An offering: Trust
by Jamila Prowse
Saturday 11th September. I am in Berwick. Walking down the river front, a family of swans is floating on the current. As I walk further down I come upon an opening, a great expanse as the riverbed meets the open mouth of the sea. A purposeful lighthouse looks out across the scene. Here are my swans once again, bobbing back and forth with the push and pull of the waves. The landscape reads serenity. And it is at this moment that panic starts to rise in me, pulsating in my veins and pushing hard against my chest. My panic disorder, which has become a familiar yet unwelcome friend, is threatening to pull me under, as if locked into the current. The swans are managing to stay afloat, their feet invisible to me as they paddle hard against the water, so why can’t I?
It is fair to say that in this moment, a few hours before the Back Inside Ourselves workshop at Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival, I feel ill equipped to attend. On a good day, I am not the biggest fan of crowds and public spaces. While a film festival, for some, presents an opening out of wonders and pleasures, to me it is a fast-paced series of events I don’t feel able to engage with. Such is a familiar experience working in the arts as a disabled person with barriers around social interaction, and a tendency to get overstimulated by sensory engagement. It’s why I write… a desire to move around a space quietly, unnoticed, before retreating to the sanctity of my bedroom to type away in relative peace.
I was aware prior to entering the workshop, of programmers Jemma Desai and Myriam Mouflih’s intentions to build a break in the chaos of the festival. A deep breath in. A pause. And despite knowing Jemma and Myriam’s thoughtfulness in organising spaces for collective sharing and learning, I’ll admit I was dubious as to whether respite can be created in a festival environment which feels antithetical to rest. So, as a way of indicating how my presumptions were dispelled, I offer a non-chronological account of my engagements at Back Inside Ourselves.
An offering: a card pulled from a deck of cards.
Sat with a group of strangers in a circle on the floor, having just witnessed films and offerings from S. Pearl Sharp, Ufuoma Essi, Tako Taal, Rhiana Bonterre and the gift of a poem from Sarah Lasoye. Jemma passes around a deck of cards. A red deck, with the eye of Horus on them. The eye of Horus: healing, protection. Could I be healed in this space? Could I be protected amongst relative strangers? I shuffle the cards in my hands, break the pile into thirds, reorganise, shift their order. I float my hand across the top of the outlaid deck. Wait for a pull. Some indication of which card to select. An invisible thread.
A dark void is depicted on the card, with a bright luminous light shining through it. The accompanying guide tells me the void is inspired by “the nothing” in The Neverending Story, but I’ve never seen it. Still, there is something of myself in this card. When I entered into this room an hour earlier, with panic reeling under my skin, the darkness was threatening to swallow me whole as it is wont to do. But I sit on the floor, and let the offered gifts wash over me. I am engulfed by something else, something freeing, something abundant. And in this moment a light breaks through the darkness and pulls me out.
Then I pull the card: trust. And in that affirmation I am told to trust where I am, to trust the space I am in, to trust these strangers who might become friends. If I trust these films, trust these offerings, it is in trust that I might find a space for healing.
An offering: a whispered voice.
Can softness be a form of strength? The soft outline that I have always existed within, leaking over the edges, malleable and changing; a thin skin. In Rhiana Bonterre’s Rhythms of Silence a spoken monologue traces the shifting outlines of a relationship between mother and daughter. Delila dances, first through involuntary movements, being pushed and pulled by an external force, before settling into something altogether calmer, more free flowing, twirling and rippling closer to the ground. But it’s that whispered voice I keep returning to. Containing so much, in the quiet expanse of a whisper. I think about Kevin Quasie’s Quiet, how he said that quiet is not the same as silence. Quiet does not communicate absence, and there is a power in quiet too, a power that is located in the internal.
‘Quiet, is a metaphor for the full range of one’s inner life–one’s desires, ambitions, hungers, vulnerabilities, fears.’
There is so much contained in the soft corners of our interiority. So much that is unseen, unspoken, whispered. A breadth of internality. It may not shout, it may not reverberate, but in that quiet echo there is strength. Rihana gives space to the strength of the internal, and as she does I relax into myself a bit more too. Accepting of the complexities of my quiet.
An offering: a repetition of movement.
In Ufuoma Essi’s Bodies in Dissent there is dancing too. This thread, extending through and beyond the work. There is a singular gesture or movement, an arm which moves from point A to point B in a choreographed language. Then the frame juts, glitches and repeats. So we are caught between a singular movement, as it repeats, becomes plurality.
