SAVAGE Journal: Territories Print Edition

The below article – Our Bodies – was published in the seventh print edition of SAVAGE Journal, TerritoriesAs President, I contributed to the creative direction, editing and curating of this issue. You can read the full issue here.

TW: sexual assault, sexual misconduct

Our Bodies Territories 1our bodies territories 2our bodies territories 3The article introduces the social initiative I am co-founder of; you can learn more about Our Bodies here. Look out for more information coming soon!

SAVAGE Journal: AWOMENfest Preview

This article was initially published on SAVAGE Journal

Picture the scene: nestled in a DIY arts venue in Peckham, a group of rugby lads sit around a table to discuss the relationship between tears and feminism with The Colour of Madness Project. In the next room, more of these men – stereotypically masculine and disengaged – compare notes on the artwork of Damaris Athene and Fee Greening, whilst others, perched in the zine corner, soak up the atmosphere and contemplate the body positive life drawing session they just attended. This is AWOMENfest founder Raniyah Qureshi’s ideal for the new feminist festival. “The people you want to come the most are not the ones who are already engaged. In my dreamworld, the room would be full of rugby lads who don’t give a shit.”

This might seem like a strange statement for the founder of a feminist arts festival to make, but AWOMENfest is no conventional feminist space. The festival celebrates “radical softness”: the idea that feminism doesn’t have to be a fight or a militant struggle; it can be imbued with softness and emotional vulnerability. For Raniyah, “Feminism can be an avenue for possibility instead of this difficult battle that lies ahead of you, because that can be really exhausting.” Radical softness is about engaging people who previously felt alienated from feminism; it reframes the movement within a calm, comforting and healthy space where anyone and everyone is welcome.

Raniyah discovered the term through the artwork of Lora Mathis, so art seemed like a natural means through which to explore it. The universality of art, as “everyone loves beautiful things”, offers a unique chance to capture people’s imaginations and engage them with difficult and sometimes confronting topics in a gentler way. “The really nice thing about art,” says Raniyah, “is that you can completely expose yourself, but through a beautiful thing that doesn’t leave you as vulnerable or emotionally exhausted.”

AWOMENfest is about provoking a gentle revolution, starting with the people around you. “The way people think is so informed by their background. How do you unpick that at a micro level to affect the macro level? We’re engaging in this feminist dialogue because we believe that the people can improve; the oppressor has the capacity to get on our side.” Many of the issues AWOMENfest is trying to tackle are systematic, something which Raniyah and her co-curator Alina Khakoo have accounted for: “At some point you have to detach bad actions from the person themselves. Of course people can read and educate themselves, but some people need more help. Just one conversation can go such a long way, so if you can change the people around you a little bit then maybe they can change other people and, slowly, everyone will get nicer.”

Every element of the programme has been carefully curated to fit with their ethos of radical softness. “We’ve either seen or experienced every workshop or artist’s work before, so we know their vibe fits with ours.” The festival is split into four main topics: spirituality, vulnerability, solidarity and desirability. It kicks off with a party on the Friday night, where Drag Kings from The KOC Initiative will get the ball rolling before a series of female and non-binary musicians take to the stage. In the “comfort haven”, there will be tarot readings and a zine corner, offering a taste of the calm to come. Over the course of the weekend, this optional approach will reign, as events and workshops run simultaneously, offering festival-goers the chance to step outside or sit and reflect if they become overwhelmed.

The first topic they chose was spirituality. For Raniyah, this addressing faith prompted the realisation that feminists really aren’t all on the same wavelength: “I’ve always had quite a complicated relationship with feminism, just because I’m quite religious – not that religious, but enough that a lot of the strains of feminism I was exposed to when I was younger were alienating. That’s where my feminism has hit the biggest stumbling block.” Raniyah and Alina saw that feminism “affects you mentally, it affects you bodily and it affects your engagements with other people.” From there, desirability, vulnerability and solidarity seemed like natural choices.

