"You Can't Say Anything Anymore!" by Diversifying Group

Black British history on record with Artist Rudy Loewe

July 29, 2022 Season 1 Episode 22
"You Can't Say Anything Anymore!" by Diversifying Group
Black British history on record with Artist Rudy Loewe
Show Notes Transcript

Trigger Warning: This episode discusses issues with mental health, transphobia, racism, colonial violence and anti-blackness.  

Podcast host Naomi sits down with artist Rudy Loewe to explore how they interpret black histories and social politics through painting, drawing and text.  Listen as they discuss Britain’s response to black resistance in the English-speaking Caribbean in the 60s,70s and 80s. Gain a more comprehensive picture of Black presence in Britain today. Connect with us in learning how even today Black History is being erased with many of the archives not being accessible to the public. Additionally we look forward to what new, and inspiring legacies are being created today in the rich and intricate story of Black British Artists. 
 
About our guest:

Rudy Loewe (they/them)
Rudy Loewe is a London-based visual artist engaging histories, politics and Caribbean folklore through painting and drawing. Loewe’s practice interrogates what has become truth in the collective memory, envisaging alternate futures that centre black queer and trans experience. 

They are currently undertaking a practice-based PhD at the University of the Arts London, critiquing Britain’s relationship to Black Power organising in the English-speaking Caribbean during the 1960s and 70s. Using records from The National Archives, Loewe is platforming this history, creating paintings and drawings.

Black Digital Archiving Project: blackdigitalarchives.org

Rudy Loewe insta: @RudyLoewe

Catch Rudy at these exhibitions this year (2022).

- New Contemporaries (Hull, London) https://newcontemporaries.org.uk/
- NAE Open 22, New Art Exchange Nottingham, https://www.nae.org.uk/
- The solo exhibition hasn’t been announced so will do that closer to the time 

Rudy also mentioned:
- The Huntley Archives held at London Metropolitan Archives
- rukus! archive held at London Metropolitan Archives
- ‘Black Power in Bermuda: The Struggle for Decolonization’ by Quito Swan
- ‘Black Power in the Caribbean’ edited by Kate Quinn 

Diversifying Group:

Please stop all this work agendas, political correctness gone mad. Sorry, thought police, social snowflakes, Surely all lives matter.Ah, did those sound familiar? Here on you can't say anything anymore. we'll unpack the nuances of these comments, and bring sidelined lived experiences to the forefront brought to you by Diversifying Group.

Naomi:

Welcome to this month's podcast. I'm your host, Naomi and my pronouns are she/ they, and this month, we have a very special guest. If you'd like to introduce yourself?

Rudy:

Hi, I'm Rudy Loewe, my pronouns are they/them. And I'm a visual artist, and currently a PhD student at the University of Arts London,

Naomi:

Great, thank you so much. It's great to have you on the podcast this month. So tell us a bit more about what projects you're focusing on your PhD? Why did this interest you all of those things?

Rudy:

Yes. So my PhD is a practice based PhD, which means that my painting and my drawing is the research that I'm doing. And I'm looking at some of I'm basically looking at Britain's response to Black Power organising in the English speaking Caribbean, during 1960s, in the 1970s. And to do that I'm using some records from the National Archives in the UK that were recently declassified.And so yeah, this is like a history that hasn't really been widely discussed, at least in the UK. I mean, obviously, it's something that's known about in the English speaking Caribbean, but it's not something that, you know, gets platform to say like in the curriculum, or kind of like, in the discussion around how Britain withdrawal process from, from the Caribbean during like, when countries were gaining independence. And so, especially kind of in the last few years, how there's been definitely much more of a drive to address colonial legacies. And this is kind of an aspect of that kind of understanding what role Britain played in how Black Power movements were able to organise in the English speaking Caribbean. So that's kind of my main, my main project at the moment. And then alongside that, I'm doing other projects. So my collaborator, Jacob V. Joyce, we have been artists and residents at the Serpentine Gallery in 2021. And we created this power pack around the climate emergency, looking at young climate activists across the world, in particular, kind of black indigenous people of colour, who were making changes in their community. And so building on that, we're kind of doing the next iteration of the power pack this summer working with young activists to kind of create a second power pack. So I kind of work on lots of smaller projects as well. But the the main project that I'm working on at the moment, is definitely in the PhD.

Naomi:

Yeah, so topical, obviously, right now, we're recording on the hottest day of the year. And things but yeah, there's a super interesting, I don't know, if you could just give a little bit of summary summary for our listeners, I just had a thought actually, that for anybody that sort of doesn't know about in the context about sort of Britain's involved with the Caribbean or things, there's any sort of kind of top down kind of little summary that you could give us just in case anybody doesn't know the context behind that.

