Text only for screen readers


Words Collect In My Mouth; Conversations On Intimacy and Repair




A Yewande 103 publication...


Curation and editing: Alexandrina Hemsley 

Publication design: Nisha K. Sethi & Luke Pajak 

Additional design: Alexandrina Hemsley

Illustration: Oshilaja Hemsley

Co-editor and creative producer: Nancy May Roberts


Proofread: Cathay Kamara 

Support work: David Archer 


Commissioned by: DaDaFest 


First Edition

Published 2020


All rights reserved

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning, or otherwise without written permission from the publisher. It is illegal to copy this book, post it to a website, or distribute it by any other means without permission.


External Content

Alexandrina Hemsley has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party Internet Websites referred to in this publication and does not guarantee that any content on such Websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.




Alexandrina Hemsley

Alexandrina’s creative practice lands in the fluid spaces of dance, choreography, writing, facilitating and advocacy. Their interests are both enduring and in expansive states of flux – or just in connection/relation to the processes within life and within living. They turn towards the sensorial, the bodily, the multiple subjective positions of self – and self in intimate relation to self and other selves – as ways to find breath and voice amidst the unjust and inequitable.

Alexandrina has recently founded her own organisation Yewande 103. Yewande 103 formalises the past 10+ years of Creative Director Alexandrina Hemsley’s work in the contemporary dance field as a choreographer, performer, writer, mentor and educator.



Nad Ma

Nads is a truly sensual scorpio. She practices with corporeality and the politics of the body and its borders, as a massage therapist, body piercer, shibari teacher, drag king and community workshop facilitator. She is also deeply interested in spirituality and the power of plants and 'other beings' in healing. I have learned a lot from Nads about embodiment and concepts like 'feel~think' (using the body and mind, emotional and intellectual) and the act of growing verses building.




Raju Rage

Raju is an artist / planter / educator/ lover of food (a typical Taurean). He understands the secret life of plants with whom he works in healing and care practices. Soul and body in transit, Raju has tools of transformation, resignification and resilience in the face of predation and extractivism in hegemonic systems, such as gender. They love nature and sharing with others, involving others in creative and playful processes. I have learned openness and listening from Raju to sow new possibilities within joy and compassion. 






Omikemi is a writer and body worker living in London. They currently work as a writer and editor for Vital Xposure and Disability Arts Online. Omikemi is also the organiser of Way Making, an online Black-centred creative and healing arts community


Oshilaja Hemsley


Oshilaja Hemsley’s work evolves from a long Abstract Expressionist tradition of drawing on

spiritualism, imagery and emotions from the sub consciousness mind. Her work is steeped

in the ancient craft of “channelling” thereby producing mesmerising and evocative paintings

from expansive visions of consciousness. Through her paintings, we are transported to a

world of light, colour, symbols, and etheric forms. They embody the deepest Truths of our

soul as it travels timelessly through the gamut of human emotion. The organic, biomorphic

signature-traits of Ohs work constitute a visual language that is unique and specific to her

expression, a language which maintains an intimate connection with her audience.


Oh began her art career at Hornsey College of Art in London. After gaining her degree in

graphic design, she went on to have a fifteen-year career as an award winning art director in

advertising, working in various international agencies in London, Lagos, Nairobi and the Far

East. A major launch for a clothing company led to a series of commissioned works of art

which awakened her artistic abilities and interest in colour energy. After a couple of years

freelancing, she returned to London in 1995 with several private commissions and took to

painting full time. As an intuitive painter, she developed her own language and found her

voice in her chosen medium of soft pastels on paper.


Oh’s salon shows include mixed and solo exhibitions in Lagos, Istanbul, London, Los Angeles,

Miami and New York. Her paintings are also housed in corporate collections in Nigeria and

Togo, and private collections in Nigeria, Kenya, the UK and the USA. She currently

collaborates in healing circles and runs therapeutic art workshops, empowering clients to

express their emotional landscapes.





Vijay Patel

Vijay Patel (He/him) is a performance artist based in London. His artforms are interdisciplinary, ranging from: live art, performance art and cabaret. The work he makes predominantly surrounds cultural identity, making autobiographical/political statements around being a queer, British/Indian, working class, person living with Asperger's syndrome. Vijay centres his lived experiences/identity throughout his practice to advocate/uplift/raise awareness of marginalised communities.




Noa Winter


Noa Winter is a curator and dramaturg with a focus on disability arts and anti-ableism. They are currently working as a coordinator for the Berlin-based project Making a Difference, which supports disabled and deaf dance professionals, and are undertaking the Unlimited International Producer Placement. Their main interests are the self-determined working methods of disabled, queer and chronically ill artists, aesthetics of access and questions of anti-ableist curating. Most recently they co-curated the symposia Making Theatre Accessible - Be prepared to make mistakes and Exploded Times, Mad Spaces - Disability Arts & Crip Spacetime.


Nina Muehlemann

Nina Muehlemann is an artist and disability scholar based in Zurich, Switzerland. In 2017 she completed her PhD at King’s College London in Disability Studies and Performance Studies. She has taught at King’s College London, ZHdK and is currently teaching at the University of Basel. From 2018-2019 she was co-director of the Future Clinic for Critical Care, a socio-culturally animated theatre practice project, with performances at Gessnerallee Zurich and Impulstanz Wien. Since 2020 she is co-director of Criptonite, a queer-crip theatre project at Gessnerallee Zurich. She co-curated and organised various workshops and symposia, such as the 2019 IntegrART symposium in Zurich entitled "It's a matter of perspective" and the 2019 No Limits Berlin symposium on Crip Spacetime.


Rebekah Ubuntu

Rebekah Ubuntu is a multidisciplinary sound artist and university lecturer. Their practice explores

speculative fiction through electronic music, sound art, voice, performance, installation, text,

songwriting and the moving image.


Most recently, Tate Modern commissioned Rebekah to create Despair, Hope and Healing, an

audiovisual performance exploring climate justice in response to the Olafur Eliasson exhibit. In

tandem with this performance, Tate Modern’s Uniqlo Lates invited them to discuss the influence of

Afrofuturism in their work.


Their work has featured at BBC Radio 1, Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Wellcome Collection, Barbican

Centre, The Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, New Art Exchange, Primary Gallery,

Copeland Gallery, London’s Serpentine Galleries and other European arts institutions.




Lateisha Davine Lovelace-Hanson


Lateisha (they-she) is guided by the spiritual call to create spaces for healing as an action of resistance towards liberation. They are a multi-disciplinary artist; working with performance, somatics movement-dance, writing and facilitation.  Lateisha uses their pedagogy of radical socio-cultural education to decolonise how we relate to ourselves, each other and the world(s) around.  

As a Black queer non-binary womxn, child of Jamaican immigrant parents and working-class background - Lateisha principles their work within and beyond Black feminist futurist traditions, earth/climate justice principles and community collective-care organising. Positioning their work as an antithesis to the violence of white supremacist, hetero-patriarchal, capitalistic oppression.

Lateisha's current work includes; digital curation residency with 12ø collective, commission with Camden Art Centre: the botanical mind exhibition as well as facilitation with grass roots community networks including Queer Youth Art Collective, functional rituals / dance is a weapon and Healing Justice Ldn.

Lateisha's work 'S/He Breathe/S, an afro futurist interdisciplinary theatre project supported by Arts Council England and Camden People’s Theatre is currently in development. Lateisha is co-founder and leader of HIT THE GROUND - an anti-oppression creative project space, running workshops as well as producing retreats including Live Art Development Agency DIY 2019: a 3 day artist-community called To The Ritual Knowledge of Remembering’.