Throughout the curation process, Raniyah and Alina championed intersectionality and accessibility. “When people think of feminist art, they often think of bodies. There are a lot of nude paintings, or bold red lettering on a white background. That’s great, and it definitely has its place in the feminist canon, but it doesn’t work for radical softness.” For film, this meant turning to animation and more experimental forms, all within an accessible framework. For performance, intersectionality meant staging productions from Transgress’ ‘Everything is Going to be KO’ to a female-led tisch (a Jewish song-prayer and transcendent ritual) and poetry readings by female and non-binary poets of colour from Octavia Collective. The people involved in AWOMENfest represent a whole host of voices, from myriad backgrounds, covering topics that others involved won’t ever have considered before.

There isn’t a set lesson they want people to learn here: it’s not about dictating a feminist dogma or indoctrinating people. The emphasis of AWOMENfest may be on learning, but its founders aren’t trying to narrow people’s views. “We don’t want it to feel like there’s a set view,” says Raniyah. “I want people to come away from the workshops wanting to go home and do more research, so they can form their own views. I’m very aware that I don’t have all the answers. Also, silent reflection is key: everyone’s best thinking is done in the shower.”

At the end of the day, radical softness is about balance. Balance between pushing an agenda and accounting for other people, between being bold and allowing yourself to be vulnerable, between unapologetic political feminism and self-forgiving self-care. It’s about a revolution at your own pace. Reflecting on her feminism before she discovered radical softness, Raniyah says: “I was terrified that if I became more of an activist then I would lose the soft parts of myself. But then I didn’t want to be overly palatable and water down my feminism.”

A big part of this is about promoting frank and open dialogue in respectful, safe space. “I know we’re called the snowflake generation,” she laughs, “but it takes five extra seconds to go through a programme and give people a trigger warning.” Fittingly, attendees can email their triggers in advance, so they can feel as comfortable as possible on the day and not be confronted by a difficult topic without warning. A little extra effort goes a long way in making people feel comfortable and safe; it’s just part of the radical softness package.

Raniyah and Alina aren’t naive about their goals; they know that a radically soft feminist revolution will take time. “There’s so much performative wokeness, and a lot of it is just creative aestheticisation. People talk about it being really cool and will happily list all the grime artists they like, but they don’t really engage with what that means. I know a festival isn’t going to solve that, but it’s a start.”

AWOMENfest is a pioneering feminist arts festival with a focus on intersectional activism and support. It will take place at DIY Space for London in Peckham from 23rd – 25th March. Tickets and further information are available here. The event is in support of My Body Back, which support women who have experienced sexual violence.

Featured image courtesy of AWOMENfest. 

Our Bodies: Sexual assault & harassment at UCL

TW: sexual assault

Every day, more stories of sexual assault and harassment surface and more people suffer at the hands of this epidemic. This goes beyond Hollywood, it happens everywhere, and our university campuses are no exception. In my first year at university, I was sexually assaulted by someone I had previously considered a friend. This wasn’t the first time I had experienced sexual violence, nor the last, but it is the moment that has stayed with me. I could write a million words about the effect this has had on me – and hopefully at some point I will – but for now the words escape me. As survivors, we are silenced during the event and in the aftermath; our agency is taken away. This week, we are launching a new photo series on SAVAGE Journal called Our Bodies, which aims to give agency back to survivors by offering them the chance to tell their story in their own words and be believed. If you would like to share your story, know that it is on your terms. If you want to remain anonymous, you can. If you want to be photographed, you can. These are our bodies, our survival, our stories and our voices. We will not be silenced anymore.

In the next few weeks, we will also be hosting a panel discussion in collaboration with The Cheese Grater (another of UCL’s student magazines), looking at the policies currently in place and asking what more the university could be doing to support survivors and to prevent this behaviour from manifesting in the first place. Further details will be announced on the Facebook event soon.

If you are a current or former student of UCL and would like to share your story on Our Bodies, you can email ourvoices@savageonline.co.uk or direct message the Instagram account (@_ourbodies_).

SAVAGE Journal: graphic design work

Graphic design work produced for SAVAGE Journal between September 2015 and June 2018. 