Rudy:

Sure, yeah. So I guess I would say that, so during the 1960s, I mean, even sort of before that, there was like some decades of anti colonial resistance. So whilst you know, places like Jamaica, Trinidad, Bermuda, Barbados, were still British territories, which meant that they were still British colonies, there were anti colonial resistance movements, you know, fighting for independence. And so kind of from the 1960s, we start to see much more of a move towards independence. So, you know, Jamaica and Trinidad, they got independence in 1962. And so Barbados, I think, was shortly after that. And so there was started to be this shift towards independence, or at least starting to think about what independence would look like, in those islands. And at the same time, you know, we see black power movements starting to really spread across North America across, you know, the UK. And also, you know, in Africa, the same thing was happening different kinds of anti-colonial movements and kind of moving towards independence. So it's really important to understand that, although this research that I'm looking at is focused on the English speaking Caribbean as part of a much wider network of movements that were taking place simultaneously, and it's not like they're separate from each other, you know, they overlap. So there are people who were involved in movements in the Caribbean, who were also involved in Africa, in North America, in the UK. And so I think that, you know, Britain was really aware of how this could spread, you know, that, what they would call Black Power ideology, you know, spreading to different parts of the world, and also the fact that there was a potential for activists to also align with communism, which was another thing that they were trying to fight at the same time. So I think that was a fear for them, that there was this threat, you know, the Black Power threat, the communist threat for them, and that somehow, you know, solidarities would be built between Cuba and Soviet Union, communist nations and organisations with Black Power organisations as well. So, so they were taking concerted efforts, basically, and so yeah, depending on whether a country in the Caribbean had already gained independence, then they were or weren't able to take certain levels of action. So for example, Bermuda is still a British territory to this day. So the actions that they were able to take in Bermuda were far more severe than, say, in Trinidad where they had already gained independence in '62. So you can kind of see the archives, you know, and these are the these archives, the National Archives are the archives of the government, the National Archives, or the State Archives, they're from different government departments. So you get to see the sort of inner workings of these government departments, the conversations that they were having with each other about this. And so you've got kind of, there's just, it's very explicit, basically, that you can see the operations that they were taking. So for example, in 1969, when Paolua Camera Gafaygo, initiated the first regional Black Power conference in Bermuda. The British government sent a frigate, they sent a warship, and Marines to Bermuda, you know, because of this conference. And so, you know, the archives are able to show us those sort of extreme actions that they were taking just the real level that they perceived, like the level of threat that they perceive black power to be.

Naomi:

What does it mean to engage with these archives that chronicle black history, Black Power, specifically? And you know, I guess, an individual level, I don't want to say societal level.

Rudy:

Yeah, I guess it feels important to say that there are different kinds of archives. So like I said, the National Archives or the State Archives, they have archives of government departments of the British government. And this also includes some of the colonial records. So it's a it's quite a bigger history. But basically, when independence started to happen, there's this whole history around what happened to the records. And so we now know that, you know, millions, potentially, of records were burned when they were leaving countries, you know, because the records were so damning. They were so you know, the the fact that they showed the actions that they'd been taken, we're so atrocious. But you know, loads of these records were burned. But some of the records that weren't burned, were sent to a secret government archive, called Hounslow Park. And around I think it's 2013. Basically, the Mau Mau in Kenya, brought a case against the British government, for the torture for being tortured, basically. And no one had ever been able to get into this archive. Because, basically, yeah, it was like a secret archive. And, you know, historians, journalists, no one could get into it. And the only the only thing was, if you had a number of a record, then you would be able to access that single record, but obviously, no one had a number because no one had been in there. So basically, because of this court case. It became law that those records needed to be moved to the National Archives, and those are called the migrated archives. But I think it's important the reason I mentioned that is that it's important to understand that these records, these archives, these are like, these are very violent records. In some cases, you know that, yeah, that are written by the government, they're written from a particular perspective. So when black people are in those archives, it's from a particular perspective, you know, and that, for me is really important to understand that there is Black History in the National Archives, but it's not black people talking about black history. It's the it's the British government, talking about these individuals. So, you know, these individuals are only in the archive when they become relevant to a government department in some way, you know, wherever that special branch, which is like part of the police, whether it's the information Research Department, which is the, one of the departments that I'm looking at, which was the British government's secret propaganda unit, which is part of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. So yeah, it's like a very particular kind of black history that enters those records, where it kind of in opposition to that community archives, you know, which are created by the community, potentially for the community, you'll find very different kinds of perspectives or materials in those kinds of archives. So for example, the Huntley archives, which is based at London Metropolitan Archives, this is archive of Eric and Jessica Huntley. So they started a bookshop and publishing house, called Bogle Overture and the Walter Rodney bookshop. And yeah, they were basically community organisers and activists from Guyana who moved here, yes, of this publishing house and bookshop. And we're doing loads of different kinds of organising a really important figures in black history, basically. And so yeah, there are archives, now are at London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) and you can look at those. And so you really have these very, very different kinds of history is present basically. Or, for example, the raucous archive, which is a black LGBT archive, also at LMA. So I feel like it's important to know that there are these kinds of different kinds of archives and that, who has made the record, you know, who has gathered the material? Why is it here is also important when we're thinking about it. Because when I look at the records from the National Archives, I can't take them at face value. So in terms of being a researcher, I have to read them against the grain, which means that I have to kind of read them with a critical eyes, I can't just assume that the way that the British government are talking about these individuals is completely true and accurate, you know, that I have to understand that there was an agenda with why this material was being collected. And, and at the same time, there are examples of like ephemera, you know, whether that's like newspapers, newsletters, flyers, things that maybe otherwise would have been lost, that are gathered by them as part of their surveillance. So another really good example of this is there were a series of photographs taken from the Mangrove protests, which happened in the 1970s. So it's actually kind of become more widely spoken about now, because Steve McQueen did an episode in his Small Axe series about Mangrove protest. And those photos, which I think were probably used as research for the small acts episode, were taken by the police. So it's like one of those things where it's like, Okay, we have these photographs of the protest, which can be used in a critical way to highlight this really important black history. And at the same time, they were taken originally as part of surveillance, you know, so yeah, I just think that's, that's really important that when we think about how we use archives, you know, we need to always have this criticality present in how we're looking at the material and, and thinking about why it's there in the first place.