Ourstory: Intimacy & Community

We often think about intimate partner abuse as something that happens between two people. We often think of the incident as their story, rather than something that belongs to a wider circle of intimacy — community

This is strange as there are often subtle but clearly discernible behavioural patterns that lead to abusive actions, commonly labelled as “red flags”. We are often socialised into accepting or ignoring the signs of abuse, violation or coercion

We’ve all come across people in community who regularly dismiss and disregard the needs, desires and feelings of others, while coming across as kind, caring, generous, and committed to justice. In some cases, these people are our healers and activists

The above does not fit social expectations about the type of person who might be abusive. It’s only through experience or other types of training that a person would become attuned to recognising grooming and seductive abuse characteristics and patterns

We can also end up co-signing abuse. Many of us have grown up in situations where minimising and denial ensured our survival. In some instances, denial helps us avoid confronting the painful feelings of abandonment-betrayal, experienced when calling-in, past and present. This is the price some of us have paid (will pay) over and over again, for a sense of belonging — connection

Other times, especially when we’ve been blamed for calling-in, we try to regain control through the curse that is care-taking. This is not to be confused with the deep-empathic care-giving-magic that can emerge from survivorship. Part of the survivor narrative, often as a result of gaslighting, (past and present) can be to assume responsibility for the abusive persons actions in the name of seeing your part

In my own case, it was to say - it was me, I didn’t have strong enough boundaries, despite at the beginning of anintimate partnership saying No. Repeatedly.  For me this being overly responsible translates as - it must be my fault; it’s the self-blame that allows many survivors to regain some sense of control

It’s also part of the reason why it has taken me, a supersurvivor, over a year to get clear that what happened between me and the person I still share some level of community with, was emotional abuse, gaslighting, and sexual harassment

Since this person has come back into my orbit, I’ve been wondering what colonial conjure they were under while overriding my boundaries and telling me, despite my saying no, that, they could tell from my eyes that I wanted it 

The prickings in the historical mud tell us that transmissions of abusive behaviours are ancestral, systemic and endemic. These jinns that lead us into dynamics of abused and/or abusive are often inherited and take up residence in our bodies, relationships and communities, often without our consent

Intimate partner abuse and colonialism have much in common, in the sense they both involve enacting exploitation, acquiring without consent, manipulation and the invention of narratives to validate abusive actions.

There is much about intimate partnership abuse, and the way it is responded to that is inextricable from the context it takes place in, the wider circle of intimacy – the community. In this sense, intimate partner abuse is never a story between what is often assumed to be two people but ourstory

I’m not suggesting that individuals don’t have responsibility. I think people need to be held accountable for their actions while thinking critically about what accountability looks like and means within community

In reframing intimate partner abuse as a part of ourstory, I am acknowledging that all too often, individual responsibility has been used to place the work of healing and repair on the shoulders of the person who has experienced the abuse

The medicalisation of abuse is one example of this. Diagnoses such as complex-Post Traumatic-Stress Response recognise the damage of surviving prolonged abuse which can be validating and lead to support systems, modalities of healing etc. 

However, medical models tend to neglect considering the familial and societal conditions in which abuse occurs, and transformation of these conditions as integral to healing – they fail to acknowledge the responsibility of community

We, survivors of intimate partner abuse, can often feel hesitant about telling ourstory. We know this to be the part where we can easily become the villain, the one causing the harm because we are calling out harm

We are often hesitant to tell it for all kinds of reasons; we are older than the person who has been abusive; we are masculine of centre and the abuse happened with someone that presents as femme; we are emotionally under-resourced and unsupported, we are still working through internalised heteronormative assumptions about abuse in same-sex partnerships, because, “we should know better”

We are told in subtle and direct ways that the power imbalances which create fertile grounds for abuse, do not happen to us. They do

Then there is the dynamic of “prove it” to deal with; - a common feature in the survivor narrative. Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha describes this as a way the prison industrial complex infiltrates our ways of thinking about abuse

How many times have we demanded, out loud or in our heads that people give us the often-uncomfortable details for us to assess? How many times has this demand been rooted in suspicion and doubt? How many times has this been driven by concern or care?

These are just a few reasons why people choose not to speak into the circle. Why I’ve often decided to swallow what I know back into the meat of my throat and dress what I did not speak in years of baggy clothes and sleep

We often exile ourselves and truths, drift into isolation, and all too often watch the temporary protection of social avoidance turn into social deprivation, leaving the abusive person to the fruits of community intimacy and space to tell their story

Sometimes we decide we have walked away too many times, like now

I’m grateful to be able to call Sobonfu Somé into the circle to re-mind us that sometimes the need to self-exile or isolate indicates the community is not functioning or fulfilling its purpose: they remind us to create a container where we can recognise, affirm and test the kinds of gifts we are bringing to this world

It’s deeply sad and wounding but also assuring and strengthening to know that sometimes we won’t have the support of the community because in our speaking we are creating an earthquake

It explains why when they arrive: the pebbles, skeletons, the grit at the shoreline of these lips, there’s a deep trembling, a sense of a birth, and old earth being cracked open

Somé also teaches that the person who exiles and/or is exiled is often the one carrying the medicine the community needs; the exile is often symbolic of the things the community are not willing to see

It is in this vein I am speaking this experience into the circle that has formed around the topic of intimacy. In this vein, I am offering community an opportunity to find our specific technologies of care, calling-in, accountability, repair as it relates to, but not limited to, the topic of intimate partnership abuse that has occurred in our circle

We do not have these opportunities to learn when we do not listen or find ways to listen and speak, which I consider to be a key aspect of intimacy. As a community, we need to ask how we make ourselves available to listen? Who is permitted to be heard, and on what basis? 

There is always an element of bravery making yourself known, so there must also be the vital element of safety. We cannot come to know each other, study each other, generate knowledge about who we are, without a container that can respectfully receive us and our experience. When this does not happen, we miss out on knowing about ourselves, ourstory

It seems intimacy is always an invitation of some kind, although some kinds have no kindness in them. In this instance, the invitation is to break my own ancestral spells and adherence to lineages of silence that have manifested in generations of thyroid disease, thyroidectomies and tumours

It’s an invitation to invite others into a circle that is not only shifting consciousness through song, consuming erasure and pain with laughter, dancing and using our manginga to evade the jinn but a circle that bleeds, weeps, grieves. A circle full of kin who are still learning about holding each other by the scruff instead of in between our hungers

We, those of us who are re-sourced enough to speak up, are calling on the community to consider its capacity for intimacy, its capacity to hold the fullness of ourstories. However unpleasant, we need to be able to receive, marinate and through innerstanding, activate what is being offered as a gift, a medicine, which sometimes bitters

All too often, discarding and dismissal sweeps through the circle when things get uncomfortable - when we are challenged and have to meet the places where we have been complicit

We need these calls so community can come to know what preventative technologies it holds. It is a calling for healing and safety, alongside other healing modalities, to emerge from the circle of intimacy that is community

This is not an invitation for survivors to take care of the person that has been abusive or a suggestion that repair requires sharing space, physical, virtual or otherwise. Although I acknowledge the actions of the person mentioned above as a call for healing, my focus is on sharing experience in so far as it supports my own healing, ancestral work, and community healing that I hope we are all engaged in

I am still in a process of restoring kinship, discovering how to do intimacy in community; writing this is a part of that process. The immediate circle I was born into could not receive my medicine; this activated a decade long process of estrangement. When you walk out into the world without kin, you walk out into the world without an immune system

As well as somewhere to be affirmed and received, I strongly believe the community is there to offer some kind of protection and accountability. I’m not referring to the protection of charismatic covertly narcissistic abusive people we so commonly see in communities. I am talking about engaging with the celestial bodies, particularly the Saturn-Pluto conjunction to help us address the uses and abuses of power, others and our own, that are regularly enacted among us in our embodied and organisational structures

We know as survivors of intimate partnership abuse that some of our community members are like blades and rivers that turn back on themselves. We know some of us mimic autoimmune conditions and attack our own cells. We know that some of us make these turns because we are under spells which use concepts like progressive and liberation as an excuse to undermine and shame the ways we and others want to love

I’m left at the end of this asking as Carolyn Lazard does in their essay title: how to be a person with an autoimmune disease? How to do this when the structural version of this condition — colonialism, has infiltrated our communities? When the macro appears in our relations, cells, tissues and bones? How do we find and create circles of intimacy that hold and tend to the complexity of ourstory?

Intimacy – Knowledge, tools and possibility

Lateisha (they-she) is a multi-disciplinary artist: movement practitioner, story-protector/ writer, creative-spiritual facilitator, performance maker and socio-cultural systems change educator. Amplifying the lived experiences of peoples marginalised and minoritised by oppression, including Black folks, people of colour, Queers, people who identify as neuro-divergent/disabled and people with experience of incarceration, homelessness and refugee-asylum system. Lateisha also works closely with young people through community organising collectives, art-organisations, social centres, unions, and education institutions to effect justice/ healing / accountability. 