Promotional image for the submission deadline of our seventh print edition, Territories:

Header image for a Facebook event page:

Front and back of a flyer designed to promote the Intersect print edition launch:

Also formatted as a Facebook event header image:

showcase header

Front and back of a flyer designed to promote a new section on the website, Our Voices:

Poster design for a collaborative event with Advaya Initiative:

a3 ecology poster

I also re-formatted the above poster as a flyer (front and back designs below):

Poster advertising the Dirt print edition launch event:

poster showcase

Promotional images to be shared on social media, advertising the Dirt print edition submission deadline:

DIRT split 3DIRT split 2DIRT split 1

Poster design for the Free Speech print edition launch event:

FINAL POSTER SHOWCASE

Poster advertising the Free Speech print edition submissions:

FREE SPEECH GRAPHIC2

SAVAGE Showcase & ‘Intersect’ Print Launch

SAVAGE Showcase & Intersect Print Edition Launch
Tuesday 12th December 2017, Archspace

Our first print edition launch of the new academic year was held at Archspace London. Under the arches, we created an atmosphere alight with creative energy, and hosted one of the most interesting line-ups we have ever had at a showcase event (details below). This event marked the launch of Intersect, the first print edition of my presidency. I’m exceptionally proud of this edition and the ongoing commitment to diversity that it marks. You can read the issue here.

showcase poster.jpg

Poster design by me
Trailer & featured photo by Nick Mastrini

Programme

Two original films by SAVAGE Broadcast: UoL Protest Against Outsourcing and Brick Lane in Flux.

Spoken word by Olivia Robbins, Ava Davies, Wendy Min Ji Choi and Simon Westby.

In conversation with Roundtable and Thiiird Magazine, mediated by Shalaka Bapat (BME Rep, SAVAGE Journal). You can watch the video here.

 

 

Live music from Sam Bates/Totem (DJ set).

Event sponsored by Nix And Kix and Hippeas

SAVAGE Journal: Sex Beyond Bananas

I discuss sex education for SAVAGE Journal, after UCL Leading Women tackled the subject in collaboration with Men’s Rugby

Ask anyone what their experience of sex education was like in school and they will probably mention a traumatising demonstration of what happens to a tampon in water and a very rogue use of a banana. Fruit was always a common theme in sex education; first came the banana, then the condoms on cucumbers, and then the school nurse attempted to incorporate a pear into her description of fallopian tubes. The use of fruit seems to perfectly encapsulate the innuendo-laden inaccuracy of most sex education in schools, as well as Britain’s deep rooted discomfort with directly talking about sex. Clearly, using actual scientific models to explain bodily functions to children would be too much to ask.

It’s no secret – and no surprise – that most people’s attitude to sex is a heady cocktail of misconceptions, misinformation and misled Google searches. As far as gendered expectations go, UCL’s Leading Women and Men’s Rugby societies would seemingly be on opposite ends of the spectrum. But, in reality, the lack of education on safe sexual practices and reproductive health spanned both groups. Female students who had been on the combined pill since the age of 14 had just as many questions about its potential side-effects and the available alternatives as their male counterparts who had never taken an oral contraceptive in their lives. This was not only an extremely valuable event for those in attendance, but it also exposed a much deeper issue of how our curriculum deals with sex. There are clearly many more questions that need answering, and many more people who need to know the answers.

As of March this year, the national curriculum details that Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) is compulsory from the age of 11 onwards. Classes ought to cover ‘reproduction, sexuality and sexual health, without promoting early sexual activity or any particular sexual orientation.’ This is a vast improvement on the previous system, which allowed independent schools and academies to opt out of teaching RSE. There is still, however, a long way to go. Firstly, these changes may not occur for another two years.  And more worryingly, schools will still have the final say on  teaching methods and curriculum omissions, whilst parents will maintain the right to withdraw their children from RSE classes completely.

What the amendments have started to address is the disparity between those setting the curriculum and those learning from it. A survey of 16- to 24-year-olds carried out by the Terrence Higgins Trust in July 2016 showed that 99% of young people thought RSE should be mandatory in all schools, but 1 in 7 had not received this education. Furthermore, 97% of students thought RSE should be LGBTQ+ inclusive, but 95% were not taught about LGBTQ+ relationships. Both of these issues have now been partially ameliorated, but is it enough?

