In the second ov four articles as part ov a partnership between DAO & the Museum ov Homelessness (MoH) on the shared DNA ov homelessness & disability – associate artist gobscure discusses Octavia Butlers ‘the normals don’t survive’
this article is about the power ov art to rewrite futures, reframe narratives, offer healing & change – the art & artists talk ov this. however homelessness frequently comes from trauma so please only read this article as / when yu feel comfortable to do so – likewise any links in the articles. the artists do raise what’s traumatic. if / when yu do choose to read this article, we recommend yu do it in private rather than public & give yourself time & space during / after. hold some space for yourselves. if yu need to put in place some safety then do what works for yu. our therapist always recommends having a blanket & warm drink nearby, as the asylum collective have been saying for decades ‘be kind on yourselves’.
(ps – we are currently completing a handbook with DAO on mental distress in relation to realworld situations which will include advice like that above. do help yourselves / share it widely when it is ready).
article two : Octavia butler says ‘the normals don’t survive’
writer / campaigner / political scientist Elif Shafak has talked long-term ov wounded democracies, e.g. as more & more wounded democracies are added to the list. our series ov articles, art & an event in partnership with DAO & MoH is about those ov us from wounded communities who offer those not wounded yet more useful ways ov being in future. thru reframing narratives we can ‘rewrite the future’ (Elif Shafak talks ov her strategy as the bisexual pen – i.e. both-& – plurals always better) for post-trauma-growth. the series ov articles, art & an event is called ‘& housing contains the word sing’
Andreena Leeanne describes herself as out & proud Black working-class Lesbian Poet, compère, inspirational speaker & mother whose recent book ov poetry Charred (published by Team Angelica) explores the links between childhood trauma, mental health & much more. its a forceful exploration ov challenges she has faced. She’s called this collection Charred because (her words) its like a piece ov wood exposed to flame, burnt & blackened yet resilient & made stronger thru going thru that fire. Write Your Truth is her powerful message.
Berwyn – Trinidad-born tho Romford-raised has a new album out. Tape 2 / Fomalhaut is the name given to a single star in a part ov the sky empty ov bright stars. In this album rightly getting great reviews Berwyn talks ov loneliness, as well as love & longing, ov battles with Home Office & ov mental distress, the last two two are linked. (yu can find his music videos on his website). 100,000,000 is a particularly compelling track about living out ov his car while homeless. Hauntingly beautiful in its honesty, subtle keyboard & beat underline a lived experience soulfulness thats ultimately about not giving up.
a great artist we were fortunate to meet thru MoH’s catalyst project about artful protest is Bekki. her Doorways Project is about women, homelessness, trauma & resistance, we cannot emphasise that word resistance enough. it contained multiple aspects including a touring sound installation funded by Unlimited, an exhibition & publication ov her photos. Bekki’s sound art placed unheard voices in unheard places to tell unheard stories. in her words, “I’m deliberately looking for spaces where somebody might be able to sleep but I definitely know no-one sleeps there – I don’t want to displace anyone.”
her photographic exhibition (& now a book) took its starting point as spaces she has slept rough in or sold The Big Issue at. Bekki’s advice to the normals is ‘have some compassion’. her work’s rich, complex & humanising – the opposite ov big charities or media mining trauma ‘porn’ to virtue-signal their own values or dehumanise further. listen to Bekki & realise being compassionate & understanding complexity are tools to reframe issues around street homelessness. more on Bekki’s doorways project can be found on DAO & Apollo Magazine.
Andrew Vachss often talks ov the importance ov transcending lived experiences – Bekki eloquently offers her equivalent, those moments that spark allowing folx to not just survive but change: ‘Art & writing have often been a way to survive, to be angry & to get through. Art has probably been the only way I’ve been able to process the experience ov homelessness. Being involved with the Museum ov Homelessness has been really important to me & a sense ov community & family with others who get it & understand. … When I was 15 I read a book called Nobody Nowhere by Donna Williams which was one ov the first autobiographies written by an autistic woman. I was diagnosed with autism as a teenager & her book really spoke to me, my copy ov Nobody Nowhere has survived years ov homelessness … I ended up meeting Donna in my twenties. Donna’s friendship, her incredible energy & passion for art, music, writing will stay with me always. … ‘ when we took artwork to the collective Art ov Protest organised by Dolly Sen (Bethlem Gallery 2019) we saw an artwork by Bekki in the permanent collection upstairs. Picking Holes is a DSM she’s drilled multiple holes into. ‘Drilling holes in the DSM was a metaphor for the holes in psychiatric diagnosis & the need to see beyond a psychiatric label & also consider context.’ Bekki.
we first met David Tovey when he gave a guest talk at MoH’s catalyst programme on art for social justice & change, helping us much a few years ago. we’ve just told David that in the entrance to our council flat we’ve written in red chalk Octavia Butlers phrase ‘the normals don’t survive’ – he laughed long & loud. David describes himself as a formerly homeless artist, educator & activist who works in a range ov media, exhibiting internationally as well as founding One Festival ov Homeless Arts, this country’s first. he’s also the Creative Producer for Arts & Homelessness International. (more on them in article 3). his current major performance & film is unknown soldier – almost thirty years in the making. it has been supported by Futures Venture who also supported Dolly Sen to section the DWP & our writing egalité with lips (Edinburgh).
witnessing his Man on Bench staged in a warehouse in Manchester (produced by MoH, funded by Unlimited) we began to understand the defyance ov his art. walking thru a city our eyes glance off ‘the thing’, someone street-homeless – so dehumanised by us / society we quickly disengage / turn / walk away – Davids work ruptures this by beautyfull engagings forcing us to think differently. Man on Bench was operatic fairytale with couture sculpted from literal rubbish, a roll-call ov street-dead projected onto a living ambulance, hundreds ov emergency blankets & candles (we still have some), & ultimately how sparks can be found among despair. one person coming along & saying ‘oi’ what yu doing?’ as his life was ending – that one person, an ‘ordinary-extraordinary’, not some ‘great & good’ politico with crest-ov-arms or large-boardroomed-charity, but an ‘ordinary-extraordinary’ helping him transcend traumas. Davids candid in how he still checks in with this person who saved his life, supporting David to give to so many others. lets sing the good news, individuals do act, make change, altruisms out there, we need to speak ov it more.
around 6,000 miles south ov where we saw David perform is kinact – a festival on & ov streets in Kinshasa. many ov the artists come from collectives such as Farata – David made couture from rubbish & it was unavoidable in his performance. in Kinshasa street-performers (many experienced in homelessnesses) us the gutter or rubbish tips in to build beautyfuelled costumes made entirely from discarded dolls, or only out ov drink-cans, or plastic water bottles, other make art from syringes, needles & medical packaging. these gorgeous provoking performances & living sculpted street-talking are conversation-points, as well as workshops for kids. everywhere ‘ordinary-extraordinary’ folx are using the street to carve extraordinary, transcending resistances – reframing stories, rewriting futures, plural – there’s always more than one way. As Elif Shafak says: ‘Stories cannot demolish frontiers, but they can punch holes in our mental walls, & through those holes we can get a glimpse ov the other & sometimes even like what we see.’
look out for further articles, artwork & a free event at 2pm on 17 November. details to follow in article 3
please note all moneys that DAO would pay gobscure for their articles / art / their contribution to events are instead being ‘paid forward’ to support other homeless arts projects or individuals