The End

This was a blog that covered visual arts, sound art, art history, public space and society. It was active between 2006 and 2014 (with the occasional post in 2015). I stopped writing it to re-orient my life, away from being a visual artist who wrote a lot, to a writer (with a visual arts bent).

I’ve crept back onto twitter, so you can follow me there; i’m on radio at; and I’m writing my debut novel – an historical fiction.

Thanks for reading


Black Georgians at the Black Cultural Archives

The current show at the BCA is one hell of a mythbuster – an enlightening show into the history of Black Britain.

It is also a show about the value of the archive (yes, this particular one, but The Archive in general), and its importance in historical narrative. It leads by example the value of collecting privately for public use, particularly collecting to your interests and of your own voice.


The BCA archives don’t have the weight of other archival institutions in Britain. They do, however, have a sharp focus that gives them the capacity to ask difficult questions and challenge previously-held public opinion. And in this show, they definitely do.

Black Georgians, given away in the title, focuses on black lives during the Georgian period – a period where Britain’s cultural influence on Black lives was primarily felt in the plantations of enslaved Africans in the Caribbean and in the colonisation of African nations in the ‘Scramble for Africa’.

There is a lazy British history – still generally held – that there were no Black people in Great Britain until The Windrush ship arrived in 1948, full of Caribbean ‘migrants’ here to look for work.

The show at the BCA actively disputes this history. It draws from its own archives, in conjunction with private art collectors, the National Archives and publicly accessible records, to show the story of Black British culture in Georgian times – centuries earlier.

There are some incredible stories, portraits and busts of literary and cultural heavyweights: Ignatius Sancho, Ottobah Cugano and Olauhda Equiano – key figures in black culture and collective change for Britain as a whole.


Several featured prints – those of East London life which black faces, and portraits of boxer Tom Molineaux  (like the one above, published by Tom Dighton) – were on loan from collector Leslie Braine-Ikomi, a well known collector of images of the African Diaspora from the 1700s to the mid-century.

It is obvious that, working with such a collector, the narrative and scope of exhibitions such as these become even richer – able to reach more people’s hearts and minds, prompting a new relationship with history through the contemporary art at the time.

In walking slowly through the exhibition, it is also apparent that this kind of wealth* has multiple benefits – being able to portray an accurate history (not leaving Black history up to the predominantly white male historians and collectors), being able to contribute to public collection and share the wealth, plus earn more income from those collections (via loan fees and royalties) which in turn enables the collection of more artefacts for her collection.

As well as the historical figures, challenging the tired old notions of what life in Britain is made from, Leslie Braine-Ikomi’s contemporary presence as a collector in the show is itself challenging the tired old notion that art and history belongs in the hands of the same old guard.

It was surely an inspiration to this generation, some 300 years down the line, to know history, make art and collect art in order to support the artist in speaking to history; to be a bold part of whose history is supported.

*using this term to include the owning of valuable art and artefacts, jewellery, property, etc.

1:54 and the architecture of collectible art

Online art forums like Etsy, Artsy and Artnet are showing incredible stats as the go-to place for art collection, if not for particularly imaginative site names. Yet, it is interesting to see 1:54 the Contemporary African Art Fair reclaim an even greater commitment to a ‘bricks and mortar’ experience in their events.

London’s iteration of the art fair, in a very mild October, was held at Somerset House, traversing both East and West wings of the 18th Century neoclassical building designed by William Chambers.

With the bookshop, bar and Forum taking upstairs spaces, the first thing that is apparent about this art fair is its intimacy.It looked and felt like walking around a large stately home or decent commercial premises, filled with contemporary art. Art fair imitating life.

1:54 have managed to find a great balance between the business of an art fair – keeping a range of gallerists and a balanced discussion programme, with a softer approach of viewing the works.

Whilst not all art bought is intended for domestic hanging – or even hanging at all – seeing works displayed on walls, with high ceilings, natural lighting, architectural detail, stately scale, all contributed to the works being seen in a best light.

