and colonialism which appears to have no end, driven along by a background tempo and video loops which play with ideas of nationalism, patriotism, dissidence, loss and war game videos.
Historical Documentary Exhibition ‘From The Shadows Of War And Empire’ by Southern Voices
Alongside The Poppy Retake installation will be a set of educational panels titled ‘From The Shadows Of War And Empire’ created by Southern Voices about the issues around World War 1 from the perspective of the colonies.
2014 marked 100 years since the start of the World War One (WW1). In a very real way, this was the first global conflict, with war between the European Empires drawing in well over 100 countries.
This project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, examines the involvement of the British colonies (India, West Indies, Nigeria and East Africa) in WW1 and the impact the war had on those countries. Southern Voices look at European imperialism, the devastating losses on the colonies’ own ‘home fronts’ and subsequent strengthening movements for self-rule and independence.
The impact and views of the people in the ‘colonised countries’ are either neglected or absent in commemorative events. This exhibition provides a more balanced account of this global war than is commonly available or known and adds to the connecting of wars, colonialism and wider contexts.
They are hosting a bold weekend of films on climate change, migration and the refugee crisis titled ‘Gimme Shelter’. Here is the blurb from Tyneside Cinema’s own website:
“It is predicted that climate change will have a big impact on human migration in the next 50 years, with millions set to be displaced by shoreline erosion, coastal flooding, intensifying drought and further agricultural disruption.
Tyneside Cinema aims to inform and spark discussion through a curated programme focusing on the urgency of action on climate change as well as its very real connection to the current refugee crisis. The programme contextualises these issues and will cultivate a better understanding of the reasons behind human displacement and will see filmmakers joined by leading experts to discuss the connection between climate change, natural disasters and migration.
Join us after the screening for a special panel discussion with;
– Filmmaker and artist Kooj Chuhan, whose recent films have focused on climate-linked migration
– Professor Tahseen Jafry, whose work in Glasgow focuses on climate and international development aid
– Durham University-based Professor Andrew Baldwin, one of the world’s leading academics on climate change and migration.”
Its been almost a year since the last blog post, things have been quiet at Metaceptive due to a particularly deep and devastating bereavement for Kooj Chuhan. However, things are now back on track as far as they can be. Another showing of Footprint Modulation will take place on 1st April in Manchester at the Energise festival http://www.energise-mcr.info/#energise . Kooj recently was on a panel about art and activism at University of Arts London which took place on 16th February 2017, titled ‘Art For Action – Creativity and Social Change‘ https://www.facebook.com/events/1551324314885377/ .
There is a new and major project too – an art installation by Kooj titled ‘The Poppy Retake’ to be exhibited at Z-arts, Manchester, 18-28 April 2017 www.metaceptive.net/poppy-retake . More news about that soon, until then, very best wishes and thoughts to all.