As a Black queer non-binary womxn, child of Jamaican immigrant parents and trauma survivor they draw upon the power of prophecy and ancestral knowledge. Lateisha believes in transformation - principled by healing justice frameworks - to disrupt and dismantle systems of oppression to bring us closer together, into more connected, whole and full ways of (human) being.


Lateisha is artistic leader and co-founder of HIT THE GROUND an anti-oppressive performance and workshop project space. Currently developing theatre show 'S/He Breathe/S’' an afro futurist storytelling work set to change the course of our polluted colonised world, supported by Arts Council England and Camden People's Theatre. Lateisha designed, produced and facilitated a Live Art Development Agency 'DIY': a 3 day artist retreat called ‘To The Ritual Knowledge of Remembering’, exploring how ritual and remembering are tools for reclaiming ancestral ways of being. She also runs HIT THE GROUND workshops in activist, community and theatre settings.


On returning to intimacy;  how does one (individuals and communities) return to intimacy after experiences, or within the aftermaths of violence (systemic, institutional, personal, intergenerational)? Reflection on creative practice. 


  • Roots: How to begin? 


For me to move my whole self into this question. I must open myself to the depths of this provocation... To be intimate with it and speak to what I have learnt (and unlearnt) along the way to intimacy’s arrival into and from my life. To where and how I’m finding liberation and resource in my creative approaches, relationships and practices onto intimacy... 

This is about more than ‘work’... more than what i ‘produce’ or ‘create’. I’m speaking to my way of being. Living. surviving. thriving. … because, I’m... here. In all that is going on within the world… I am here.

This provocation tasks me with the need to be generous, responsive to all the sensations coming through me as I work it throughout my body...

In this moment...I recognise excitement coming from my chest - a warm desire to write these words and be vulnerable to myself.

I also recognise my difficulty coming from self-doubt whispers in the back of my head -  saying ‘hey hey Lateisha, i think you should ssshhhh… don’t expose yourself like this’ 

I need to recognise and hold all of this, to write this essay.

To be with the complexity of what it means for me to do this. How can i do this? To centre my own lived experience -create my own terms to listen to my self. My own process. My own reflections.

My own practices.


I’m still here


Now, I’m asking myself all sorts of questions, in curiosity. What do I need right now in this moment?

To be intimate with my needs? To get myself into writing this? And wait for it...


In this moment, 

I need to return to Breath. 

My breath


A returning force: an intimacy: an affirmation ...

I breathe // I open // I connect.

I feel.



Here it is, i need to breathe into my beginning // state the place of return //  write into myself . 

I, Lateisha, am a child of many elders, ancestors, dream-weavers, healers, resisters, earth keepers, freedom protectors, star readers. Survivors of an incomprehensible amount of corporeal, interpersonal, psycho-spiritual, intergenerational, systemic, structural, mental and emotional violence. Ongoing violence. A whole heap of trauma. A whole heap of wisdom.

I am all of this, and more...


From this ancestral foundation. A reclamation. I can breathe. I slow down, tap in and take a moment to return to a place of knowledge within and around me. To something deeper - to something more possible. Transformative. Shedding ties to the word ‘artist’ to feel into the intimacy of what I Know. Trust. Centre. 


My body. My lens onto the world. Reaching into this anchor is Intimacy.

They call me a multidisciplinary artist/ facilitator/ community healer…. And yes, those roles have meaning in our society… But I need a new name for this portal work, an old one.

I am vessel. I am conduit. I am connection.

From here, I'll write... Speak.. return...


  • Trunk: What keeps me here?


Intimacy is my gut, my stomach. My heart.

It is body. Always has been. 


Although, it hasn’t always been this clear, this accessible, to identify it. To feel in authentic intimacy as a necessary factor/principle of my life. Of how I move and position myself in this world, informing how I relate to others, how I hold & give space for genuine connection.  Ultimately, to how I relate to myself…. 


I needed to see myself as whole. 

As a worthy receiver of the abundance of the Universe.

I needed to say ‘yes’ to my own being (and ‘No’ to bullshit!).

I recognise this journey as the embodiment of healing justice, because my self-hood, and therefore practice and process of intimacy is inextricably linked to my/our interconnected liberation. To survival. This fuels my fight towards freedom, to be holistically guided by these values; connection is resistance. Connection is freedom. Connection is me. 


Over the years, I have developed and (re)discovered pathways for creating this space of connection. By listening to all the parts of my being - the loud, the quiet. The hidden, the visible. The remembered, the forgotten. The community of ancestors that draw, write, facilitate, build, dance and make worlds out of my DNA. It has taken some time - oh boi it truly has - to fully craft the right conditions I needed to exist. 

To feel in the universe of my own being 

I needed to let go of what I was told to be: Estranged to myself - where my imagination and body could be exploited, pathologised and appropriated. The fragmenting work of people who uphold by embodying structures of violence. Who told me through actions and inactions that i was not real. 

That i do not exist

That i must not know myself

That my needs and rights cannot be met

That my body is wrong, unloveable, denied, marginalised, ignored, undesirable, silenced, targeted, a prop. does NOT matter.


That i am not allowed the truth of belonging to this world


This multi-dimensional othering is the violent separation work of white supremacist oppression. And I can’t write this without stating how deep this shit runs…A deep traumatic dysfunction affecting connection(s) to our bodies: flesh, minds and spirits.  Our histories, lands, communities. 

This violent separation work is the context onto which I was born and navigate my life. 


By being with this, by reclaiming my body this way, I give voice and repair to all the parts of me that deserve s-p-a-c-e (and that I had dissociated and disconnected from as a trauma response). I recognise the depth of what I am healing within myself. To align myself- bringing myself into wholeness, into full and unapologetic focus is transformative in and of itself. By being ‘creative’ - I’m accessing my life force through rituals -  i am being intimate with myself and fuck me isn’t that some powerful shit? Some deep transformative power. By surrendering to actually write that poem or dance around at 3am because I couldn't sleep for all these wild dreamvisions I’m having, I am accessing resources of knowing myself. From here, from this healing feeling practice I have found something ... 

A way of listening,

To my feelings.

An anchor. 


From my body, I know where my orientation of justice, freedom and liberation is. Is this an intimacy?

To move with the joy, freedom and pleasure as well as grief, rage, anger. All of it.   It’s all there. It’s been there a long time….


“I feel, therefore I can be free” Audre Lorde


Audre wasn’t playing when she said that. It’s reeeaaal out here, and it’s only going to get realer...


For me to reclaim my feeling-self is to work intimacy’s magic. Is to be alive to myself. To trust my own experiencing of this world. An antithesis to the intersecting racist, queer and trans phobic, ableist, misogynoir bullshit rampant in society. To arrive into the full interconnected aliveness of myself despite this shit! 


So yes, I am reclaiming myself. 


I am doing the work of my un-othering. 

I am doing the work to release this systems hold on me.

I am tapping into the resources I need to transform the world within and around me. 

To find power in the *truth* of my interconnected belonging. In decolonial knowledge systems to restore agency and disrupt the powerful illusion that this violent order of capitalistic domination into and on my body is fixed, rightful and unchangeable. No. It. Aint.


A return to intimacy is my jumping in,

To the chaos

With courage,

Into the arms,

Of my own understandings of Blackness. Queerness. Womxness

My own Body. 

To Make choices.

To break myself open and stretch myselfbeyond these definitions

And be with what comes…

Then move and rest into it….

Know it


What does it mean to behold myself from this place? 

To reach into and become beloved to my body and all that my body contains and opens? To create art / collective / community healing practices from it? 


These are the questions I walk with as I cultivate healthier conscious relationships with myself and all that keeps me here on this Earth. Returned and a returner.


I understand why I struggled so much in the past, why I ran from my creative-healing gifts. Why I struggled with previous iterations of myself as an ‘artist’ within some of the unimaginative, stagnant and dead places I used to work in. 

I needed to identify, sit with, then relinquish the upholding of the white gaze within and around me. 

I needed to forgive myself and reach into why and how this happened. 

I started to behold myself like a lover. I started to recreate space for myself, on my own terms, that weren’t defined by bullshit ideas of what or how i/my communities should be. This process continually takes me to places of joy I didn’t even know were possible. 