It allowed galleries to present a combination of large and small works and to install in spaces conducive to their final resting place.

Galleries like Tiwani were able to hang a large-scale Francesco Vidal – hot on the heels of his show as part of the Venice Biennale, and his upcoming show, to get the work in full effect. And it was impressive.

And, by all accounts, it translated just as well into sales, not to mention a great opportunity for networking and discussion.
Room outside in the courtyard, or the relaxed setting of Fernandez & Wells’ cafe were all much nicer places to discuss work, catch up on connections or have a quiet minute to read emails.

Seasoned collectors and investors are accustomed to the cattle run of exhibition spaces and rarely stop for too long. Whether there is room for a coffee, or a quiet spot is likely a moot point on an in-an-out trip.

For those part of the wider art market, not to mention newer mid-range collectors, or those previously Eurocentric collectors being introduced to the richness of a fairly new African art market – the  use of relatable space and considered architecture by 1:54 is a good one.

Kanye, “crazy” and the push for new excellence.

Kanye West, on a panel at the 2014 Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, spoke passionately about a range of issues that are vital for creative and innovative types to pay attention to.

Two that struck me as most important were: his unabashed loyalty to the frenetic nature of his practice (and his peers), and a call to action at creatives and commissioners: “Choose great content creators, or fuck you.”

Both of these struck me as focusing on something that is being reignited in the arts and culture sectors: adherence to excellence.

Excellence got a bad rap in the 90s, thanks to its alliances with the elite; the actual elite: rich white men in positions of power across media, arts, sports and politics. The 1990s brought us hip-hop, grunge, DIY culture (and its messy aesthetic) and the gatway to the masses: the internet.

Kanye West has made it his life’s work to take that ethos of DIY and democracy and elevate its aesthetic to that of the ‘elite’. On the panel, he spoke of following in the footsteps of Steve Jobs, whose work was also to make great design accessible.

This is probably nothing new to anyone who has read anything about Kanye West in anything other than tacky press. But what was new to me (full disclosure: I have an archive of rants about how great Kanye West is), is that Kanye West’s methodology is a means to such new excellence – one that is concerned with beauty, design, fashion, great music, feeling it (all those amazing things that we creatives love), but which we compromise in the pursuit of the dollar for our work.

Kanye West, in his rants, is pushing for us to stop the compromise and to turn up the output.

His version of excellence (which I’m pretty excited by, actually) is not longer a slow and steady pace of being sequestered and kept comfortable in a loft behind a desk or workshop.


Excellence is now hyper. It is creating on the spot, quickly learning from others, keeping it moving, collaborating and challenging yourself and those around you to be better and do better, knowing that you need to stay ahead of the game and that you will probably be outstripped by a rookie next year.

‘Wake up, girl, and stop expecting to create in a vacuum’


On a deeper level, this kind of push for excellence is also a drive to continue knocking down the old complacencies of power: racism, sexism, elitism and the kind of aesthetic/taste that comes with that.

At its core, it is a striving for the beautiful, inspiring, innovative and creative to explode, to put the audience (and not the market or the money or the system) first – no matter what. It’s not about your networks anymore, it’s about the work. It’s not about who knows what, it’s about the work. And, according to Kanye and the people who gave him a standing ovation at that session, it’s the way of the future.

Her footnotes are perfect: a review of Zadie Smith’s collection of essays.

An introduction

Since taking a sabbatical from making visual work, I’ve been absorbed by the written word –  sucking in book after book, no rest in between. Close one, open another.

I haven’t read like this since I was a child, where I would spend weekday afternoons in the library, and reading everywhere else: the toilet, the garden, the bedroom – always getting in trouble for sitting with a book instead of doing chores.

In this recent craze I read Zadie Smith’s Occasional Essays: Changing my mind.

