The Equiano Centre


January 2015

We Are Here: The Launch of Black British Feminisms, Issue 108, Feminist Review

Ego Ahaiwe Sowinski

Participants at the Black British Feminist Weekend, Photo by Lauren Craig

In August 2012 I wrote a blog piece called Passing on the Baton, a reflective piece on Black British Feminism, discussing some of the projects I had been involved with, exploring the impact that these projects had on my thinking around black women's narratives in the UK as well as the relationship between black feminism and archives and theorising the notion of a Black [British] Feminist Archive. Re-visiting this blog piece I realise I did not mention the reason I chose that title, it was a kind of un coup de chapeau to the importance of intergenerational work. At that point initial discussions had taken place to organise a gathering in October 2012 called 'We Are Here', the aim was to 'use history to give ourselves context in the present, by researching collectively and having time to be reflective', I also noted within the piece that in '2014, it [would] be 30 years since the Feminist Review published Issue 17 -Many Voices, One Chant: Black Feminist Perspectives. This edition included pieces on Black Women Organising Autonomously, Challenging Imperial Feminism and Asian Women in the Making of History.  Is it time to consider what a 21st century equivalent issue would contain or look like?'. I posed this question and then requested we 'watch this space'.

Soon after writing Passing on the Baton I applied and was awarded the Beacon Bursary by the UCL Public Engagement Unit to deliver a writing weekend named 'We Are Here: (Re)presenting Black (British) Feminism' which included further work in partnership with Dr Gemma Romain and Dr. Caroline Bressey of the UCL Equiano Centre. It was decided that the purpose of the weekend would be to develop ideas through group work, discussions and presentations for a Special Edition of the Feminist Review Publication. The Feminist Review also match funded the bursary making the weekend a reality.

A small group of us (Anyaa Anim-Addo, Yula Burin, Sonia Hope, Umoren Imaobong, Astrid Jones and Karen Roswell) met at The Lambeth Women's Project, Stockwell, London to develop the plans and identify a suitable venue. The weekend was targeted at women 20 - 60+ who see themselves as feminists or are inclined towards feminism and who perhaps found themselves with more questions than answers, particularly about the place of Black British lives, voices and representation in relation to feminism. We welcomed black feminists (beginning ones too) who would be committed beyond the weekend to making a Special Issue happen.

Participant playing dominoes, Black British Feminist Weekend, photo by Zoe Holloway

The weekend took place at Annan Court, Uckfield and in total 20 women attended the weekend.The weekend included a roundtable discussion and talks with Professor Denise Ferreira da Silva who explored 'Radical Praxis - A few Words, some considerations and a couple of suggestions', Professor Joan Anim-Addo discussed 'Reconsidering Activism: Creating Writing Spaces', while Dr. Yasmin Gunaratnum spoke about 'Writing Life's Limits' and Professor Heidi Safia Mirza shared her canon of work on Black British Feminism. The weekend also included, workshops in practical writing, developing collaborative ideas, singing, country group walks and dominoes. The space created allowed additional time to think about ideas that came up during the day. As well as create a safe space to communicate, share our experiences, and create bonds and network.

Following the weekend, the real hard work began as we embarked on developing our pieces for the Special Issue. I developed a piece in partnership with Yula Burin, who had also attended the weekend. We had decided to join forces after months had passed and little progress had been made by ourselves, and over a coffee realized that we did have something to write about, but it might be easier to write it together. Yula, Lauren Craig (also a contributor) and I would meet and work from the Women's Art Library at Goldsmiths University, stocked with teabags, our own mugs and biscuits. Making our base there meant that we were able to meet with Professor Joan Anim- Addo at the Centre of Caribbean Studies based at Goldsmiths, of which she is the Director. The Centre has been there for 24 years and I would like to acknowledge that it was essential to have a space like that to go to, for informal tutorials, allowing us to think aloud, reflect on progress and be encouraged.

Cover of Black British Feminisms, Feminist Review edition 108, cover design by Helen Senior

So it is with much delight that I write that on 11th December 2014, the Centre for Feminist Research and Feminist Review launched Black British Feminisms, Feminist Review edition 108 at Goldsmiths, University of London. The Keynote at the event was given by Professor Ann Phoenix (UCL Institute of Education, London) and chaired by Dr. Suzanne Scafe (Southbank University/Feminist Review editorial collective). A panel discussion also took place, which included contributors Jay Bernard, Sita Bilani, Lauren Craig, Camel Gupta, Nydia Swaby and myself. The piece that myself and Yula wrote was called 'Sister to Sister: Developing an Black British Feminist Archival Consciousness'; in this piece we attempt to chart some of our experiences within feminism over the last decade, particularly the moments our paths crossed, and our encounters with Black Feminist narratives through archives.

For example, in the article we state:

'we have both been actively involved in feminist politics in London and nationally during the last decade. Our black feminist geography has led us to this point, and the extraordinary thing is that now, more than ever, there is a need to connect the dots, to find and create our UK black feminist narrative through archives, and to consciously preserve our history. It is essential for us to see how the struggles we still face have been challenged in the past. We need to look back from a black feminist perspective...'

Besides the actual publication the project itself continued to provide further opportunities for the participants through connections made over that weekend. An informal general information and sharing group via email continued which nourished a number of further collaborations. This included a play developed by one of the participants, artist and writer Ros Martin and facilitator Professor Denise Ferreira da Silva, called 'Return of the Vanishing Peasant.'  Ros Martin also worked with artist and photographer Zoe Spence on 'A Wing, A Prey, A Song' in October 2013, as part of Guest Projects, a Yinka Shonibare MBE initiative. In March 2013, a workshop called Exploring Black women's lives in Britain was developed in partnership with the Equiano Centre for the participants of the weekend. A year later, myself and Lauren Craig worked with the A Fusion of Worlds: Ancient Egypt, African Art and Identity in Modernist Britain workshop project and exhibition, a project organised by Dr. Gemma Romain of the Equiano Centre and Dr. Debbie Challis of the Petrie Museum, UCL. However, maybe the most unexpected outcome was being awarded the Public Engagement: Student of the Year by the Provost in January 2014 for the project.

My article can be accessed here.