Naomi:

Absolutely love that. I think that's so interesting. I guess as a sort of a layperson hearing about these things. It's, you know, as you as you mentioned, it's about who it's for, who it's by, and I guess, you know, accessibility comes into it as well. The National Archives, I guess, are the ones that, I'm guessing would be widely available for a lot of people and you're saying that if it's from a particular perspective, from and talking about people in a way that they are voiceless and they have no kind of agency, or how they're spoken about, you know, and yet this is something that's widely accessible for everybody and things. And yet other ones you think about community based archives, that perhaps they're not perhaps they're not as widely known by people and things, but people sort of might not know the difference between how different archives, and how important it is that the different sort of creation and the sort of from its inception, how, who it's created by?

Rudy:

Yeah, I think thank you, that's a really important point to mention about accessibility, actually, because even though, you know, the National Archives, for example, are a public institution, and technically, anyone can go there and do some research, they are still a very inaccessible space, in a lot of ways, you know, you have to, you have to physically go to que, to look at a lot of the records, you have to have a membership card, you know, you need to have certain documents, to get a membership card, you need to understand the code of how the space works, you know, and then even when you're in that space, you might experience microaggressions. And so, you know, for me, as a researcher, now that I have been working in archives, for such a long time, so within my work, I have like facilities as an artist, I facilitated workshops, using archives for creative practice, I've also been an archive assistant. So I'm now in a position to feel fairly comfortable to, you know, to hold space, in that environment. If I experience a microaggression, it might be annoying, but it's not going to be something that's going to be like, right, I can never come back here. You know, whereas I think for a lot of people, this is such an alien space, they probably don't know that it exists, they probably don't know that they're allowed to go there. And even then, when they get there, you know, you have there's just, there's just so many codes that you have to understand that are that's going to make it inaccessible to a lot of people. And so, yeah, it's one of those things where it's like, the history is there, but then who is actually looking at it. And, you know, in terms of like digitisation, I think that people maybe assume that a lot of the records would be digital, but actually, it's that's just not the case, you know, like the National Archives have, I think it's like 12 million records. Like, that's just not going to happen. I don't think even all of them are catalogued. So, and the records that I'm looking at, were once like top secret government records, you know, so they're never going to be digitised, like it's not in the British government's interest, to digitise those records. And actually, a lot of them have been redacted. So So I mentioned the migrated archives earlier, something that happened with the migrated archives was that I was listening to this NPR podcast, and they were saying that old like, basically, retired officials are being hired to redact the files as they're being migrated over to the National Archives. So they're taking out bits of information. So that history, you know, is still being erased as it's coming. And so, you know, the idea that the history is just there and available, actually, but there are parts that we're never going to be able to see. And they were saying that that whole process of redacting and migrating them over is going to take 350 years, which is just like, you know, it just it really like speaks to the levels of, of suppressing the history. And I think that sometimes people talk about hidden histories. But I think that, that doesn't really account for the level or responsibility. And actually, it's not hidden, it's like suppressed, you know, that something is being suppressed here. So with the records that I'm looking at, from the information Research Department, as I said, they've been redacted. And you can make a Freedom of Information request, which means, you know, you put in a request to have access to the document, the parts which have been taken out. So in some cases, I'm not sure if that's possible, where they've just like redacted lines. But sometimes what they do is they remove, like a page or a part of the document or a whole document, and the government department keeps it and so you can make requests to gain access to that. So for example, I made request to look at a document from like 1970, you know, so we're talking like a 52 year old document, and it was denied. And the reason it was denied was because they said it was a threat to national security. For that to be looked at, you know, And so then it makes you think, okay, but what's in that that document? You know why, after 52 years, is that still going to be an issue for national security? So there is an active suppressing in trying to, you know, not make this or may not make parts of this history visible.

Naomi:

That's so interesting. Thank you so much, again, for sort of explaining, I think, you know, many people listening myself, I didn't realise that they weren't digitised. I think, you know, as you mentioned, it's probably a very common misconception, and just, you know, talking through these sort of levels of in accessibility of gaining this information. And, yeah, that document is so interesting, I think I can imagine, I would be thinking, well, what is what's really in there, then? And just the kind of pushback that you were explaining about all of these uncovering the history? I mean, 350 years, it's just ridiculous, isn't it? And...