I had read the first essay in its natural habitat – as the introduction to a recent edition of Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. It was the most intimate introduction I’ve ever read of a novel – like someone I was having a casual conversation with suddenly giving me a beautiful french kiss.*

I was struck.

And in that, I remembered relishing her exacting essays about art in the New Yorker – and, before I had even started the ZNH book itself, I was pining for a whole book more of Zadie Smith’s essay.

The searching gods (ie: amazon) shone, there was such a book! Gasp!
Arriving wrapped in gorgeous illustrated paper a few days’ later, it sat in my bookshelf, waiting until The Right Time.

If you’re thinking ‘yeah, alright, enough about you,  more about the book’, I’m sorry but it’s not going to get all that much more objective. Reading these essays, my relationship to this book and its writer has grown into some kind of creepy literary love affair – less Austen, more Nabokov. It is a love affair reminiscent of that time I fell deeply in love.

I have become so besotted by this book that, at one point in the middle of reading it, if I had passed Ms Smith on the street, I might have had to hug a light pole to prevent myself hugging her for a full minute.
A minute is a long time to hold onto a stranger in a fierce and loving embrace.

So that’s how I feel about this book.


So, it’s about..

Broadly speaking, it’s about culture.
But who wants to know about the broadly speaking –  Everything is, broadly speaking, about culture.

The book is divided into four separate sections: Seeing, Being, Feeling and Remembering, which sets the architecture of the book into the human way of relating to things. – especially to the kinds of things that a Zadie Smith-like human relates to. I’m sure it’s not done by Zadie herself*, but it still exudes her sense of a ‘correct’ way to connect herself and the reader.

Needless to say, this book of essays is also about Zadie Smith herself. More than just a reflection, it’s like a relief mold – one gets to know her by the ways she speaks of others and who she speaks about.

Underneath this formal way of organising the book, the real themes and methods jump and criss-cross all over the place, lovingly tangled like a set of headphones after a long day in my bag.
Actually, more like a rough-weave fabric. Or a drawing: the discreet and the continuous combine to create a texture.
And then in between those two layers, the essays were about those things we related to in that human way: books and their authors (in which she doesn’t divorce the two –  like I haven’t here), film and its characters/actors, families and their characters/actors; and work.

And, finally, it’s about her voice.

Her voice

Using a combination of authority and personality, she tells you something – facts, analysis, outlines – then reminds you that she’s telling you these things; That she, Zadie Smith, has this understanding/experience/opinion and that you, dear reader, are part of the journey too.

Without being as obtuse as writing directly to the reader, she has a rhythm that says “stay there and listen this. Now, come and watch it with me.” Show and reveal, authority and personality.

I don’t know if, during her literature degree at Cambridge, she focused on comparitive literature, but this is the underlying form for much of her essays in this book. But rather than binary comparison, which helps no-one, she sets out with two distinct markers, and swims around them to form a general tide of opinion and understanding.
Of course, even within the confines of a short essay, she is a novelist. And because of that, she makes occasional diversions, brings in extra characters or points that probably don’t need to be there, but makes the reading all that more gorgeous, because it is.

There were some essays in which she did this and, although endearing is a term that can be so patronising and I’m loath to use it here, what I felt was endearment. I was being reminded that this was a story too, not just instruction on valuable things to know.

Speaking to me
The way i’m going to write about some of the specific essays is as though she wrote the book for me.

Yes, me. Personally.

Because that’s how it felt. I don’t know whether that’s because this book attended to my particular language, or this time in my life right now, or if I would have always have felt this way, but I was consistently saying YAAAASS!!! on the inside.

Sometimes also on the outside, usually between stations on the tube. It was slightly embarrassing.

With a serious, critical tone – and from what I gleaned from her essays themselves – this directness of a relationship with the reader is crucial to Smith’s writing. It is what drives the way she writes. And possibly the authors she reads/falls in loves with/writes essays-like-these about, so it’s not just me being self-absorbed. Not entirely.