I allowed the intimate knowledge of my spiritual-creative practices to guide me as I rejected the dispositions of assimilation in the theatre and poetry sector. When I opened up my long-term relationship. When i sought language for my energetic knowings and found a cultural context in Black Feminist traditions, afro-diasporic spiritual practices, queerness, non-monogamy, veganism. When i leaned into nurturing friendships and co-workerships based on these values. When I sought life-changing psychotherapy as part of a Black Womans group. When I danced-ritualed every week on a Wednesday, unlocking Earth from my body. When i wouldn’t let go of the freedom this brought into close, intimate, vision. 


When I moved towards it.

Because I desired it.


To move with my aliveness is my resistance.

To repair, heal layers of wounds, and integrate.


This intimacy

Is my own

This intimacy

Is a portal, pathway, purpose

Towards collective liberation 



  • Branches: What am I connected to? 


Resistance has many forms, many shapes, many voices. Many ways of working.


This is my resistance, as acts of love and fortification of my/our sacred being. I have strengthened trust and belief. I have strengthened resilience and care. I have strengthened the ease and spaciousness that intimate connection allows me. I normalise permission to relax and find softness - divest from control and re-wounding. I do everything in my capacity to understand the complexities of harm at play and dismantle systems of oppression.  This is where I position myself in systems change movement building. In community. In healing. My creative- spiritual practices allow me the social conditions to manifest/share/facilitate community-centred practices that normalise pathways of safety. 


When we feel safe, we can be vulnerable. Closer. 


I bring the knowledge of this by illuminating and not continuing the invisibilision of how I/we got here. My art is to move us closer, closer, closer towards the hidden, the forgotten. To bask in its glory. To dance in it. Speak incantations from it. Touch the Earth and feel the stories of the Sun from it. Allow our undeniable grief, anger and rage space to be supported by it. I create the energetic conditions for regeneration. This close touch of intimacy.


My art is of prophecy. Liminal spaces. Visions. Connected to dreams and actions that are wild, incredible and comforting. To say, my trauma does not own me. Because oppression does not own us. To say this knowledge was never lost, it is here.


I can see over these years it was never about the poem. The play. The workshop. Nor my arts-organising, reflective writing or socio-cultural educator work. It has always been about emergent systems change.


I have witnessed that when we connect to the intimate truths of ourselves and do the healing work around power, privilege and interpersonal harm dynamics, then we have the freedom of imagination and capacity for mutual recognition across lines of oppression. To intimately stand/rest in the unrelenting, unabashed and unequivocal visions, resources and tools to dismantle and banish the colonisers' work buried within and around us. By meeting at this place, we are with survivorship, allyship, solidarity. Community-centred decolonial movement building. A whole entire world. 

Each other. 


This space is the active workings of liberatory practice. To dismantle the work of white supremacist colonial oppression that keep us trapped in patterns of unknowing, disembodied separation through the mechanics of racism, ableism, patriarchy, transphobia, queerphobia, class and other constructs of ‘divide and rule’ 


I say Fuck. That.

I say something else can be here.



  • Blossoms: newness, the ideas, outcomes? 


As a creative facilitator, I am gifted at holding expansive, detailed healing spaces. Whether that is Black community grief/love healing circles, organising decolonial movement-building artists retreats or developing interdisciplinary theatre with refugee survivors using non-hierarchical methodologies. Folk who come into my space/s and / or witness them, always say they feel held. Grounded. Expanded. Discover newness. Always say that something moved for them. That they were able to go to depths of themselves whilst feeling safe/seen and be with/ tell their own story. 

These creative tools that I practice are key to our individual and collective liberation. Where I position my creativity from lived experience, matters.


2020 reflections...

In this recent wave of anti-Black violence and the rise of collective trauma whilst navigating a global pandemic - I have prioritised my own healing work and the healing work of my communities. I sit with the understanding of how harm, violence, oppression shows itself in people's behaviour. By working with ancestral body-orientated somatic tools e.g. breath work, ancestral prayer/meditation, self-massage, intuitive movement/ dance, and integrative writing, I am creating the conditions for this understanding of harm to be acknowledged, listened to and faced as it currently is. To the grief, anger, Hurt that we carry. And have carried throughout generations. These embodied practices of care are necessary. This is the work. To visiblise and share the tools we need to return to ourselves. To give ourselves what we need.  And to see through this collective lens - that we are not alone… Drawing strength in community by growing compassion for ourselves, which allows us to move closer to one another in equity.  


This is tough work.

To know the depths of what is necessary 

This is the greatest gift I could ever behold. 

And from that place of resource,

I move

I create

I facilitate


Now? I am calling for the amplification, support and coordination of accessible space-making towards an unconditioned intimacy.


We need more creative pathways of intimacy, care and healing work to be integrated into our social justice practices. And it needs to be accessed, widely, because this is the work of harm intervention and restoration to bring about Liberation. We need this work in our families, education spaces, loveships. Everywhere. 


To close this portal, I’ll say this. By our return to intimacy we get closer… closer… closer. 

Can you feel it? A place through and beyond this pain. To where our freedom-work becomes how we are free. How we move, think, feel. 

Because therein lies our futures. A close return to an intimate knowledge of freedom.

It’s coming…

For It is ours.


Switzerland-based artist Nina Mühlemann and Berlin-based curator and dramaturg Noa Winter join London-based Alexandrina in (online) conversation. The trio comb through, rage, love, the difficulties of the pandemic bringing able-bodied populations temporarily into the needs of working as Disabled practitioners, the fears of being left behind, and the joyous need for more Disabled-led spaces. 




Alexandrina:   It's so nice to see you both … in these times. 


Nina: Yeah it's so good to see you both, I mean, Noa has actually been to visit me, like maybe a month ago now?... So we actually hung out in real life. 


Alexandrina:  You know these moments they are such blessings, no?


Nina: Yeah totally! 


Alexandrina: So where are you both now?


Nina: So I'm in Zurich, Switzerland.


Noa: I'm in Berlin, Germany. I moved to Berlin three days before the first lockdown to start a new job. So, I moved to an entirely new city during a pandemic. (laughs) 


Alexandrina: … I mean, that's bold! (laughs)... Have you managed to settle now? 


Noa: Yeah, it took quite some time but now it's a lot better… 


Alexandrina:  Yeah... I can’t believe it's August, I can’t process so much of what's been happening!


Nina: Are you in London? 


Alexandrina:  Yeah I'm in London, so yeah this UK is like… it’s a mess. 


Nina: Yeah! 


Alexandrina: I’m really glad that we are all able to be together now…So yeah! Jumping right in, where are you finding creativity at the moment? 


Nina: I mean that's quite a tricky one to start with! I find myself going... “Do I find creativity at the moment?”  But then, I mean, here in Switzerland things have been reopening actually and for me, it's not really an option not to work… so I had to… I had to do creative work, all of it kind of with the idea that it might be not happening, that things are postponed or might be postponed again. But still I had to motivate myself to do that… So, that’s been kind of a mind fuck! Yeah, I found I had to get over that kind of “it might not happen so it's all for nothing” and the “what is it for anyway?” and you know….“what is my life?!” (laughs). I think for me it’s been really, really good to have had a few moments where I could either get with other crip artists or Disabled artists together on zoom or even in real space… So there is an artist [called] Edwin Ramirez who I work with here in Zurich all the time, [we have a theatre project together called Criptonite]. So for me it's been super helpful to get into a space with Edwin, with all the COVID precautions, and get together to write and also just talk through things… because for me that is really usually where my creativity comes from… encounters with other people thinking through the same things as I do, but then obviously thinking them through differently because of other lived experiences. 


Alexandrina:  I’ve found out, or was reminded again, that I can like really over function in a crisis… and this thing you were speaking about when you have to work because of circumstance… you just have to bend… I just had to bend my brain so I could figure out how to work or how to be creative now. It's really nice what you said about creativity being born out of encounters, I guess, at the moment, in this isolation, creativity has been hard to foster… But at the same time there have been opportunities for it online. Suddenly, I was able to tune into more conversations, particularly international conversations than I would have done pre-COVID. But I think for me creativity was maybe in the smaller or the more, like, familial interactions, you know? Things like how to have a conversation with family where there is distance anyway, and now it's like we only have the online space...? I think maybe that's when I was most creative (laughs)… through delicate conversations, or something... .


Nina: Yeah definitely, like I have really rediscovered the phone… there is only so much time you can look at a screen, so I have had really good phone conversations with other Disabled artists who are also friends, there is something about just talking without necessarily staring into the screen.


