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SHEAfriq: The New Creative Collective in Nottingham Town

19 October 17 interview: Lucy Manning
photos: Louise Clutterbuck

SHEAfriq is a brand new collective of creative women of black heritage. We sat down with members Aïcha – DJ, artist and business owner – and Saziso – freelance creative producer and founder of The Anti Gallery – to talk about the collective’s aims, challenging stereotypes, and bringing the goods to the Nottingham populace...

What are you hoping to achieve with the collective, SHEAfriq?
Aïcha: One major aim is to collaborate, and find a safe space with like-minded people to share our ideas, receive critique and seek inspiration from each other. There’ll be lots of positive energy, and we’re showcasing a part of our culture that doesn't tend to get shown, that a lot of people won’t be familiar with. We don’t just want to be a one-off thing that people see as exotic and different, we want to become part of Nottingham’s cultural and creative scene.

How did you come up with the name?
Saziso: The naming process was an interesting one. We wanted to find a word that represented feminism, and us coming from the African diaspora. Aïcha came up with SHEAfriq, and we all thought it fit best.

What inspired you to set up the collective?
Aïcha: I’m always travelling to London to find opportunities for my business – I make all-natural hair and skin products – and I’m often down in the capital doing markets, trade shows, and various different types of Afro-centric events. I thought, why is there nothing like this going on in Nottingham? There’s such a big, active black community and so many talented, creative individuals. Especially females. I went on Facebook, got everyone in a group and more or less said, “We’ve all got so much talent and we need to do something.” We met up and talked about what we wanted to get out of the collective, what the group should look like and exist as, and that’s how it took form.

Saziso
: I jumped on the idea because, over the past couple of years since I started working freelance, I noticed that there’s an under-representation, first of all, of women in art, but there’s also a lack of representation of artists of black heritage and I can’t help but feel like the token black person. The under-representation is not down to a lack of talent among black women, but there is something systematic about the way different groups are represented. By providing a platform that encourages more black women to pursue their creative endeavours, I’m hoping that we can change things.

Aïcha: Adding to that issue of tokenism, as a young woman of colour, I get people trying to put me in a box with my work a lot. Surrounding myself with people who’re in a similar situation to myself helps me get past that and be seen purely for my creative work, rather than for whatever else.

Do you think there’s a lack of a platform in Nottingham for black women, or women in general?
Saziso: Yes and no. There are a lot of initiatives for women in Nottingham, but I still feel like we get stepped on. It’s as though people look at those projects like, “Oh, it’s a female thing.” What I particularly like about SHEAfriq is that we’re showing people that “Yes, we’re female. Yes, we’re of black heritage, but we’re doing great things that appeal to different audiences, and we’re all really good at what we do.” The reason this started is because we felt marginalised or discriminated against, and we’re trying to overcome that.

Aïcha: I think the issue of waiting for somebody to give you a space in order to say what you want to say is something we want to challenge. There’ve been times when I’ve been asked to DJ at an event and I’ve been made to feel really uncomfortable because some guy’s like, “Can you dress like a soul sister?” You’re always wondering what someone’s motive is, and creating our own space enables us to focus completely on our creative output. Also, the black community is really hard to find in Nottingham; it’s hard to pin down outside of the church. I’m not sure of any places where the black community actively congregate en masse. That’s another thing that I was really keen to draw out; a way for the community to come together.

Saziso: We’re showing people that being black isn’t one dimensional; we don’t all fit into this one box that the media often places us into. But it’s also not about erasing our cultural identity or being apologetic because of the colour of our skin.

Aïcha: It’s an interesting one because, at the same time, we don’t have the same opportunities and we face a different adversity, so it’s really important that we acknowledge and own that.

You mentioned that the collective wants to tackle and challenge stereotypes...
Saziso: It’s the stereotype of the black woman. When we had our first meeting, we had a conversation about how we’re seen. Some of the names we came up with were even taking the mick, playing on that idea of being the “angry black woman” or having an attitude, or being lazy. We’re trying to challenge those stereotypes. We’re people that have ambition, who want to do well and we want to show people that.

Is the group going to have a socio-political aspect to it?
Aïcha: I think it would be impossible not to, just because of who we are as black females in Nottingham. It’s already written that we’re making some sort of statement.

Is it frustrating that every act is made political?
Saziso: Yeah, pretty much. I mean, having your hair natural or a makeup brand catering to black skin tones is political by default. The struggle of being apologetic about our natural appearance is reflected in the artwork of some of the collective members.

Aïcha: Black women are asked to answer quite a lot. We’re expected to explain racism and injustice and what’s fair and not fair and why all the time.

Saziso: And when we do explain those things, there’s always someone to come and tell us how we should feel; someone who hasn’t gone through that, so it is frustrating and it’s mentally exhausting.

So, who’s going to be involved?
Aïcha: Ourselves, obviously. There’s Honey, a local artist and leader of the GOA choir; Ioney who’s a videographer, poet and a founding member of the Nottingham Black Archive; Daisy Godfrey, Harleighblu and Yazmin Lacey, who are all incredible musicians; then there’s Courtney who’s a producer at Nonsuch and she’s also a freelance filmmaker. We’ve also got Jendayi who is an activist and runs Chat‘Bout: a local organization that works with young people. There’s Eshe too, who runs a local vegan business and is also an activist.

Saziso: Grace is a local poet; Bo does a lot of curatorial work in terms of events and community engagements; we have Cindy, a creative producer; there’s Jasmin, a singer-songwriter and graphic designer. And there’s so many more.

What opportunities are you hoping the collective might create for other black women in Nottingham?
Aïcha: We’re hoping that the collective will enable other black women to see themselves represented in the events we put on and the work we make, to see that there’s somebody speaking in the unique voice of black females in Nottingham.

Saziso: Ongoing opportunities is one thing. What I’ve noticed, and I think it happens nationwide as well, is we’re only given platforms – if we’re lucky – at certain times of the year; be that Black History Month or International Women’s Day. But we’re hoping to offer year-long opportunities so it’s not a token thing.

You’ve got your launch event at the end of this month, what can we expect?
Saziso: It’s not just going to be the launch of the collective, but also the launch of our season of events, Black Future. It’s kicking off in October which is Black History Month, but we want to be able to focus on the future as well as the past. Then we’re collaborating with Nottingham Street Food Club for an African food night on Saturday 4 November. There'll be performances, and local African businesses selling food.

Where do you see the collective in a year's time?
Aïcha: I hope to see lots more people involved; we’re really excited about the new influx of students coming to the city.

Saziso: I want to see more creatives coming out of their shell, doing what they love and breaking stereotypes.

SHEAfriq are hosting the Black Future Launch Party on Friday 20 October at Rough Trade.

SHEAfriq on Facebook

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