I was so invested in this book and my experience of it, that an odd thing happened between me and it. Something that says even more about it than a review of the essays themselves.I know there are some people there for whom the paper of the book is a sacred thing, so this next bit may offend, but I write notes on my books, as I engage. I highlight, underline, ask myself and the author questions in the columns. And for the first time ever, reading this book, I crossed out a word and changed it.It is presumptuous, I know. But when I read her gorgeous reflection on Katherine Hepburn and she used the word ‘tomboy’ to speak about Kate’s childhood (one I also related to, by the way), it was unsatisfactory. I crossed it out and wrote ‘girl’. To suit myself. Because I couldn’t afford to feel such disappointment over a small thing like using language that perpetuates gendered stereotypes in girls. So I corrected it and kept reading.Even as I write that, it seems really silly. But it means I loved the book.
Furthermore, I mixed up the order in which I read. Yup! Didn’t read it from cover to cover. I cherrypicked this mf.It’s not particularly revolutionary, I realise that – it’s a collection of essays. But I am a sucker for start-to-finish. I hate choose-your-own-adventure stories – I’m a compliant reader. Occasional Essays slotted so neatly into my own life that I wanted the range of stories to be scattered around me like a dealt deck of cards – a story here, a story there, shoved behind my ears and snuck up my sleeve.Given the central point of the book being about the relationship of author to reader (Barthes vs Nabokov), an action like this reflects the writing itself.This book revealed me to myself.


Some specific bits that wove in
These are some of the particular parts of the book that needled into my consciousness. Not just about the what, but the how. Again, they were areas that firmly tugged at the stitching between me, as the reader and Smith, as the author. They were particular times when she did that thing I mentioned earlier ‘I’m writing about this in a particular way that you’ll love and I know you’ll love it too’.


At the multiplex, 2006.

Her short treatises on film – initially appearing in the Telegraph – are not initially set out as comparative. But in this series of essays, they become so through mere juxtaposition and they are deliciously unlikely in their coupling: Shopgirl and Get Rich or Die Tryin’; Walk the Line and Grizzly Man; Brief Encounter and Proof.

Her language was refreshingly shorthand and removed, reminding us of the ways we ordinary non-film-critic people approach films. She interchanged characters and actors names with general descriptions, kept it loose and personal, yet still aimed a critical arrow for both.

Katherine Hepburn and Greta Garbo.

I held back reading this essay, because I’ve never understood the Garbo fascination and couldn’t quite straighten myself up to a comparison between the two women. But the way Zadie wrote about Katharine was worth the wait: she highlighted all the aspects of Hepburn’s character that highlighted exactly why I like her. And left out any of the ones I didn’t.

Similarly, it was  Hepburn’s unquiet real-life position in Hollywood to chip away at some of America’s more banal and oppressive received ideas. Whenever Hollywoood thought it knew what a woman was, or what a black man was, or what an intellectual might be, or what ‘sexiness’ amounted to, Hepburn made a move to turn the common thinking on its head, offering always something irreducibly singular.

Not only did Smith remind me about the parts of myself that connect to Ms Hepburn (headstrong, determined, feminist, struggling with being understood, etc) her choices in the way she wrote about Katherine showed me (and the reader in general) a bit about what she liked/needed from Katharine too. And because they were the same, she placed herself firmly in my camp, as the kind of person that values those things too. Or perhaps I did the placing, but still.

Nabokov and Barthes

Here’s another one I put off for a while, but that got to me in the end. I do love Roland Barthes (I think I’m the only one who actually digs his Fashion System book), but in a book of essays, I was scared of reading about him. Especially being compared to Nabokov. I didn’t know all that much about Nabokov, but have mixed feelings about Lolita and I was imagining the worst.