Alexandrina: Noa, how about you?


Noa: I found that writing was always a very important companion for me, especially in times that were more difficult in my life. On the other hand, actually, because of my chronic illness, I have a quite mixed relationship with writing because I lost my ability to handwrite when I was 16 or something… and that was quite a challenge or sometimes still is. That is one of the few things I think about in relation to disability with the term ‘loss’. I actually found (not in the first week of the pandemic, especially with moving two times in the first months of the pandemic!) that I am now finding this joy and creativity in engaging with text and also producing text myself in a way instead of only reading. Also I had a moment during the pandemic when not only video calls felt too much, but also texts and articles felt too much because there were so many important texts coming out by Disabled people, by Black people, by people of colour, by feminists, by all these people who might have an experience of the pandemic, in a way I relate to or feel about because these people are also marginalised and share their experiences. But there were some moments when this became too much... 


Now it feels nice to be able to engage with text in calmer ways, especially as now I have my new bed in my new flat… Yeah... I'm sitting on it! (laughs)… it has these plants and very precious books behind me. 


I also relate to what’s been said, that creativity can also come from encounters... I am working on this project Making A Difference, with Disabled and D/deaf artists, and, because of the pandemic, we basically had to reschedule all our in-person workshops. The one thing we kept is that this month, we have two D/deaf artists in residency. My job is to help them organise the residencies and have these encounters. With one of the artists, I developed a book exchange. I am giving her books on art and disability studies and crip books and she's giving me some D/deaf books and we are talking, getting in conversations around these things and what it means for each of us to relate to these things, and that's also something which feels very good at the moment. It feels like a moment of actually finding creativity, even though it comes from a more organisational job. Just being in this relation with a D/deaf artist gives me sparks of creativity also for my own life. 



Alexandrina:  I think there is something in what you have both been saying around risk and speaking about loss, that sits really powerfully in the barriers towards me encountering self. How do we carry our experiences through?


Nina, what you were saying about things might be postponed relates to a sense of, “what's the point?” you know? It's like creativity's end point is really hard to navigate at the moment. Especially when you feel pressured, and I guess this pressure of being productive. So, in some ways, the version for us of creativity today is much more multidirectional and more permissive, then? 


Nina: I guess, because I haven't been doing artistic work for a very long time, I get that self-doubt especially when isolated and I get very bad imposter syndrome. I have needed to reach out to people and have exchanges with other artists, with other people I know; doing things for myself in isolation but then trying to find exchanges. Finding ways to do that has been really important to me. 


Alexandrina:  For many years, I have been trying to comb through what happens to my creative voice and feeling a kind of silencing, which I feel was either through internal sources (a kind of self-censoring, which was really happening because moments of intimacy were being so ruptured with violence), whether or not that was in performance spaces - sharing anything creative -  or having capitalist, ableist, racist patriarchy unable to hold me or see my voice.


I guess intimacy feels like a repairing of a connection mostly to self, but I like that we have also been speaking about encounters, as encounters are also so intrinsic to intimacy in some ways. Did you have anything you wanted to share around intimacy and process, particularly within disability politics? I am thinking back to our trip at No Limits symposium in Berlin and my experience of meeting you both face to face. The atmosphere that you both created allowed for intimacy, I think… in so many ways, and this was then able to be expressed in so many different ways; through how people were in space, the kinds of conversation, the temperature of the room. I got the sense that people were able to be… Whatever that meant. 


Noa: A lot of what you said resonated a lot with me …. there is this general thing when it's about artistic work where it can be hard to put anything out there in the world to be critiqued by other people and I think for people like us who are all marginalised in multiple ways in the world and especially in the arts sector, it can feel much more vulnerable and scary to put ourselves out there. Especially when we also speak out about discrimination, about spaces not being accessible, being sexist, being racist. I tried to be more vocal about all the extra work, all the emotional labour. 


Every time I get asked to participate in an arts event, mostly run by non-Disabled people, all the extra emotions and time I have to put in to fight for my own access and also maybe for other people. This is often dismissed, as if I can actually just say in one email, “Yes, I would like to be part of that panel”. But there are always these much, much bigger things going on. Also, when I try to talk about this to non-Disabled people, they just don't get it most of the time, they don't get that there is actually additional time and emotion needed to do all of these things. That brings me then to things like the symposium and that my goal in creating or making spaces where, if possible, at least for a short period of time, marginalised people, all of us, don't have to do this extra labour to exist in this space. 


I also think that if we are often having these very basic conversations because we have to make sure, for example, we can access the event. It's always the same basic conversation… then we are already drained when it comes to the real conversation about a topic. So I think we can sometimes get blocked from being creative or having intimate conversations because there is so much labour to do before… 


So yeah, that's maybe what I hope for... spaces that are created by Disabled and chronically ill people that other Disabled and chronically ill people can feel in a way safe together in these intimate conversations because they are not already too exhausted when they are entering the space.


Alexandrina: It's such a clear link to me… I mean obviously (I mean, it's so obvious!) but exhaustion gets in the way! (laughs) We know that through fatigue but I think maybe it's one of those experiences that I bracket off… Or, in this very internalised ableism way, try to keep it separate to what else might be asked of me in a space... or I expect fatigue, because it's such a familiar embodied space. But then spaces of work need to be held to account so they don't add additional layers when everyone is already dealing with so much…

How do we get to the encounters or the seeing involved in meeting each other and then pushing whatever we need to do forward…?


Nina: When things started to reopen here in Switzerland again, which was in June, I was invited to an artist lab of 20-30 artists in theatre to come together and think about what art or theatre making could look like now. For most of the time in that lab, I was the only Disabled artist. Some of the time, some other Disabled artists could join. To be the only person in a space with certain experiences is something I know so well but after lockdown, it really hit me, it really made me realise that I don't want this again. 


You know, rage and feelings of oppression can create powerful friendships or create something beautiful at times. But what kind of ties and friendships could we create if they didn't have to come out of rage but could come out of solidarity, love and a space where we actually feel comfortable? For me, it’s even more of a goal to create safe spaces or to make spaces possible in my work where people don’t have the experiences of being the only identity in a room, when I am not the only Disabled person, where Edwin is not the only Disabled Black person, where I am not the only queer etc …. To really think about that and the intimacy that these spaces can do, I think it's beautiful. With Covid these spaces are getting even rarer for us or are not possible for us when so many of us are high risk and in more danger than others…


Alexandrina: …I've been there too. It's like, you're so busy blocking. You're so busy on high alert for all the shit that's gonna potentially come up... that must really impact the kind of connections we can then forge, even when it's really urgent that those bonds are made, you know? Because that is part of overturning a lot of this stuff. You're right, it's like if we're all there, battling already, what can happen?


This kind of fire or battle is so generative, no? Fire scorches the earth, but it also makes it really fertile. But for those of us who can't always withstand fire, or for those of us who can but then need to come out again… or, if we want a different texture to resistance, or at least multiple ways of being and of bringing ourselves to what really matters to us, or our communities or our families, how [do we] do that?


I think that is what I experienced in the space that you both held at No Limits and I think that is what's so radical about well-held spaces; that high alert can just dial down and maybe we can meet each other differently. 


At some point, able-bodied people understanding more about the experiences of those with disabilities or chronic illnesses, gave me some hope that more people would have an embodied experience of compromise (to put it mildly). Now, I don't know where that's going because I think, again, our differences or marginalisation is exacerbated by [the stark difference between] those that can ‘return to normal’, and those of us who have either had our worlds end or collapse loads of times before... or our engagement with ‘normal’ has always been fraught or tense or difficult. 


Noa:  Yeah, we were worried in this situation. What I see in Germany is a sense of openness basically coming in waves. So first, it was the feminist queer wave of artists becoming more established in the German institutions. Then, there was a wave of BIPOC artists starting to get more established in the institutions and the Disabled and D/deaf artists getting a little foot in this institutions was just starting... and then the pandemic came. So most of them are not established yet. So they are the first to be cut out of a programme and it's now the question of, okay, which work will we show with our lessened capacities because of all the rules we have to follow when we open in September? And stuff like this. 