Rudy:

It's like, what I just think, you know, where do we go from? Like, you know, it's just wild, it's just completely wild. Like, they've got millions of records, you know, I can't remember. Like, I don't know why, but they measure the records, which are coming from the migrated archives, they measure them in feet, I don't know why. But they were like, you know, it's like a there's like, there's just millions of records there. And, and all of this is being suppressed, and it's over 37 countries, that that Britain colonised that, that they've got documents from, you know, in that archive. And you just think, like, you really are trying so hard to make sure that no one gets to see this really,

Naomi:

So much for an open book, kind of, we all have culpability about this. And don't worry, we talk about it all the time. I mean, it's crazy, isn't it? I just think that, you know, I really liked your point, you mentioned about how it's not just a case of even once you get in the door to be able to see it. And as you mentioned, you know, with your experience and things, there's still many, many barriers, many challenges. And then even beyond there having to get to request to see to see documents, I mean, there just seems to be so many levels to these things. And like I said, they're really trying to stop people from having the sort of knowledge to know about these things. And I guess, really, in a way, it kind of deforms the sort of next generation from understanding and truly learning about these things.

Rudy:

Yeah, that's, I mean, that's why I'm doing this work. So my work as an artist, sort of my my method, my process is that I look at these records. In the archive, I photograph them all, like, you know, I photograph every page of every record I look at. And part of that is because the access issue, you know, that maybe like, I can't go there every day, or when I want to, you know, I've got to go in there in that open hours. But also, I think I've had a bit of a fear that they would close the records again, so you know, when they're closed, it means you're not allowed, they're not accessible. So there have been other examples of records that have been opened, and then closed again. And so I was really scared about this happening. So I was like, Well, I'm gonna have a copy. In any case. So you know, I photographed everything, but I've looked at, but then, you know, my kind of my thinking is, yeah, how can I take these mostly text based documents, which are, like, partly written in typewriter, but also partly written by hand, you know, you have officials writing to each other by hand on the paper, some of their handwriting is like completely illegible. You know, like, I don't think you've wanted anyone else to be able to read this. But so my job is kind of figuring out all of this information and kind of finding a way to put it together and into a way, translating it into painting and drawing. And so you know, trying to find a way to take that history out of the archive and into another space, and hopefully, hopefully, you know, make it more accessible to some people, or at least sort of like pique their interest, so that they might go and then find out more about the history. I should also mention that there are people who have done, you know, some of this research already so then, it is a scholar called Quito Swan, who has written an amazing book called Black Power in Bermuda. And so that's like, just specifically looking at the Black Power movement in Bermuda. There's another book called Black Power in the Caribbean, edited by Kate Quinn, and that's kind of different writers looking at different parts of the region. But I think that what was really interesting for me was the fact that that the records that come from the inflammation research department have only started to be released from 2019. So these are records which are by and large, you know, haven't really been researched. So there's parts of the history that has already been in some way narrated, but there is another part of the history that hasn't. And that's kind of where I want to be like, okay, so what has been told and what hasn't been told? And yeah, what can I kind of build on? So it's not, I'm not, I don't want to say like, I'm the first by no means like, there are loads of people who have been doing this work already. But I want to, like, tap into that lineage and find a way to kind of carry on. Okay, so, yes, one was writing about this. And actually, now we know, this is also what they were doing, you know, in terms of like, putting propaganda out about, about Black power activists and having solid examples of the propaganda that they were putting out and kind of, yeah, thinking about, okay, so how does artistic practice fit into this? What can painting and drawing potentially do, as a way of participant participating in the dialogue?

Naomi:

I absolutely love the fact that you're talking about the transformation from these, as you mentioned, old, inaccessible, sometimes illegible texts and bringing it into something that could be more accessible could be could potentially, as you mentioned, continue the dialogue, continue the thought train, bring it to new people, and bring it to people that aren't even directly affected by that. I'm sure that you know, that's it's very, I just love that idea about the transformation from there. And just the fact that you mentioned obviously, lots of other people doing this as well. I think it's just something very powerful in, I guess, continuing the voice.

Rudy:

It's very interesting. I just let one other thing I want to say is that I feel like I mean, the reason why I started doing this work in the first place was actually because I was looking at what was happening now with Black Lives Matter. And the sort of government reaction to Black Lives Matter. And I think on some level, I just was like, this is not the first time that this has happened. I know from doing you know, bits and pieces of research like using the Huntley archives. I know that there has been what there's a there's a great writer called Ronaldo Walcott, and he calls it the interdictions, which is sort of like the way that blackness is prohibited, you know, that we're not allowed to sort of have autonomy over our, our existence, there have been these push backs against black resistance movements throughout history. And so I was what I really wanted to show was that there is there is a link between what's happening right now, and what was happening at this moment in the Caribbean. And I think as someone who's from the Caribbean diaspora as well, that that felt important for me that it's like, wait our whole lives. For those of us who are from the Caribbean diaspora, our whole lives have been transformed in some way, by the British government's involvement in these movements. And some of the tactics that they were using, with Black Power organisers, and activists at that time, mirror some of the things that they're doing now. And also, like, in 2020, they released this guidance, which was I don't understand why it's like part of this particular guidance, but it was like, plan your relationship and sex education guidance, and somehow, they basically managed to slot in there something about not promoting victim narratives. Not having groups such as Black Lives Matter and extinction, rebellion, coming to talk or, you know, promoting these kinds of groups in schools. Yeah, not talking about anti-capitalism. And so they managed to kind of slide in these changes in a document that maybe people wouldn't have known to look in. And luckily, you know, there was a push back by teachers. There's a group called care, which I can't remember it. Coalition of anti racist educators. I think it's good, who are pushing back against this document, which is really important that you know, that people do that. But yeah, so it made it harder, you know, for people people to talk about BLM, for example, in schools. And there's a reason why there's a reason why the government doesn't want, you know, students to engage with BLM. And when you look at some of those records, for example, a record which comes out of Jamaica, you can see exactly the same conversation happening around wanting to make sure that students are not like radicalised in any way. And so it's really interesting to kind of be like, This is not new, you know, this is something that has been happening for a really long time and kind of connecting those dots for people.