But it quickly pulled apart and organised into a loose pile the relationship between the author and the reader. I could relate to that

As she mentions, Zadie Smith is influenced by both schools of thought, but probably more likely from a position of Nabokov. That is: in which the author is ‘in control’ of the story and her position is to grab the reader by the hand and lead her through the story, dragging her along like an overworked parent in a shopping mall.
This method doesn’t really leave much room for Barthes’ mentality of this relationship (and perhaps ‘purpose’ of authorship) in which both partners create the story – it is a the moment of the author’s giving and the readers’ receiving: the ‘birth of the reader as the death of the author’ idea.

Every writer needs to keep the faith with Nabokov and every reader with Barthes. For how can you write, believe in Barthes? Still, I’m glad I’m not the reader I was in college any more, and I’ll tell you tell you why: it made me feel lonely.

Although this essay is at the beginning of the novel, and does, in a way, underlay her relationship with us as readers, I’m rather glad that I particularly left it until the end. Until after I had enjoyed her amusing stories, been taking on the journey, analysed myself and her as the writer through her personal history and through her lecture on the craft of writing. Because, in this way, it was like adding a glaze over the top of the experience – filled in some of the gaps and elevated it. Rather than it dictating from the beginning how I should read the essays. In the spirit of Nabakov and Barthes (see above), it was using the Nabokov method of laying out and establishing the way, in a barthes-like way. Meta.

Trip to libya

This essay is situated in the book between a lecture on writing and a lecture on language. In that sense it feels a little like being jettisoned – suddenly being flung out of the written word into LIFE.

I read this essay after the movie reviews and on the back of three family-related essays in a row, including her astute wit on comedy. So for me it was a welcome travel outside London, a welcome hit to the system and with a view of NGO culture in West Africa that I hadn’t read to date.

Oxfam had sponsored Zadie’s trip to Monrovia and the essay was originally published in the Observer – a Sunday publication with a focus on more indepth investigations on life, rather than news.

Unlike most of her other essays, Zadie herself is quite removed from this one. She presents the situation from her position – acknowledges her light-skinned, western perspective, but that’s where the Zadie-ness of the trip end. She takes a break from herself as novelist and goes on a trip as journalist, conserving a deeper the more intense experience for her own time.

She calmly reveals the industry of poverty porn – of children being traipsed in front of photographers and journalist to push a particular narrative, relates the heart-wrenching story of craving for books (yes!) and reports on the disparate nature of charity with cool clarity.

That crafty feeling

I initially skipped over this essay, preferring the joyful and culturally-focused ones. I must admit that the title killed me a bit –  Crafty? Feeling? And the first subtitle ‘macro planners and micro managers’… blah.

But I got there in the end, and oh I fell in love. I think it was the second last essay I read – before the mammoth one about David Foster Wallace, which is fitting.

It was this essay that prompted me to consider planning more time in my day to write. And to perhaps consider writing something more seriously.

It is clearly for creative writing students –  a frank and personal description about her craft of writing that is engaging, warm and generous. Self-deprecating and perhaps elevated by a little more confidence in the way in which she constructs a novel – is is an excellent ‘example’ of the theory (between Barthes/Nabokov) that she writes about earlier. It is also an extension of the personal, that we already read in previous essays.

Unlike her novels, which she says are invariably third-person, past-tense, this lecture, begat essay, begat book of essays is very much first-person, present-tense by a person who is accustomed to skillfully leading a group through a narrative from past to the present.

It is an inspiring essay about the normality of writing that isn’t dripping with privilege or patronising (unlike those of martin amis or the other douche who was whinging about the demise of publishing recently).
It is forthright, inclusive and self-actualised.


the footnote in her overview of david foster wallace.

This bit deserves a section of its own, because it literally made me squeal with excitement when I was reading it (see below).

Her essay on DFW deconstructs him as one of the most vital authors in English in contemporary times, and it’s clearly borne of love and affinity and value. She speaks about his work and then, mid-essay, she speaks about his death – A suicide that happened in the middle of her writing about the work.

As she’s deconstructing his method and, in the process, framing his genius for those of us who have never quite got it, she is also being methodical in the vein of DFW. Almost method-writing. She breaks his purpose down into two sections, Investigating the first and presenting her case to me, the reader.