There are also these minor things that feel really big. For example, recently, the Senate in Berlin which makes all the rules for the cultural sector around how to deal with Coronavirus have released this paragraph about how institutions should tell chronically ill people who are not able to wear a mask due to their condition to not enter the buildings. They're not saying, “Okay, we need a concept of how to also include these people”, they are explicitly saying that it's wise for the institutions to just tell them not to come. And we don't know for how long that will last. And because access to theatre venues is far, far behind, for example, the standards in the UK, most theatres will read that and will not get that there is something wrong with it, because they have never really thought about access, or they have never heard about ableism or anything like that. So they will just not get that this could be something problematic. 



Alexandrina: I'm so sorry to hear that that has been official advice. That’s heartbreaking. I hadn't thought about it quite like this before but there's always this threat that with tides or with waves, they can retreat. That's the movement of a wave, it goes forward, and then it goes back. So it's like, how do we ensure that there's more of us on the shoreline? 


We see that when things contract into conservatism, particularly when moments of huge crisis, this calls for a big rethink, rather than a regression. Yeah. A regression seems to keep decisions very individualistic, rather than with a collective sense of responsibility. It goes back to what you were saying, Nina,...about being the only one... it's like, in 2020, no one should have to be the only one of anything. 


But policies like that mean that it will be the individual at the door of a venue, asking to come in, or not even being given the chance to ask? That's the blanket policy. That completely disregards people's circumstances and needs. It's criminal, isn't it? … 


Nina: Yeah… I mean, for me, I know I keep talking about rage, so maybe… 


Alexandrina: Yeah! Let's go there! We can go there! I'm always ready! (laughs)


Nina: For me, I'm starting to have a lot of rage about all these people who go like, “This has been so great, because I realised now how great it is to work from home!” or you know, even, “Oh, yeah, like how now every life is worth as much as other life.” And for me I'm like, really?? You realise that now? There's also the worry that, as you said, things come in waves and they now make the little step forwards but thengo away. What's given me the most rage is this idea that somehow this pandemic has made us all equal because we have all experienced the same thing. 


Alexandrina: (Laughs…)  “It's just affected everyone!” You're like, no.  Some people have been so protected. Some people have been on their yachts.  They've just been on their yachts! In the middle of the sea! 


Nina: I mean, you know, for me, I have a child, I don't live with my ex-partner. So, it's been like 30 hours of additional care labour. But I'm very lucky that I share some of that with my ex. So I can’t think about what it must have been like to those who are really doing this on their own. And so again, I feel like, you know, those who are already doing, for example, things like care labour, they have, additional work, because the state decided, ‘Well, no, childcare is the thing that can go’, there has not been something in its place. So I don't I don't feel this optimism that a lot of people feel about the situation. I don't feel like this has made us think about how we can keep Disabled people safe in art spaces. 



Alexandrina: If this is an awakening, like there's always going to be this dynamic of like, living through something and learning about something and like, so any awakening will require that other people watch other people wake up, you know, it can be so infuriating. I have compassion. And then I also have anger, because what were you thinking before? When, for example, I had to work from home? Or, I had to miss something? Or, you know, what were you thinking about me? And my peers, or you know, anyone else? 


What has really been exposed about these standards? And will people do the work of undoing those standards? Or will they go, “Well, it's okay, I'll go back to work”… 


Noa: It's like a co-opting of this experience, because I always tried to say to these people, “Sorry, but it's not the same when all people are working from home, when all people can't go to performances because venues are closed and it's just happening online.” Because I feel now, with the whole reopening, [it] will mean that there will be much less things being [live] streamed for example, and I'm also coming from a chronically ill perspective there. And I’m not saying that there is no need for all venues to get much more accessible in their spaces, there is this need, but, for example, being able to participate in a panel via zoom, or to see a stream of a performance or a conference, was a necessity that existed before.  I had lots of discussions before the pandemic, when, for example, I had to fight for an artist who could not travel, that it was important as well that this person should be part of our artistic conference and that it would not destroy the real discussion culture of all people being in a room.


... I feel like we are going back to this now that there might be, for example, some things that will get streamed, but not all things because we can now go, with all these rules, we can go back to performance spaces. So, basically, everybody around me will go back to see performances in September, and I will not. As that's just too unsafe... . And that feels,... yeah, that also for me feels like a new quality, or a special quality of crip time now... that I'm living in these two worlds… . Because I'm working in an arts world that is, in general, reopening, but I will feel very disconnected to that, to that experience, or to those conversations that are going on now in the institutions or in the sector, on how we can, how we can make performances that now have all these heightened rules and distance rules, because I'm not yet at that point when this is even basically part of my reality. I also see that many people, many artists, many venues are now so busy with thinking about all these rules of how to keep distance between performers and the audience and between different audience members that access will, in most cases, like any kind of access, just not be considered.


Alexandrina: There's also something in the UK about access being too expensive, like no one says it explicitly. But people are so firm with it, they're like “we have this amount allocated for access”. And I'm like, “how did you even come up with this figure?” Because everyone's access needs are so different. And, so, they're going to cost different things to the organisation. And, again, I think in terms of financial cuts, I feel then this pressure… I’m just very mindful of, like, everyone's facing cuts. 


I feel like I can show a bit of rage to institutions... I feel like I'm established enough to do that but then what happens to those that aren't, and don't even know that there's access support available, because, again, it's one of the things that institutions keep on the down low? Or they just do it in such a performative way. 


I've gotten into the habit of trying to send an actual access budget, the true cost of it. Because again, it's all very well and good saying you want to be more inclusive… 


I also don't know how many more conversations Disabled artists need to have with venues, and how much we can actually say, all the information is out there… either pay people well to consult with you, or just get on with the research, like, get on with your work! You know? Because I feel, like you were saying Noa, this kind of labour calls on us to disconnect from our realities. And what we've learned, actually, and the path that we're on, which is like really far ahead, in terms of understanding of disability more than many arts organisations. So, it's like, you know, do we take our own tide back? You know? Or can we just be supported to, like we were saying earlier, just be with our stuff?


Nina: Yeah, I mean, here in Switzerland, I think it's very similar in Germany, access is always seen as like, additional cost or like framed as additional costs and extra costs. I’m just like, “who the fuck decided that? Why is it not a basic cost? Why is it not an integral cost? Why is it always framed as this extra as additional that, you know, like, people are doing us a favour to do  on top, like, why is it ….Why is it not a basic thing so that as many people as possible can participate. Why is that? Like? Why?” Like, and I feel like it's also so difficult to then even talk to people who have this mindset that it's like an extra. I mean, I don't mind being a diva, but I'd like to be a diva for other reasons.



Alexandrina: (Laughs) Yeah, yeah, exactly. Yeah, exactly. Like, get my lilies! What was it Mariah Carey wants? Mariah Carey wants lilies in her dressing room. But at least she can get to the dressing room. It's like, we all need to be able to get to the dressing room first. And then we can ask for our lilies! 


Nina: And, I don't want to be the person who is like, “oh, now that you are here, can you maybe also explain to us how this works?” Or, also you know, like, “Oh, can I ask you about other people in wheelchairs? What kind of measurements do those wheelchairs have?”,   “Is your wheelchair standard wheelchair [size]?” Oh my god. Yeah, I'm so, so sick of that. And also, like you said, I'm starting to have a bit more attitude about dealing with that, which I simply also couldn't allow myself to have maybe a couple of years ago. And I also think it's very important that for us, for those of us who have that, to actually do that, and to say, you know, this is like a thing you should pay people for and I can give you contacts of people you could pay for this work, etc. So I think it's also very important that people who are a bit more well connected or established do speak up for those of us who don't have the profile, and who are just grateful for any kind of opportunity. 


Noa: I don't know that exactly. But I often also have the feeling that I have to do a lot of work myself because there are so few people in Germany that would speak up, for example, in a way about ableism and access that I trust them [to], like Disabled and non-Disabled people alike in a way.  And, of course, Disabled people, often for very different reasons because they are also in a marginalised position, so that they're basically dependent on not speaking out. I'm just doing the work myself because, otherwise, maybe only half of the things that are important for making this inclusive and anti-ableist would happen if I, for example, direct them to this non-Disabled organisation providing access consultancy or something like that. So, that also feels like a very specific pressure and in a way an isolating pressure.


