The Art Behind the Mask
Oliver stepped back from his usual arts discipline as a producer, rapper and songwriter to facilitate and direct a short documentary. This film showcases outstanding talent from local visual and performing artists, exploring the work they have created during lockdown.
With over 17 years experience in music facilitation, Oliver has worked with a vast array of people and delivered many community projects that have had a direct impact on individuals and groups within the Kent /London area.
Music and song writing can be used as a vehicle to develop confidence, explore imagination, explore one’s identity and life choices and ultimately aid in realising dreams and aspirations.
Song writing is a doorway to help people reflect and find solutions to everyday challenges and it is fun which is beneficial to health and the mental wellbeing for all involved. Oliver fully understands the impact that music has in uniting people. With first-hand experience, he has seen directly how music and song composition builds communities and forms strong relationships between people.
“From a grass roots perspective, music participation improves the wellbeing of its participants. This positivity in turn has an impact on us all and our wider community."
Mimi has a unique sound with a vintage charm that channels her influences of jazz and soul. Her distinctive melodies and clear lyrical content keep the listener mesmerised.
Her sound is earthy, with stripped-backed acoustic accompaniment, allowing space for her powerful voice. She often plays with a band that extracts elements of gypsy jazz, swing and a tint of modern RnB. Based in Kent, Mimi is a gifted songwriter and multi-instrumentalist.
Here is a live performance of her song entitled ‘Reaching Down’.
CaGeNation are a collective of young, versatile artists from Medway, Kent.
The diversity in their sound is mirrored by their member’s varied cultural and ethic backgrounds.
They are influenced by the poetic styles of Nas and Eminem, group dynamism of Wu- Tang Clan and Odd Future, the production/instrumentation of the The Neptunes and Kanye West and the vocal abilities of Justin Timberlake, Robin Thicke, and D'Angelo.
CaGeNation are able to switch from a mellow, R&B sound straight into a raw combination of old school and new school hip-hop.
Lucky has worked as a professional singer, dancer, choreographer and arts lobbyist for more than 20 years. As one of the core, founder members of Black Umfolosi – an internationally-acclaimed Zimbabwean song and dance group.
He has performed to audiences from 10 to 50,000 people world-wide, shared stages with the likes of Jimmy Cliff and Peter Gabriel, performing to Nelson Mandela and has appeared on programmes such as The Jools Holland Show and BBC's Blue Peter.
An accomplished workshop leader, Lucky's hugely popular workshops are conducted with a communal and 'feel free to experiment' approach, his methods highlighting how much participants can achieve, both on an individual and group level. His flexible approach to learning has made him an ideal workshop leader not just in schools, but also in community centres, arts-based training, at conferences and general public workshops.
Nemi is a visual and musical artist originally from Canterbury, Kent UK. A gifted graffiti artist, vocalist, poet and singer-songwriter, she plays guitar as well as illustrating/painting canvases.
Creative since a young age, Nemi was born into into a family of mixed ancestry and has experienced a transient upbringing which spanned continents. She continues her artistic journey, currently based in the South East of the UK.
Nemi studied Art & Design at UCA Canterbury and has a BA in Design from Goldsmiths, University of London. She enjoys her work as a carer, which in turn supports her artistic projects, social enterprises and fundraising work. Heavily inspired by her non-verbal autistic brother and influenced by the underground sound system culture of the UK, Nemi explores ancient civilisations, spirituality and allegory in her graffiti artworks. In her acoustic music, she incorporates diverse styles such as retro-soul, gypsy jazz, reggae and trip-hop.
Nemi is driven by humanitarian goals, wealth inequality and all things a part of the much-needed evolutionary change of humanity, which is reflected in her works.
I came here to learn.
I'm always in a constant state of learning,
because I think that's the most important method of being.
I think the process is wrestling with internal desire and external expectation.
Trying to understand what is actually going on.
Trying to exist in a world,
while fulfilling everyone else's expectations of me,
and still getting what I want out of it.
What is your truth versus what is imposed on you?
These education establishments that I've been a part of, or was indoctrinated into;
They're not there to actually build you as an individual.
They're there to create and perpetuate the system.
Safety is an aspiration.
We aspire to be comfortable, or to have contentedness.
We're constantly navigating this idea of other and of comfort and how we can exist in a space without being harmful to others.
Without feeling harm ourselves actually is more important, because we don't actually consider the harm that we do to others.
We are more interested in self preservation.
I'm human, maybe I can't actually fit into this expectation that you have.
Ultimately I don't think I care about what anyone thinks about what I think,
I've kind of had to discern whether the feedback you're getting is objective or subjective.
I think sometimes it is really important to look at the intention behind the words that have been delivered to me.
Because I know for a fact that curators, for example, may look at the work I do,
and go through and go where can I place you?