Naomi:

Yeah, absolutely. I don't know if it's (sighs and then laughs at absurdity) Oh dear! not wanting students to connect with BLM? I mean....yeah. Sorry, as as a human just a moment, then I just had a little bit of an 'oh dear'. Anyways. Yes, I think I mean, in a way is it sort of, I can imagine it, it would be equally frustrating as potentially a little bit cathartic as well, to understand that the times that we're going through, have been shared by many people, but at the same time, deep, deep frustration, to know that these things are not only hidden through history, and inaccessible to other people, but also the fact that they are continuing to this day. All of these things.

Rudy:

Yeah, I think it's hard because in some ways, it can be really disheartening to feel like, what has changed, you know? Yeah, to think, Okay, so these are the same tactics that you were using 50 years ago that you're still using today. That feels disheartening. And I think that in some of these records, there's a level of violence that is hard to, it's really hard to sit with, you know, I think as a black person as well, it's like, it's hard sometimes to read that, you know, you're taking a lot of in, but at the same time, I think for me, it's like, balancing that with looking at the ways that people, the ways that black people were pushing back against this, that, you know, there was people were still organising, in the face of these things happening. That, that, for me, is sort of the kernel that like really keeps me going that no matter the level of suppression, and oppression, that people that people were experiencing, there was still always resistance movements. And so, you know, even if you go back to the times of slavery, and looking at plantations in the Caribbean, there were always resistance movements. And, you know, it wasn't just abolition white abolitionists, for example, who were coming in as saviours. There were always people who were enslaved, who were part of those resistance movements. So I think for me, that's very encouraging.I think that regardless of these changes that might be made for, you know, to education, it's, it's really important that we find ways to continue to have these conversations, to share the knowledge, to organise, to push back. And for me, it's like, I think just knowing the history is one element of that. It's not necessarily a way to create a roadmap, but it's just useful information to see how people were organising, in the past, what tactics maybe worked, what tactics maybe didn't, you know, just just knowing how people were able to come together, and obviously, like, we're living in a different time now. Technology, you know, even Yeah, climate justice, you know, different kind of intersections of issues that are coming together. But I think that it's just useful to have all of that knowledge to have as much knowledge as possible.

Naomi:

Yeah, absolutely. I completely hear that, as you mentioned, it's the as much as sorry, as much knowledge as possible. But also the deep kind of, as, as you mentioned, a deep disappointment and deep kind of cycle of frustration of the continuation of these issues. Even though as you mentioned that, nowadays, it's different intersectionalities, lots of other issues as well, but sort of the continuation of really the core issue. And the latest whether you mentioned about the fact that what keeps you going is the sort of how to say am I right in saying sort of the potential pride or the potential sort of the connection with the people that always push back that always resisted that sort of continue that is that Am I correct to say that?

Rudy:

Yeah, yeah, I think it's just like, just the knowing that that is still within us, you know that there is a resilience. I mean, I use that word carefully, actually. Because I think that resilience is something that sometimes is used against black people in a way. But I also think that there is a power in in the resilience that we can embody that, you know, that we are maybe holding grief and pain and trauma, and at the same time, are like, still pushing forward and, you know, kind of finding this these like little ravines, you know, different modes and ways to try and continue just fighting against these these systems that were never that were never made for us, and at times were actively made against us.

Naomi:

Yes, absolutely. I think that, I guessing Well, from what I understand from what you're saying is that sometimes the word resistance can be used to remove people's vulnerability and people's abilities, like you said, to hold different aspects such as grief, such as sadness and rights to feel that, even though that's completely justified, but in a sense, what I hear you saying is about the, I guess, I guess, it speaks to the sort of, I'd say, the superpower, if you will, of the community of these people, to hold all of those things together, but also to continue and progress and continue to sort of, I guess, do their bets, in times of difficulties and times, because even though, as you said it was, those things were called upon them in times when, you know, specific laws and legislations were made, when only certain people had any kind of freedom or any kind of say, in certain things.