Alexandrina: Sometimes I feel like I don't want to recommend a Black person I know who is amazing to do this because why would I [want to] be part of putting them in harm's way? Though I really also empathise with the sense of like, if we are not able to be in there, then yeah, like, things will get missed. But then, at the same time, maybe they have to get missed and maybe organisations will have to fall. Maybe they just fall? You know? Maybe they fall. And, again, like, we can, like redirect our rage and our love into more generative spaces. But, of course, it's like something about wanting, needing resources to think together about how that would come about... Because it is like an alternative structure. So it would need our time and our energy. And, at the moment, you know, all of that is very scattered. I think...



Nina: Yeah, I very much relate to what you said Noa, that feeling “well, If I don’t do this work, then this work just won't be done.” They're asking me, do you want to do this work? And if I say no, it won't be done. But also, I think that is like a form of gaslighting... of gaslighting being like, “Well, you know, we've actually asked a Disabled person”, or “we, you know, we've actually asked a Black person to do this kind of work for us and [they] said no”. In a way that is kind of like a manipulation, because if they're not prepared to do the work in the first place to provide a safe working environment for us, then like, even if they're not doing the work, they cannot ask us to do the work. 


Nina: Unless you pay me in a way to kind of justify the mental costs that it takes for me, if you're not prepared to do that, then no thanks. So, yeah, if we don't do that, then then this will keep on happening. You know, also just a kind of form of manipulation. Yeah. If we're participating in that, and allowing that to happen, then it will just happen. And so, again, I emphasise very much with people who have no other choice, who, you know, have to say “no, actually, you're not doing... you're not doing the work”. This is not how it should be.


Alexandrina: Yeah. Absolutely. I think this manipulation; I don't know how to always, um, catch it… Because, again, it happens in private, like email space, for example. It's such a private space where these negotiations happen. These extended and stretched out negotiations before we've [started], before... even consenting to doing a project. 


Noa: Talking about a very particular quality of crip time, I was also thinking about a very different quality of rage. You know, because it's got past the point of disbelief. It's kind of like, yeah… that these things don't happen. It's very moving. It's very moving. And I think that [there is] love that is within rage that can be so erased, or like, unseen, [it’s] also really, like, don't you get why we're doing this? We're not doing it to kick people out. Like that's such a colonial mind-set that, like, people having rights means that other people don't, you know? Yeah, it's so colonial. So it's like, that's not what we're trying to reproduce. This has caused more harm through centuries. Why would we want that model? We're asking you to like... think of other models. Can't you see that that's an act of love!? Even though we have to get angry, as well.

That's actually the rage we have. When we are reaching out to these ableist, capitalist, racist institutions [it] is actually already an act of love … I don't reach out because I'm just like, I can't even dream about you changing in a way that I would like to be part of your space. So, basically, the spaces I'm reaching out to with rage are often the spaces where I at least have a small hope about them changing in a way that I or other marginalised people could feel more welcome and could actually become a part of that space in the future. In showing our rage, or presenting our rage, it's basically a present to the institution that they can't see. They think it's a bomb or something, or it's a threat to them. But, with the rage we are already always delivering something of our knowledge in the form of suggestions [of] how they could change how or to whom they could reach out to, etc. That's already knowledge we work for and we are presenting that to them. 


Alexandrina: So well put… 


Nina: I think because disability is seen as such an individual problem. People are basically thinking that I'm speaking out for myself. And so... when you talk about love, for me, this is very much also the love I have for other Disabled people. I'm doing this out of love also for them, because I believe that we are all fucking great and the best, and these spaces are missing out if they don't have us. So ultimately, it’s love for the space, because I want them to have the fabulosity (sic) that is crip artists, that is Disabled artists. 


That mind set, you know, when people are like “of course, this could be a problem for you! We will put a ramp there!” But I'm like, no. It's not like that. Yes, put the ramp there. But also, this is not only me, I want all of us to come up here and to share this, to have this space and to be in that space. Or as many as possible.


Alexandrina: Yeah. I mean, it's another form of isolation, isn't it? Isolation really is capitalism's weapon, isn't it? Now we're in a time where the virus has tried to bite capitalism in the arse or something it's like, because it keeps people alone... it's like, if disability is one person's problem, then it can also be really dangerous if society slips into pathologising (sic) it or making it one person's problem; their ultimate fate.


Nina: Yeah, I think it's also like something that capitalism does, or also the patriarchy does, sometimes those two are very difficult to tell apart. They do that, “there's only a space for one wheelchair user on the bus”, or “there is space for one pushchair for mothers with children”, but there is space for hundreds of white non-Disabled men, like nobody's even counting them! And we have to infight, you know, between us over who gets the crumbs. I'm so tired of that. That's not the way. 


Alexandrina: Yeah, I really liked what you're saying there about entering spaces that you dream can be better. Because I have also been asking myself, “why am I returning to these spaces? Am I doing it out of nostalgia? Because I know what they culturally have stood for, or how they have served a wider community, even though they have also been incredibly discriminatory? They have done something. So am I relating to them in that way? Or am I believing they can do better?”


I hadn't quite thought that within rage are these states of dreaming... And I think, again, it's like, how do you conceive of a future when again, it's deemed to be a very individual experience? How might we be able to articulate this ‘more than me’ in terms of disability studies? Futures are cut short all the time for people who are marginalised. So how do we even repair our foretelling? How do we see our futures? 


Noa: Yeah... I think that's what Alison Kafer wrote about in Feminist, Queer, Crip, she's basically saying… nobody wants to imagine a future with Disabled people in it, with disability in it. And I think, “But that's what we are all doing”. But often non-disabled people and all these institutions can't comprehend... that we actually have dreams about a future where Disabled and D/deaf artists and other marginalised artists are actually thriving and creating these spaces and having opportunities... but also giving so much, but like Nina said, the cultural sector in this moment does not see what we actually have to give. They all always see this whole thing of including marginalised people as something they do for charity, but they don't see what we actually all bring. And, yeah, especially these dreams, actually, for the future.


Alexandrina: And I think it also keeps it informal, then, you know, someone keeps our dreams informal, or in other spaces rather than actual and concrete to make material changes.


I like that we've closed on dreams though. It feels like a nice space to like be in. In the UK there is a strange term being used called ‘inclusive recovery’ as part of Disabled arts advocacy. People speak about spotlighting Black and Brown artists, as part of this. And I am with the sense that it's not anti-racism. Just shining a spotlight is not repairing the structure. How can we talk about inclusive recovery in the arts and culture sector if we're not talking about universal basic income? Do you know what I mean? Like, if we're not taking it wider in terms of what is affecting the lives of Disabled people across sectors? How are we supporting Disabled [lives] with an inclusive recovery? And are those Disabled people included in this, or not? Is it specifically an arts and culture movement? And is that something, again, that, I want to be part of? It makes a kind of sense. In terms of policy and advocacy, it's always great to have like, a little buzzword, isn't it? But I can't quite dream it, it's one of the things I can't dream. You know?


Noa: Yeah. I think a lot of that resonated. I also saw that term a bit on social media. In Germany, with the UN Convention for the rights of people with disabilities they changed the word ‘integration’ to ‘inclusion’. But they didn't change what was actually meant by inclusion. So most people think of inclusion in Germany more in terms of integration. If I want some kind of recovery, then it would be an anti-ableist recovery, because that's thinking of the structural elements that we're speaking about. And an anti-ableist recovery would have to be an anti-capitalist and [an] anti-racist recovery. And real structural change.


Alexandrina: And again, like how to use the word recovery in disability spaces… you know?!


Noa/Nina: Yeah, yeah.


Alexandrina: Like, why are we using this language? Language [that] excludes experiences. It like we're assimilating. It feels very, like assimilating; doesn't it? 


Nina: Yeah, yeah. I was wondering, recovery of what? Because also, at the moment, we're talking a lot about recovery of the economy. So, for me, it also has like a touch of capitalism there which I also find very problematic.


Noa: Yeah, it feels for me like ‘recovery’ is always associated with going back to before...  to ‘the world we had before’ when talking from a Disabled and chronically ill perspective, I'm really aware about these words and what they mean. Do you want us to have [a] pill that [offers us] the recovery of going back to how it was before? Before was not great for marginalised people. And of course, it got harder for us during the pandemic. 


Coming back to our hopes and dreams: when my dreams and my hopes are not about getting back to the state we had a few months ago, but dreams about how the cultural sector or society in general should change. I still have these dreams. Maybe they even kind of intensified with rage, and also the sadness and the exhaustion that we build up during the pandemic. The pandemic has made the structural problems, and the marginalisation and discrimination even more visible. What we rage about, what exhausts us, is even. That’s, in a way, good, for the dreams to get bigger or get more radical.