Just because you're older than me does not mean you're wiser than me,
Doesn't mean that you have been able to actually consider what you're saying,
or question what you're saying,
or what you've learned.
Elders, they're always there,
Usually the ones who are working harder than everyone to very, very little applause.
And then it's those hardest workers in those pillars of the community, let's focus on them.
Let's give them time, space, and, most importantly, money to do their work.
think giving myself permission was asking that question of;
What do I really care about?
What am I good at?
What does the world need?
It's moderation, simplicity and consciousness in everything that you do.
What you love, what you're good at, what you can be paid for, what the world needs.
If I'm going to exist in the world, how can I give more than I take?
That's not necessarily in resource.
Maybe that's an energy,
Maybe that's in knowledge,
Maybe that's in connections or bringing people together
Or actually maybe just being an agitator, maybe?
I don't know.
Sometimes I just think I'm an agitator
Coming back to the roundtable, and community and coming together and doing the work.
And the more I think about it, the more it's about the texts.
It's like you start with the text,
You start with the learned, written, oral experiences,
You have to start with the unfiltered or I mean, I guess it's filtered.
But you need to start with someone else's experience.
And then if you can,
You should start asking yourself these questions.
it's more important for you to just go away and wrestle with it yourself.
Almost offering that opportunity to question your reality.
I think we all need these questions.
Whenever you've been reading something or you've walked down the street and something catches your eye,
Whatever these small things of connection are.
The first port of call was in writing it down.
And they had these moments of connection,
I think I slowly collate them.
I save them until something like a big enough bubble comes up.
There's a heightened sense of awareness when you call something art.
And when you put yourself in that art context, and you start to judge things in that way.
And I think because of that,
Everyone wants to have a certain truth within what they say.
They want to,
Whether it's their truth, or what they see as truth.
There are obviously exceptions where we're projecting based on our part,
from where our mental spaces are.
I think that's another another side to it.
Zish's film made for the Exhibition, a work in progress
Janis White and Gordon Livesy
Textile artists, treasure hunters and makers of all sorts of things
What seems to be crystalising for me at the moment is what I’m trying to make is me.
I’m just trying to become me who got side-tracked decades ago.
The stuff I really enjoy doing, its like I can’t think about it, I can’t plan it, my subconscious or as someone I was speaking to referred to as my ‘hind brain’ works everything out, and then I just sit down.
It evolves, but I am discovering there is always a connection to my own personal history, even if I don’t realise it. Sometimes we make a comment like ‘that reminds me of’ and you’ve finally got it, that’s where it comes from. Which is why when I came to look at the nice handmade little journal, I’m like ‘oh god I’ve actually got too think of something to say’, or something to make. I find it difficult to just sit.
We walked on the beach the other day, I said ‘my back is aching I am not picking anything up’ and I still carried a full carrier bag back, but I might have that stuff for the next 2-3 years, before it becomes part of something else.
We love to visit other peoples studios and exhibitions because to me I have always found art and artists fascinating and quite often it’s not so much the work it’s the person, it’s the stories, it’s the history, it is what makes people do it. To me a genuine artist is someone who doesn’t have a choice.
Because it’s within them.
A word that increasingly occurs to me is happenstance.
Because that’s how things happen for me, It will quite often involve Janis as we spend a lot of time, when we can, walking around, finding villages, markets, whatever we can see, and learn from, and then something will come out of that.
Then, it was literally ‘right well, you don’t do school anymore, you’re coming in to work with me in the morning.’
No discussion, that was it.
So I became a builder, which people still say is creative?
And I don’t get cross any more, but you’ve obviously never done it. It is very mechanistic, it is about achieving goals, building boxes. It is something I could do mindlessly, and in the old days you could have music on.
So I could listen to any music and I did it all day long.
Then at the end its ‘well, what am I going to do now?’
This is me talking to myself ‘I want to make stuff.’
What I want to do, I don’t want to work, I want to make stuff.
People say; 'Well, how are you going to make a living?’ and in my head I just want to live.
And to me living is about looking, listing, learning, and then creating something.
My mum and dad, in their own way, were both creative. So, they met working at a tailors. My mum was taught how to make skirts and my dad used to do alterations for them, he then moved on to be a window dresser.
My dad went on to do window dressings for people like Burtons and he used to bring home bits of fabric that had been left over because you know we can’t throw anything away, if you’re that way inclined. So I used to make things for the teddy bears and the dolls like everyone says, out of the scraps. I never knew about going to university or art school.
I taught myself really, I’ve not done a City & Guilds or anything like that, I was able to use a sewing machine.
In my thirties I had a breakdown, work related stress, and I was at home for 10 months, barely went out of the building, and my mum said ‘Oh, I’m going to decorate my sewing room can you help me make a blind for it’ and that was it.