Rudy:

Yeah, I guess I would say like, we only have each other, you know, in terms of looking at, like, what was happening with this particular history, you know, Black Power organisers would not have had the same level of resources as the British government. And that could be said, the exactly is same thing now that, you know, black resistance movements now, and other resistance movements now, you know, whether it's like, trans resistance movements don't have the same level of resources against what we're fighting, you know, we're fighting for liberation against, you know, people who, who would like to oppress us, you were very well resourced. And so, you know, in the face of that we have each other. And I think that that feels like the important thing to recognise that when we kind of get swept up in individualism, the the sort of danger in that is that, you know, we're not able to kind of really support each other. And that's been one of the things that has been interesting, in some way about the pandemic is that there are people who have engaged with sort of different kinds of modes of community care, such as like mutual aid, that probably never knew about those things before and are never really engaged with that. And so, yeah, we've shown that there are, there is a sort of willingness to sort of be there for each other and take care of each other. And that's really like the most important thing to sort of prioritise that we, as communities are able to kind of come together and make sure that we are continuing to show up for each other.

Naomi:

I guess that would be one of my other questions was about what steps people can take to acknowledge surface and highlight this sort of black history and then their own lives, because I've mentioned that people becoming more engaged with the projects. But are there any other things that you have to say about it?

Rudy:

Yeah, I guess, like one of the most important things is that people don't think that Black history is only relevant to black people. You know, I think that, like the creation of Black History Month is like, Great, I'm really glad that there is an opportunity for people to learn about black history. And at the same time, you know, I'm, I'm not the only person who would say this, there are loads of people that would say, like, I don't want us to only know about black history in October. I want people to learn about it all year round, and understand that it's relevant all year round. You know, I want us to sort of recognise the fact that Black history is not just about black people. You know, when we talk about whether it's the transatlantic slave trade, that's, you know, I Actually, like, I was having a conversation with someone recently about the fact that the slave trade is part of British heritage. And actually, like, we need to recognise that as British heritage, that's not just black history. That's the history of Britain. Regardless of whether it was taking place here in the Caribbean, that's also part of British history. So I think that there needs to be a level of ownership or responsibility and recognition of how people can engage for Black History, that it shouldn't be like, Oh, this doesn't concern me, or it's not relevant to me. So I don't need to know about it, you know, that we should actually be trying to learn about those histories, even if we don't think that it's part of our own history in some way. And the other thing is, I think that there are people who have roles who can also take it upon themselves or take responsibility to do that work, you know, for example, teachers, you know, whether you're a parent librarian, you know, people who have some sort of pastoral role have a position where they can actually take responsibility for that as well. So, you know, yeah, I've had conversations in the past about, with people about when to learn about these sorts of things, like what age range is, like, acceptable in some way to learn about this. But for a lot of black children, they don't get a choice, whether or not they kind of learn about some of these things, it's sort of embedded in your experience, there's no, there's no sort of shield for black children. So I don't really see why there should be a shield for anyone else. So I feel like yeah, you know, parents, for example, can really take it upon themselves, to make sure that they're teaching their children about, about these histories, regardless of whether they're learning about it in school, you know, teachers can take it upon themselves, librarians can take it upon themselves to make sure that the, you know, the books in the library are reflecting these histories, you know, I used to work in a library as a library system. And I was always trying to, you know, look at, I would look at all of our collections, and, you know, really try and think about, okay, what do we actually have here, and what is missing, and I would constantly, like we need this book, you know, and that's what they should be doing that that, you know, rather than just kind of be a passive steward, that people need to be taking an active role in making sure that they're these are these histories are being platformed. And not just the transatlantic slave trade. Because I think that also, the other thing that happens is that people become comfortable with certain kinds of narratives. And we need to be critical and questioning, why are people comfortable with learning about particular histories and particular places, and particular people who have in some way become palatable, and who are the people that maybe feel a bit, they maybe feel a bit more complicated about, or maybe there's a certain messiness, or it feels like their proximity is closer, you know, and actually be unravelling that more that, you know, history is not something that we can just tie up in this neat bow. It's messy. And it's also always subjective. You know, there is no version of history that is not subjective. And so, yeah, allow that sort of messiness to come in. And the other thing that feels important to say is that a lot of cultures have oral histories. And so we need to be critical of thinking about who is telling the history, who are our sources? You know, there are some historians, for example, David Starkey, who are very violent, you know, the things that he has said, are very violent. And so I would be extremely critical of any version of history that he has written because I've, I've heard his bias, you know, in the way that he talks about black people. So I think that, you know, we need to have that criticality, and thinking about who is telling that history? Where is it coming from? And also, where are those other versions of history? How can we tap into those? So for example, places like the British Library, have collections of oral histories, you know, so we can't just rely on one form of, of like, ways of accessing history. We need to have different modes and different. Yeah, just different ways of engaging.

Naomi:

Yeah, absolutely. I love that. You mentioned about the passivity and the way that really sort of truly engaging and truly kind of you know your example about the library sort of it's not just okay, just to say, Okay, well, we've got a few authors there on the shelf and October, that's fine. I think there's about sort of, I guess, what you're speaking to is the sort of wider pushing and kind of continual process of learning continual process of unlearning lots of things, but also learning and taking on more perspectives. And you know, as you mentioned about the, you know, about the narratives how sometimes they've become so fixed and so stale. And sometimes, as you mentioned, that certain ones can become more palatable, more acceptable and more widely spoken about and given more voice, and yet other ones are not. And then when we only get taught a narrative from one place, you know, when the information becomes very biassed towards those specific things, or lots of other things are missed out. So yeah, so I just before we close, I'm really interested to hear more about sort of the influences that Caribbean folklore have had on your work. So I know that we mentioned it before in our sort of pre interview. So yeah, if you could speak up about that.