Alexandrina: Was there anything else that you wanted to speak through?


Nina: I keep thinking about, why do we want to return to arts institutions? I think, for me, the tricky thing is that there are so few spaces where Disabled people can even gather, and a lot of the places where Disabled people come together are things like hospitals or care homes, you know, which are all really governed by a medical model perspective on disability or rehabilitation. I have some friends, some other artists, who live in care homes, and for them, the arts institutions have been a space where they could also have community in a different way, or they could express themselves in a different way. And because I have seen that I also have so many ideas of how arts institutions could be even better, how it could be more, how it could be more joyful, more loving, or whatever. 


Alexandrina: Technicolor!


Nina: Yeah, I'm really not prepared to let go of that because I think it's so important to create these spaces. Obviously, it's super problematic that we have to create them within institutions that are ableist, that are racist, that are not queer-friendly but at the same time... because I've seen it in small ways, I think there may be ways they can expand... 


Alexandrina: That [would] be wonderful… wouldn't it?  Because it could become a right to home, it's a right to several homes, you know? 


Nina/Noa: Yeah.


Alexandrina: And it's a right to the connection and encounter, [as] we were saying at the beginning. because capitalism has already co-opted home by calling/selling cafes like a home. Furniture shops are called ‘Home’! You know? So maybe we need to imbue the emotional resonance back into some of this language. 




Together We Cast Long Shadows: Part One


You tell me you do not enjoy kissing me;

The pink gem of us crumbles

–  collapse, 2017



I cannot stop dreams of you falling into my palms at night.

I cannot keep the missing of tender times; soft voices passing between close lips.

I do not know how to soothe the tender hurt we caused each other.


I cannot stay confused by the different versions of us.

I cannot keep sending my smiling representative* strutting (tumbling)

into social settings where you still scare me.


I will not silence myself because you move quicker,

Or once told me to ‘breathe’ through a slicing, piercing pain

Your hands caused.


I will not smile with warmth and be met with derision;

I do not wish to speak to you until we can both hear one another.

Can I ignore you and be waiting for that moment?


I do not wish you harm.

In trying to extract myself, I have held you longer

In my mind than I would have liked;

Fear is addictive.


I know at one point I wanted and was left wanting.

I know at one point I neither get over, nor get past you.

I know at several points, we shared in spirit breaking.


I wish to be in a series of impossible conversations,

Where we think with gentleness and read unsent letters.

I wish to find the birthday card I sent you which got lost in the post,

A few weeks before a full moon brought more, deep betrayal.


I wish to know if writing of these embers, these whispers, will

Make the healing real, or finish the trauma-fade?

My body rests, open and hopeful of either outcome.

I wish to finally fold this history into the red soil of grounded memory


– Warm-up, 19 May 2020


As the British government turned its arrogant eye towards the Covid-19 pandemic and the personal and professional lives of the population became forever altered, the invitation to write a letter as part of Somerset House’s season on care, provoked questions I shared with the curators about the desire of arts institutions to ask an artist to create, be creative and undertake labour at a time of such upheaval and tragedy. 


Relationships to the word ‘care’ are under sharp, renewed, necessary reflection. In particular, how do artists continue our careful work; work which tries to embed caring ethics within our communities and sector? How do artists respect, hold, step back or step into the ways their practices resonate with the word ‘care’, at a time when key workers, and artists who may also have employment as a key worker, are - as ever - dealing with the practical, tangible, reckonings of a word which has so recently become super trendy among mainstream arts programmes and the wellness industry?


I worry that in demanding a product, a funding application which asks for competition, a ‘new’ idea, institutions are failing to allow this multiplicity of being in relation to care. The stream of commissions out of crisis and the rush to digitalise ephemeral practices, grates against remote caring for vulnerable relatives, private grieving and wider collective grieving…we are each holding and orienting our bodies around these desires, duties and weepings. 


For this letter, I proposed that I share and reframe some of my existing writing from a collection called Embers. I wrote:


‘By reframing/making small edits to existing writing I can balance my own labour efforts/energies in a way that feels most fitting to me at this time of needing to care for myself and others, I can politically align with the problematics I see in art institutions commissioning out of this crisis, and I can still add a voice to the programme?’


Attending to and voicing multidirectional needs and desires is the reparative work I’d like to bring to the surface. The collection of writing I share here is from the years 2017/18 and has mostly been kept private or self-published on my blog.  Embers was written from a place of deep and dark murmurings and occupies a time of needing to sincerely turn inwards. It is both a past and a present landscape, roaming through my body and in that way connects to times of unknowing, ruptures, the consequences of a lack of care (personal, relational, institutional, systemic), and times of wondering whether life would spark again or fade/smother out.


The privacy needed for writing to be part of healing the long shadows of injustices is something I have both felt and punished myself for. While I can see now that I was quietly doing my work of repair, keeping words in notebooks felt too close to the silencing that shame encourages, the labour of keeping secrets, being complicit in the sector-wide camouflaging of abusive behaviours - interpersonal and systemic. I am a survivor** of sexual assault, rape and emotional abuse. These instances of violence thread through from childhood to adulthood. My body think-feels the physical silencing and disembodiment from lack of care while also needing the care to remodel relationships to self, intimacy, care, consent, justice and voice. These relationships operate and network between the personal, institutional and systemic.


The works from 2017/18 are not necessarily how I would write today and in that way, may be a bit embarrassing! Now, some feel a little direct or a little flat, but I hope they also provide glimmers of a stumbling body in process. I offer them as a way to value think-feeling over time and in some poems, healing over time from heartbreak. Again, heartbreaks residing in the overlapping spaces between the personal and political confrontations with the swarming mesh of marginalising systems of oppression.


by Alexandrina Hemsley, 2018

The world is burning up and we are burning out.

Our lights flicker as we interconnect with a sigh;

an extended exhale,

after a gasp that started decades ago.


Performance artists tie lilac, silk fabric to driftwood, marking where coastal land has washed out to sea.

Trees arc under the weight of infinite years. Forests are close to giving up.


The future of dance looks like midnight;

the inky nighttime where bodies suspend their desires and tensions,

or allow them to play out in dream-waters -

softer spaces.


The cusp of a new day lies for a moment next to the underbelly of history;

Sharing a bed.


Dance gets interesting again.

Dance acts now or never.

Dance assembles fleeting gestures and full-blown 3hr concerts

 - no interval -

kind of like back in the day…


There is an onstage downpour of glitter and ice.

A man sobs with relief as

the patriarchy untangles.


The collective sigh expels threads of resistance from open mouths


where bodies are supported in their restlessness

rather than trying to be tireless.

We - in our differences - loop and negotiate.


We - in our differences - observe the dust.


The never-ending continue and exposure finally stops.

Or rather, these nighttime worlds are full of

slippery slopes to the nowhere we won’t have seen yet


mountain wide strides to the everything we have always felt here.


Pastels are out.

Mindfulness is out.

Mess and continuously cracking walls are really in.


We pound it all out

and down the walls come;

patiently and explosively,

impossible i know.


Like cells finding simultaneous rest and rebirth,

down the walls come

and systems where bodies are assaulted by a gaze, abuses of power, a touch

or a word that whips,



We - in our differences - observe the dust.

A final spasm -

Our finale.


Take up the space

In awakening yourself to the politics

Black womxn have lived through but still

Find themselves minimised

- White cis-male ableist patriarchy as pathogen


Your arms held me together

While medication and loss inspired all of my endings

You must have been exhausted and terrified

And yet you pulled me closer

- night sweats


I recover and no longer fall into you

I want to lie with you in my wellness

So many pushes away

- a man’s heart turns to ice



* Glennon Doyle Melton, Love Warrior (2016)

** I have been thinking about the term ‘survivor’ and at times prefer the gentle movement of the word ‘survivorship’. I have also been wondering how the word ‘endurer’ might sit within this identity. The ways of giving language to lived experiences are, for me, perhaps fittingly and importantly, in flux. Without a sense that language is unstable, words can too frequently, collapse, imprison or fix experience.


Originally commissioned by Somerset House for their ‘A Letter From…’ series, published 01 Jun 2020 https://www.somersethouse.org.uk/blog/together-we-cast-long-shadows-letter-alexandrina-hemsley-part-I 


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