We are so used to being contextualised through a marginality or lack. An overriding pressure, the one Kobena Mercer spoke of, told us we needed to be exceptional, we needed to be the first. But a rupture is happening and exists in the reverberations of repetition. The expanded reverie of a repeated movement. A thread drawn between parallel works. We are not marginal, we are not lacking, we are multiple, we are multiplicity, we are breadth, we are expansion, we are abundance.
An offering: a guttural sound.
A guttural sound emits from Tako Taal’s DUMP_outthroughthemouth_ or does it rise up from me? It is not a scream, it is a steady, expanding, quiet growl. When it pauses for breath, it is only a moment before it starts again. And with that guttural sound, a series of flashes take up the screen – is the sound emitting a memory too? Sound as a container for a life. A vessel. A portal. Then here it is again, once more, in Abbey Lincoln’s scream singing. It is never small, but it grows mightier and mightier. Until it is overtaking the room. It has overtaken me. The voice becomes more scream than sing. And in that release, my body releases too, all the tension seems to leave me, every muscle relaxes.
Then, with S. Pearl Sharp, there is a repeated refrain. Repeated so often it becomes a mantra. She’s going back inside herself back inside herself. She’s going back inside herself back inside herself. Tina Campt spoke of how a repeated refrain occupies sonic space as a form of protest. We say their names. We emphasise the audible. Occupying sonic space is also a form of protest, in that it allows us to take up room, to release all that is held within us.
In these guttural and repeated sounds I am guided into release.
An offering: A change in direction.
Is Sarah in my head? It seems she’s making my internal monologue external. Verbalising the interior argument I am having with myself.
‘You always do this. / Do what? /
Complicate what’s simple. / No, I don’t. / Yes,
you do. Now pick yourself up. /’
Pick yourself up. Am I being guided towards something? Away from the darkness and into something else? Pick myself up. I am being offered something. A second chance? Or maybe it’s not about chances at all. Maybe I always had it within myself.
away the corners of your own lips.’
Then, there is one line spoken and something shifts. I find myself laughing. At the uncanniness of it. At the truism of it. To be so reflected in the words of a stranger.
‘If I called out
“onward” and you heard “left or right?”, well
there would be something seriously wrong with you
wouldn’t there? No direction.’
Call out Onward! to me; a repeated refrain. And will I find my way? A new direction, a turning down a different path, away from the abyss, towards the light. Onward!
An offering: a sharing, a coming together, a healing.
A meditative state pulls me in and under. It is Rihana’s whisper. It is Ufuoma’s hum of a saxophone, conversing with a rustle of trees. It is Tako’s guttural release. It is S. Pearl’s repeated refrain.
We sit on the floor and we write. Offerings of our own. I can’t remember what I write. But I think I write trust. I write if you trust you will end up where you need to be. I write things can shift if you trust. And as I trace my pen – the card, or my mind, or the films leading me – I talk freely with Rihana and Sarah. Then to Ray sitting the other side of me. I surprise myself when I become less aware of my limbs, my body, my neuroses, for a second. I step outside myself enough to feel joy.
Sarah’s words again:
limbless for a while, a new fish without a current
to guide me.’
I don’t seem to mind it. Am I now those swans, staying afloat, my feet pumping ceaselessly underwater? But my pulsing feet are not visible to anyone in the room and I cannot even feel them. They are attached to me I’m sure, but as with Sarah I am limbless, and I don’t mind because now I float.
I am myself again.
I stepped into this room, and through these offerings I found a way back to myself.
Or another myself. A lighter myself. A freer myself.
I didn’t feel brave enough to trust, but now here I am, giving myself over freely. Finding solace, respite and healing in the outlines of trust.
It is here that I reconnect with myself.
And so I come back to words Jemma has spoken before:
‘And I think about other friends and their bodies, and how transition for them is another kind of movement, the journey into a new body over time, a reconnection of the self to the body free from the confines of what we have been taught to accept.’
Campt, Tina, ‘John Akomfrah in conversation with Tina Campt, Ekow Eshun and Saidiya Hartman’, [Talk] (Lisson Gallery, 2020), [Accessed 28 August 2021]
Desai, Jemma, This Work Isn’t For Us, (Self-published, 2020)
Lasoye, Sarah, ‘On the Inside: after Back Inside Herself by S.Pearl Sharp’ (Cinenova and Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival, 2021)
Mercer, Kobena, ‘Black Art and the Burden of Representation,’ Third Text 4:10, (2008), pp.61-78
Quashie, Kevin, The Sovereignty of Quiet: Beyond Resistance in Black Culture, (Rutgers University Press, 2012)