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.