From a young age, children are left confused and ashamed by the countless, contradictory messages they receive about sex and relationships. Even if school programmes are amended to a satisfactory standard, it’s difficult to create a national curriculum that accounts for the influence of family members, community leaders and online platforms. The government now states that all RSE should be age-appropriate, but how is this defined? With the rise of grooming through social media, online pornography and sexting, children are exposed to sex earlier than ever and its presence is increasingly pervasive. An 11 year-old now may already have been exposed to sexually explicit or damaging content before the subject is even raised by their teachers.

As well as improving the feedback loop with students, we need to assess the environment in which sex education is taught. Even in co-educational schools, RSE is often provided in single-sex environments. This creates an atmosphere of shame and illusion around gendered differences in sexual health from a young age. To this day, I have no idea what the boys did in year six when we were first taught about periods. Few seemed to have any sort of empathic understanding of menstruation in later years; girls’ trips to the toilets remained shrouded in secrecy. If children of all sexes, genders and sexual identities were taught about healthy relationships and sex together, boundaries would be broken and much of the the stigma would be lifted.

Beyond the gender element, co-educational RSE classes may help to foster more open communication between students who may later engage in relationships with each other, or other people. Taking this further still, having external organisations teach children instead of internal teaching staff could help to create a safe space in which questions can be asked without fear of judgement. Online, anonymised question systems could also be incorporated. The way we experience sex and relationships has changed – the way we are taught to approach it needs to change too.

There isn’t space in a single article to address all of the questions that current forms of RSE leave open. Even at Tuesday’s event, the hour-long Q&A was over before the conversation had even moved beyond contraception and STIs. Going forward, we need more informed, open discussions about healthy relationships, zero tolerance to harassment and crucially, consent. Imagine the change that could be instigated if completing a course or online questionnaire about these topics was a condition of entry to universities or workplaces.

Tuesday’s panel was enlightening in more ways than one. Not only did it highlight the lack of basic knowledge about sexual and reproductive health amongst students, but it raised questions over the best way forward. The latter has a more complex solution, but the panel did offer some easy-to-enact advice. Firstly, use condoms. They protect from STIs as well as pregnancy and are given out for free in most sexual health clinics and Doctors surgeries. Secondly, get tested regularly for STIs. There are different incubation periods, but the general advice was to get tested each time you have a new sexual partner. The main take-away, however, was to get educated. Curriculum changes are all well and good, but for students who passed through the school system without gaining proper scientific knowledge of sex, it’s time to take matters into your own hands.

So where do you go if you have questions?

Brook are a sexual health and wellbeing service specifically directed at young people, with a clinic near Euston. They offer a range of services, from free contraception and STI testing to group education programmes and individual support sessions.

There is also an NHS clinic behind the Cruciform.

Lloyd’s Pharmacy have a service called Online Doctor, which provides web-based consultations and advice from UK registered doctors and pharmacists. If the thought of a face-to-face consultation seems too embarrassing, their anonymised online service could be a good alternative.

Featured image courtesy of Monica Garza.

SAVAGE Showcase & ‘Dirt’ Print Edition Launch

SAVAGE Showcase & Dirt Print Edition Launch
Monday 20th March 2017, Waterstones

The launch event for our second print issue of 2016/17, exploring the theme of ‘Dirt’. Acts including an original documentary and live music (full programme below).

poster showcase.jpg

Poster by me 
Trailer by Nick Mastrini

Programme

Invisible: Nick Mastrini will be debuting an original short film by SAVAGE Broadcast, exploring the theme of pollution in London. This will be presented by Fossil Free UCL.

The Fall: Benjamin Leggett says of his 2015 film, ‘I needed an outlet for the pent-up anxiety and insecurities that had accumulated over the first two terms [at UCL], and by making a short film I had hoped to address these issues through a sort of introspective journey.’

In conversation: ‘The Jungle’. Pooja Puri is a debut novelist whose new release ‘The Jungle’ explores the experiences of child refugees in the Calais camp. Pooja wil be in conversation with Lauren Caley, who was the distribution coordinator in the Jungle until its closure in November 2016.

Artworks on display from the print edition, plus a live art installation by The Line Girl, inviting members of the audience to step up and be painted.

Spoken word and poetry by Sabeera Dar, Olivia Robbins and Natalie Room.

Orlando Revisited: Holly James Johnston presents a reimagining of Virginia Woolf’s ‘Orlando’ through the medium of performance art.