I’ve made curtains for The Turner so I can say my work hangs in The Turner
Well to me, even though I’m largely uneducated, I find language fascinating because the use of words seems to dictate who you are. Most of society wants to put you in one box, or a series of boxes, they’ll change the box, they’ll change the label, what they cant seem to bare is no label, no box-
'Why are you doing it?’
‘Because I have to.’
‘Well what’s the point in doing it?’
‘Well you’re not listening, because I have to.’
‘Well how do you make money?’
‘Well I make money when I have to.’
I don’t want to make choices anymore because they’re always somebody else’s choices.
Janis White & Gordon Livesy
It might be a piece of furniture, quite often Janis will say ‘oh this would look good on it’ ‘why don’t you do this?’ so we tend to be intertwined with what we do because we’ve got our own feedback loop between us.
I haven’t always got the confidence either and I’m like ‘What do you think of this‘ and he says ‘oh it’s beautiful’ and I’m like ‘No don’t just say that because you know me’ .
He goes ‘oh no I’m not’ or ‘you could at that to it’, then I realise ‘Oh yeah I didn’t think of that’.
‘Right, get in the car, we’re off to the beach.’ Margate, I’d never even heard of Westgate. To me Margate was somewhere my boys really enjoyed. It was all quite retro; it was half the price to anywhere else, and people seem to have fun. The kids really enjoyed coming.
Got a nice beach, got a dreamland. Bit of both, they can get chips.
Yeah, and you get to the end the day and you have to beat them with a stick to get them back in the car.
They didn’t want to go home; their life had changed.
I think I was very lucky as a young child. Once again happenstance, I was a very ill child, I wasn’t allowed to go out if it was foggy, I had breathing difficulties, I wasn’t allowed to play sport.
So, I had a fantastic early childhood at school, because I sat with the girls.
I did craft with the girls, so I learned how to use a needle, I learned how to weave, I did pottery, I even did country dancing which none of the other boys would do because it was indoors.
There was so much pressure to be something that I quite obviously wasn’t.
So I had this marvellous few years of just literally making stuff.
Chorus Director to Knitter
To have something to sit alone for three hours without any interruption was brilliant, you know, totally therapeutic and mind-controlling, kind of relaxing.
You’re doing one row, and then you do another row, and then you do another row, you don’t have any hurry.
You’re doing something constructive, but actually it reminded me a little bit of when I used to practice. You'd sit at the piano and you’d work out codes like you do in knitting, and then you put them all together as a piece of music and you’ve learned it, so, it was weird because it was what I needed for the brain which is a logical brain, it needed the patterns.
Us musicians are recreations, unless we are composing.
And actually to recreate can be quite destructive.
The Artist has the wonderful freedom of being able to alone, draw.
In music you're not, you're sitting in front of a score and you're interpreting it but you're not creating it.
I needed to get away from that music, I needed to find something new which I could be creative in, I loved it, I loved it, I mean I used to take it along to my friends and they said ‘Oh god Francine what are you doing this is so complicated!’ but they helped me.
What I really wanted to find was something to make me calm down, you know, I was full of a lot of tension, I’d been bullied at work, I was treated badly and dismissed.
I’d say ‘Go and enjoy the opera but don’t ask me how it’s been’ because you know, for them it’s glamour, it’s wonderful and you know, Placido Domingo on stage and all these kind of, and then there was me going ‘Oh God, terrible, here we go again’ ‘Oh God he dropped a note!’
I still listen to a lot of music, this the other thing is you come out of a profession and you think of one of the think well I would like to have a listen to Boya or Tosca and it brings back all the memories you had. You think ‘Oh no turn it off I don't want to hear that again’.
Music always had that amazing hold on me. Sometimes you go to watch a show, you know, you prepared, you go there and then you watch and you go, this is why I'm doing music.
You know, there's a piece by Janacek called Jenufa, and it has this incredible scene of the mother and the daughter and the grandmother, everybody's in floods.
There are glimpses of that wonderment and you can't take it away from me.
That is what I've had.
So when do you have a music director who bullies you, you think ‘what is this?’ and especially when it was all to do with my gender.
It's like a religion. And I listen to it, I kind of, you know, my family, I'm surrounded by vicars, my brother's a vicar, and all that kind of stuff and they kind of can't believe it because I'm an atheist, and they say, ‘Where do you get your religion? What's your spiritual feelings and your faith?’
And I say I get it from Bach. I listen to it and I can feel there is, I don’t know if it’s God's presence, but it's something divine, and it’s, you know.
I had a lot of opera buff friends, travelling the world, going to opera.
They loved me because I was in it.
I would play up with it for a bit,
But then when I left, they dropped me.
When I go to them and say,
‘Oh, I’m really enjoying myself, I’m doing a lot of knitting’,
They’re like 'What?!?’.