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Communities of Resistance

dhaqan col­lec­tive reflect on their pro­gramme, which includ­ed dia­logues about cli­mate jus­tice, racial & social pre­car­i­ty, and resistance.


We are dhaqan collective.

dhaqan collective is a feminist art collective led by Ayan Cilmi and Fozia Ismail, centering the voices of women and elders in the community, and privileging co-creation and collaboration. Our practice seeks to find ways of building imaginative futures that support Somali people here and in East Africa to resist the threats over cultural heritage.

In our work we try to understand and grapple with societal and climate issues that hinder us and our communities in the hope that this will help us create healing and joyful artistic interventions and spaces.

When we were asked to curate the Autumn programme for Visual Arts South West, we wanted to really focus on this concept of communities of resistance particularly as it pertains to marginalised people, borders and precarity.

A question we asked ourselves was how we can take our collective anxieties and realities to challenge what the art world’s role and response is to the climate emergency?

By bringing together artists, academics and curators who are in dialogue with the themes of climate, racial justice, and social precarity we hoped to make space for these conversations and how these relate to the making of culture.

In doing this we were in some way also acknowledging the state of the world, speaking truth to its difficulties in the hope of sharing the creative practices of care that sustain and ground us. It goes without saying that when the Autumn programme took place the horrific genocide of Palestinian people had begun. This raised wider questions around the many ongoing genocides from the Congo to Armenia, to Ethiopia and Sudan; and the art world’s role in responding to these difficult times.

The challenge of liberation from white supremacist capitalist patriarchal structures that benefit the global north to the detriment of the global majority through war, unequal trade and climate collapse seems insurmountable, and yet protest and dissent against these exploitative systems are growing, communities across the globe are resisting.

With this overbearing weight of inequity how do you then even begin? From what place do you start to unpick these violent structures?

For us, as for many others, the great feminist theorist, activist and radical educator bell hooks has been a huge source of inspiration and a comfort in our practice as Somali Black feminist creatives. Our first talk began with bell hook’s quote on communities of resistance as a starting point:

  • When we talk about that which will sustain and nurture our spiritual growth as a people, we must once again talk about the importance of community. For one of the most vital ways we sustain ourselves is by building communities of resistance, places where we know we are not alone. Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics, bell hooks, 1999 (p. 213)

Following a research trip to Liverpool Biennial in 2023, Ayan Cilmi invited Creative Producer and researcher Janine Francois, and International artists Sepidah Rahaa and Victoria Udondian to have a conversation around the themes of border violence, precarity, racial and climate justice.

It was a really generative conversation where we listened to approaches of art making that gave space for the politics of the body, citizenship and how the inequitable freedom of movement across the globe impacts on both the physical and metaphysical experience of human lives.

So much was covered in just under two hours, including the role of the artist / curator as a witness to global injustice and how this impacts on their relationships with audiences, institutions and collaborators. We discussed borders, and how migrant experiences are defined by these spaces of constraint and control.

  • I think borders are quite contradictory spaces. They are intended to restrict people, while at the same time let people in to be exploited and to be extracted from; they exist in these two spaces of dichotomy. Janine

Victoria shared on her performance piece The republic of unknown territory, a powerful and humorous multimedia installation and performance project that interrogates the nature of borders, immigration and privilege by simulating and recontextualising the experience of obtaining an American visa.

  • There are people who go past borders without any kind of check, and then there are some of us who cannot afford to because the consequences could actually be your life. With police brutality in America as a Black person when the police stop you, you are on the brink of what might transpire- that is a border in itself. Victoria

Questions of care, sharing of resources, acceptance of friction and failure, as well as humour as sites of resistance were explored. We particularly loved the way in which the Sepidah, Victoria and Janine explored this in their work. Sepidah talked about her on-going long-term artistic work and research practice A Dream That Came True?, a series of video works and installations on migration, everyday life, challenges, resistance and collective imaginative futures exploring the questions of whose dream is/has it been to migrate? From whose perspective migration is a dream? What about second and third generation migrants?

  • this perceived notion of otherness and how to tackle it, but borders for me are everywhere and start from my own mind: how do I carry the border with me? I also don’t see art as a separate thing from my life, it is embedded. Sepidah
  • Questions came up and speak to each other that make me think about practices of care, and the idea of vulnerability in our practices. How does care show up for us? How do we care for participants or people that we’re working with in our respective projects or practices? And what does care look like in an embodied approach or lens. Janine

The next part of the programme focused on a more practical but equally inspiring workshop by Migrants in Culture: What are we designing to replace borders? The Migrants in Culture team shared their journey, from resisting the Hostile Environment in the visual arts sector to becoming a CIC and design agency operating within grassroots migrant movements.

We were joined by Joon-Lyn Goh, Javie Huxley, Becca Thomas and Rosalie Schweiker for an introduction to their work, where they reflected on how culture workers can use their skills to be in solidarity with people most affected by border violence, precarity and racialisation. Each team member shared specific practical insights and learnings.

Joon-Lyn spoke of her journey, and setting up Migrants in Culture following a period of community organising in Bristol. Joon-Lyn highlighted the precarious nature of workers with insecure citizenship and the lack of safety and solidarity for this labour force

Becca is studio manager and arts educator at Migrants in Culture and reflected on the space to be creative through caring organisation that values slow processes. Javie reflected on being able to be her full, unapologetic self within artistic space that’s meaningful and communal.

Rosalie reflected on the implications of the hostile environment and the way artists could use their skills to raise awareness and reimagine borders as well as support migrant artists to build a practice that sustains them through precarity. She spoke about border violence of the hostile environment - “If humans built it, we can design it in another way,” and of the practical interventions that are inspired by design justice principles. The team have created a workbook for people on Bibby Stockholm, a violent apparatus of border control.

There was discussion on the role of the artist in movement building with organisers. Migrants in Culture are a design agency so they use their design skills to make commercial work that then allows for the space for the activist interventions. An example is the Watermelon protest poster, which was designed by Javie in just 10 minutes as a protest image for Palestinian solidarity; it was then downloaded and shared over 500k times. It’s inspiring to see how artistic interventions can inspire and challenge the status quo.

We loved hearing about embodied leadership and what it means not just to dream but dream collectively. Also, to think carefully and reflect on what you actually want and what you actually need as artists to do this work of movement building.

From abolitionist organisation building, to Design Justice, radical admin, visual organising, building resource platforms for migrant culture workers, unionising, solidarity economies and more, the workshop was truly inspiring. It ended with Rosalie reminding us to remember to do things that give us pleasure and make us feel good as a way of sustaining ourselves. We were then led through a beautiful reflective drawing exercise, with a reminder that it’s about practice not perfection.

The programme also offered mentoring sessions for artists across South West from the inspiring Saziso Phiri, Associate Artistic Director at NAE (New Art Exchange), a curator, producer, strategist and writer working across the UK and internationally. Saziso founded The Anti Gallery (2016-2022), a platform that went beyond traditional gallery norms, hosting approximately 30 events and promoting art engagement in unconventional spaces. This initiative sought to democratise access to art and challenge the confines of formal gallery settings.

Thank you to Lucy Badroke and the Visual South West Arts Alliance for giving space for us to curate the programme and thank you to all the inspiring artists and culture workers who keep it moving towards justice.

Reflections written by Fozia Ismail.

Communities of Resistance was supported by the West of England Visual Arts Alliance (WEVAA), a three year programme of activity that aims to transform Bristol and the West of England into a place where the visual arts can thrive, providing critical opportunities and support to enable artists, curators and young people to develop their careers and achieve their potential. Find out more about the programme and opportunities here.

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