Live jazz from Emily Craig (vocals) and Nat Philipps (accompaniment). DJs Henry Browning and Milo Gooder will be rounding off the night with an eclectic mix of ‘savage’ sounds.

Featured photo by Nick Mastrini

Review: The Same Deep Water As Me

I reviewed The Same Deep Water As Me at The Guildhall School with Colette Allen, for SAVAGE Journal. You can read the original review here.

Nick Payne’s The Same Deep Water as Me tackles issues of morality, trust and personal history within the modest Luton-based office of a two-man personal injury firm, ‘Scorpion Claims’. The set and scenario are simple: aspiring solicitor Andrew (Martin Quinn) is reluctantly reacquainted with his working class upbringing through his old friend Kevin’s (Jacob Coleman) scheme to join the underworld of fraudulent claims. Despite the cluttered desks on stage, there is ample room for the actors to indulge in the quick-fire banter that fuels Payne’s sharp observations about social class and the workplace.

The Guildhall School’s final year students were set the task of striking a fine balance between comedy and reality. There are several brilliant moments in this social comedy where the subtlety and reflectiveness of Payne’s writing shine through. In particular, Barry’s (Jake Burgum) pride in his collection of exotic teas – at one point, he draws out an array of Twinings’ Special Infusions – powerfully encapsulates his desire to get ahead. Andrew and Barry are both good, hard-working local boys. Kevin is more rough around the edges,  with his fuck-boy haircut and his constant teasing of Barry and his tea (“Barry? With the tea? Barry-with-the-tea!”). Yet as Payne’s title suggests, all these characters spring from the same pool, and they all eventually land in the same deep water, tainted by the manipulation involved in their fraud.

Amelia Strohm’s performance is a particular stand-out. She perfectly captures Jennifer’s limbo between the two men in her life, Andrew and Kevin. Building a life with Andrew may have provided the opportunity for her to move forward. The regret she feels for choosing Kevin – a man who does all he can to remain back in school with the likes of ‘Karate John’ – is exquisite. Whereas Jennifer has a taste for Japanese popcorn-infused green tea, Kevin has committed to the builders’ brew.

But Guildhall didn’t always quite grasp the subtlety of the task at hand. Small inconsistencies like the questionable Luton accents, or Judge Jessup (Caleb Roberts) seeming far too young for the anecdotes he pontificates, can be excused by the understanding that these are students. The small-fry fraudsters, armed with cheap coffee from Greggs, taking on Tesco’s caramel Frappuccino-drinking “ball-buster” lawyer was a neat point (and credit is certainly due to their costume designer Jane Hankin). But then they explicitly point this out – ‘this is a caramel Frappuccino’, ‘have you ever been to Greggs?’ – and the sophisticated high-street café comparison is ruined. Payne’s script is partly to blame here, but the overemphasis put on the lines by the actors themselves doesn’t help. These small discrepancies grow into more fundamental holes in the plot. The underdevelopment of Andrew’s relationship with his dad, as well as Kevin’s unexplained past with Barry, become somewhat frustrating. Quinn and Coleman should have put more emphasis on making the relevance of these subplots clear, rather than how their characters are supposed to get their caffeine hit.

Some potentially interesting directorial choices prove more distracting  than illuminating. There is an atypically heavy presence of the stage crew, which are used to represent the class conflict the production deals with. The removal of the back wall exposes the inner workings of theatre in a way that seems to mimic the clumsy cover-up of the fraudulent claim in the play. But the message is not clear enough: to attempt to construct an interpretation around these aspects feels bizarre, if not desperate. Though the haphazard nature seemed to be part of the intended effect, this may have been the production’s undoing.

The impact of the play’s realism rests on language: a stark contrast between Kevin and Andrew’s slangy banter and the starched technical formalities of the courtroom is all the audience needs to appreciate Payne’s scabrous social commentary. But director Jo McInnes’s additions to Payne’s script confuse and detract from his words, which should remain the prime focus of the audience as well as the actor. Green tea has its perks, but sometimes you just want a simple brew.

Guildhall School final years’ production of The Same Deep Water as Me is playing 13th – 18th Feb at the Barbican’s Milton Court Theatre. Find more information here