Rudy:

Yeah. So I guess since maybe 2019, I've been working with the story of Ananci. So for people who don't know, Ananci is this figure in African, like West African, and Caribbean folklore. And he's kind of thought of to be this trickster. So Ananci is a spider, and can also transform into a man. And yeah, he's kind of people talk about him being this sort of lazy trickster, you know, who always wants to kind of like get out of having to work. He's always like, underestimated in some way. And this was really interesting to me trying to think about Ananci through a trans reading and thinking about neighbour. Okay, so we have this character, who is this gender, non conforming shapeshifter, you know, who can literally change their body as they need to, and who was navigating a world, which was not made for them, you know, that these structures are not made for them. And I think that that's extremely relevant for trans people that we are living in this world, you know, in the Western world, that there has not been made for us. And so we're constantly kind of having to kind of find ways to sort of move through the world as safely as possible. And yeah, so then I kind of wanted to kind of think about kind of how can we embody this? How can Ananci be like a source of power, you know, that sort of this, this gorge for the, for those of us who have had to shape shift, who have had to hustle in some way? You know, that also just very anti capitalist? Just yeah, I mean, why? Why should he have to want to work? Like, why should he have to want to be like grinding himself into the ground? Like that? Yeah. I don't think that's something to strive for. So yeah, so I've kind of been working with with an answer. And so I've made two paintings in the series now. And so yeah, the first one was exhibited first in Stockholm, and then also at the Royal Academy during the summer exhibition in 2021. And yeah, I know, I've got a second one. And so it's a series that I kind of want to continue. But yeah, for me, the sort of, I guess what's at the heart of it is yeah, just thinking about what it means to be a black trans person moving through this world. And yeah, just being able to sort of, like, reclaim these, these stories in our heritage as well and kind of through a critical gaze and, and also because I think it's really interesting, this is slightly tangential, but I found out that Medusa so before working around Ananci I was also making a comic about an afro futurist Medusa. So this black Medusa, who has snakes for her, and after working on this, I found out that someone told me that actually, Medusa the sort of origin of that was about a black women. And so when you start to kind of think about these sort of these stories that we have embedded in this way, it's like actually, where did this come from? You know, that this didn't just sort of come from from nowhere. Yeah, and then I just I think it's really beautiful, kind of like thinking about spiders and thinking about like, yeah, networks and kind of like having to create our own structures. And so yeah, this is sort of a, this is another sort of thread of ongoing work in my

Naomi:

I love that I love how, you know, taking something that practice. is so I guess, relevant. And then yeah, I guess sort of how much is applied to your own experiences and sort of, you know, you mentioned about this sort of symbology,is that a word? Symbology of spiders, and your experiences as a black trans person. I mean, it's just I think it's just so interesting, I guess, I guess, to be honest, as a, as an aside, I don't I, as a sort of queer person myself, I'm just curious to ask about your experiences, again, with engaging with all of this, but through a queer lens as well?

Rudy:

Yeah, I'm really glad. Yeah, I'm glad you bring that up. Because the work that I'm doing now for the PhD, sort of a part of my process is to have like a queer trans reading of the documents. So something that I find really interesting is that there is a trend amongst sort of, like these sort of black radical people to change their names, as a way, you know, as a way of like, autonomy and embodiment. You know, being able to name yourself is a very, like embodying act to take ownership literally over yourself and be like, you know, I think for a lot of people was like, the idea of a slave name, the, you know, the surname, where does this surname come from? And casting that out and being like, no, actually, I'm sort of reclaiming myself. And so a lot of black people have done this have changed their name. I also found it really interesting that, I think, in a lot of different black cultures, people often go by lots of different names, you know, like, you might, you might know someone by a name for years and years and find out at their funeral, that index name, which I just love this. But also, you know, for queer and trans people, I think trans people, especially changing our name is something that is also very common. And so, yeah, once I started looking at the archives, and thinking about how the sort of like the dead names of people are present in the archive, and often I've seen when historians or researchers are talking about these historical people, they'll dead name them in the process, you know. And so as a queer and trans person, I was thinking I don't, that's not a process that I feel comfortable recreating, even if this is not a trans person, they have reclaimed themselves under a different name, why would I then call them by their dead name, that doesn't make any sense to me. So this has also been a part of my, my work my method that actually I'm like, this is the name that this person is going by, regardless of how they're named in the archive, I know that that's not what they're called. And so I'm not going to refer to them by their dead name, I'm not going to kind of participate in this process. So yeah, wherever possible, I'm trying to have a queer and trans approach to reading the material to working with it. And yeah, just kind of like, yeah, just kind of, I think, also, it's a way of thinking about what is the world that we want to build, like, I often think about and have heard other people talk about liberation for trans people is actually liberation for everybody. Because when we allow ourselves to live as we want to live, that everybody benefits from that, like we all benefit from that. And so I think that's like, that's also in a sort of important idea to sort of embed in the work that these black power activists are trying to build the future that they wanted to live in. And when we have that as a method, what does what does that look like then?