It’s not an easy case to follow and as she begins to unravel it, I find myself asking aloud “but what about the second point?” Then, literally, the next sentence is footnoted. With a note to the impatient ones, just like me, answering that exact question. It is a note where she speaks directly and perfectly to me and we have a brief moment – reader and author – and I trust her, implicitly, on this journey she’s taking me. And so we dance and I learn.


As you can tell, I am a sucker for footnotes, afterthoughts, parentheses, appendices; context, underwriting and by-the-way.

Perhaps blogging has an element of that writing too, so it feels super personal. Either way, I love a good footnote. And her footnotes are perfect*.

I don’t think I’ve ever written about footnotes with such praise. Apart from Ginsberg’s infamous footnote to Howl, they’re not as well-discussed as ‘literature’ as I’d like. David Foster Wallace has elevated to that level and I feel like Zadie Smith’s footnotes should be too.  Because they’re exactly how they should be: a mixture between reference – background information, fact, context, literary references; and direct addresses to the reader, bringing them right into the story, into her world as a writer, co-conspirators*

In closing..
The opinions expressed here are strictly those of the person who gave them. I have no real literary wasta to cast, but I have become quasi-evangelical about this book. I keep imploring people to read it.

I don’t have nearly the same talent for piquing people’s interest in a writer as she does, which is a shame, because essay books often get left behind in an author’s oevre until far too late*, and it would be a great shame if the perception of Zadie Smith was missing the aspect from Occasional Essays.


*apologies for the over-familiarity – but it just felt like that.
*and what i would easily call my (fantastical) biography of Zadie Smith.
*which highlights her application of the relationship between author and reader, again
*thankfully roxane gay and te-nahisi coates are challenging this.

I always cry when I hear a poem read: Barbican Young Poets 2014

Damilola Odelola, 2014

Kareem Parkins-Brown (no obvious relation) invited me to the showcase for this year’s Barbican Young Poets Programme, run by Jacob-Samla Rose.

It was phenomenal.

25 poets, all under 25, all crazy skillful and electric.

The evening, a recital of sorts, switched between individual works and group poems.
I’d never seen group poetry before and some of them were phenomenal. One in particular – about families and homes, used the form of the group itself to highlight the range of disparity in a family as in the group. Astounding.

Aome individual stand-outs included Emily Harrison, who spoke of falling in love with strangers in T-cut; Shoshana Anderson‘s cool American delivery that reminded me of a young Patti Smith mixed with a young Lily Tomlin; Greer Dewdney and her work Meant to Be – a cutting work of a social situation, using a form invented by one of the other poets Ankita saxena; Kareem was amazing – got the only ovation – with his work about his mother and the way he described her sighs and posture of sadness (I may or may not have cried); Antosh Wojcik showcased his well-crafted gonzo/surrealism and Cameron Brady-Turner‘s Living Alone: An Experiment, is a crushing story of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) that had us all gasping on a bus with him.

Dami Odelola had the line of the night in her work And the stuff that comes before a fall (see above).
Seriously, all the ladies in the house were clicking and showing appreciation like mad, and probably a stack of men too. I can’t quite remember because I was hit.

It was a line that still hasn’t left me. I couldn’t really hear the three poets after that line, because my mind had hit a glitch and was just skipping back and forth over that line.

Aside from the lyricism itself, it was a line that struck me squre. And I knew from then on, for the first time in my life, that being used by men was not my fault.
But it wasn’t entirely theirs either – I was a solution to a gnawing hurt.

It still makes me cry.

I’m sorry you all couldn’t hear that line, because although I’ve posted the image of it up there, taken from the anthology they produced, it’s not quite the same.
In fact, it’s not even close to the experience of sitting in a room, hearing the energy, timbre, rhythm of performance; seeing the gestures and the fire inside, and being in a group of people for whom 16 words hit them behind their eyes at exactly the same time.