Naomi:

Super interesting. I think I guess it sort of reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend kind of a while ago about sort of the importance of cwap within academia and queer people of colour, and kind of reframing sort of looking at research through their specific lenses because obviously, previously, it's been only one group one demographic people who are regarded as the experts who have a sort of objective outside opinion, but really, we need the multitude of experiences, multitude of lenses to look through this media to truly engage with them in a sort of pure form, I guess. Yeah, I think that's absolutely super interesting.

Rudy:

Yeah, I guess, like, I would say that I'm not I'm like, I don't consider myself an academic, which is funny because I'm a PhD, but I'm doing a practice based PhD. And I think of myself as an artist, and that it feels important for me, because I'm in all of these academic spaces, or in these research spaces or spaces where, you know, historians are, but I'm not, I'm not a historian, I'm, I'm not a traditional academic, I'm an artist. And so I think it's like, it also gives me a certain level of distance, in some way that I don't feel so like, beholden to the structures, that maybe other people might need to sort of the rules that people might need to play by, in order to sort of get forward and in their field, I don't, I don't necessarily feel that way. Because that's not my field, you know, I'm coming in as an interloper in some way, and kind of like getting what I need. Out of this, like, I always say, I'm a chaos demon. Because, like, also as like, someone, as an artist that has worked in schools, as an artist educator, I'm not bound by the curriculum, you know, the that guidance that I was saying about earlier, that the government created and 2020. Like, as an artist, sometimes I'm able to sort of like slip under the radar, and come in and have these conversations through the guise of art, you know, that actually, we do talk about BLM, because I'm going to do it through art. And somehow, sometimes when you do that, it affords you certain privileges that you wouldn't otherwise. So, yeah, I think that it's like important to try and find a way to sort of like, yeah, just continually, like, navigate

Naomi:

I love that! True reincarnation of Ananci and sort these, these structures. And also, yeah, have like, just this of going going with the spirit of that. And I like what you multiplicity of voices. And just like, Yeah, I'm just, I just said as well about the you kind of not engaging with texts are dead naming people, I think there's something you know, that think it's like, I consider it like the announcing method. You spoke to me on the individual level, becausea lot of, for know, I'm always just like trying to find a way! example, a lot of adoptees, when they've been adopted to, let's say, predominately white families, they will often change the name back afterwards to reflect the culture that they were formed, because it's very common that they get renamed to have a quote unquote, white name things. And I think that's something that very much, you know, the idea about sort of, I mean, you know, I don't know if you've seen that movie Shang chi, you know, the movie from last year. Is it a Marvel movie? Yeah. Oh, yeah. And they said, I think the quote is something about names reflect who we are, where we're from, you know, all of these aspects. And I think there's something very powerful in that, before we come to the close, I just want to ask if there's any other projects that you'd also like to highlight, or anywhere that people can find sort of engaged in contact with you?

Rudy:

Yeah. So one project that I was working on, I think, yeah, basically, this finished last year in 2021, but it's an ongoing project is the black digital archiving project. So along with two others, I was part of the first phase of the project as a researcher, and yeah, so that sort of first iteration of the project has now finished but as I said, it's going to be something that's carrying on. And I think this is a really interesting project for people to find out about. So yeah, in the first stage of the project, we were just looking at where there are sort of Black History Collections or materials in archives across the UK. And so on the black digital archiving, Project website, there's a map where you can see where some of these collections are, across the UK, in like Wales, Scotland in different parts of England, and whether or not those materials are digitised. It's not a composite, like it's not a complete, you know, map in some way that, you know, the first stage was we were looking at Local History Archives, and so there are inevitably gonna be lots of archives and materials that are missing from map. And hopefully that's something that can be updated and like the next stage of the project. But I think that it's really interesting for people to see even just to think about where some of those materials are in the UK and places that might be like a little bit unexpected. And hopefully, that's something that people can kind of take on the mantle of trying to continue doing that work. And then, yeah, people can find me on Instagram. It's just my name, Rudy Loewe. I'm also going to have a couple of exhibitions this year, so I have one work, which is currently in the New Art Exchange open exhibition in Nottingham. And that goes on until September. And then in September, there's a show a group exhibition called New contemporaries, which is opening and how, and then in December, it will be on at the South London gallery. And then I'm going to have a solo exhibition in November at Staffordshire Street Studios, which is in London.

Naomi:

Brilliant, so many projects coming up ahead.

Rudy:

Always got to have like (laughs and smiles)...

Naomi:

I have like you said about the spider. Yeah, or something that works, different trails here and there different chains. Amazing. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. I really appreciate it's been a lot of things. I think a lot of our listeners and myself will learn a lot of things. And I think that some of the discussions here, I think that will sort of ring true as people process through them. But you know, thank you so much for sharing that and sharing about your experiences.

Unknown:

Yes. So thank you, listeners for listening. And we'll speak to you all in the next podcast.

Rudy:

Thank you so much for having me.

Diversifying Group:

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