Friday, 14 October 2016

Jack Quashie

Jack Quashie, Trafalgar Square. Photo, Paul Jones

It is with great concern and grief that we hear Jack Quashie will soon be deported from the UK. We have never written a blog about one person before. But then we have never had a member of our group, a person who has made such a positive impact on so many others, receive a date for his deportion from the UK.

I come from near Ghana. The reason people leave is because they don't have any choice. It is better to die trying to get away than being shot because you didn't go. I walked for 10 days across desert. Went up to Tunis, then across to Italy. I made my way across Europe. Then I got a boat across to Britain, a little pump-up boat with an outboard motor. I took me two years, a long walk. A lot of people who made this sort of journey did not survive.

When you are walking on sand, you cannot lie down and go to sleep. Even if you are tired, you cannot sleep. The sand moves like waves on water, if you lie down and sleep it will bury you. When people died we did not dig graves for them, we left them on the sand and it covered them. Sometimes the skeletons come back up again. And then they sink under the sand once more. I try not to think about it.

Jack Quashie, 2016

It has been our honour to meet Jack and get to know him over the last year. We worked with Jack during arts and health projects at The Booth Centre and Jack has been a vital member of two projects designed to raise awareness of the issues faced by homeless people.

For The Homeless Library project,  he used Left Luggage to store his rucksack in Manchester, got on a train and spoke at The Houses of Parliament, addressing the Under Secretary of State Marcus Jones and Ann Coffey MP, discussing the emotional impacts of being a refugee and of homelessness. He returned to Manchester, collected his rucksack and slept rough that night.

Jack stitching a page for the Homeless Library

To a hushed audience he read his personal testimony to an audience at The Southbank.

For our international project Sing me to Sleep, currently on exhibition in Vilnius at the National Gallery of Lithuania, Jack contributed hugely to a group quilt, designing, stitching more than any other person; he was focal point in soundtrack that was made. It was his drum playing that rang through the courtyard at the National Gallery of Lithuania, in Vilnius.

At all times Jack has been an articulate and sympathetic ambassador for people who are refugees and who are dealing with homelessness. We believe that his deportation is a serious loss to those under-represented communities.

The doctor tells me there is nothing to worry about, but your life changes in every way after a war. You are refugee. You become a flying bird with nowhere to go. Because I have left my home  country, I am still homeless. Even though I’ve got a flat I am still homeless.

With art I have a voice, now I can make things. Doing the art, giving me a chance to speak, you make me feel important. Going to the Houses of Parliament and speaking I felt very good. It’s what I’ve got now, it’s all I own.

Jack always has shown a positive, happy, humble, outlook during the days we spent together; he was consistently helpful, considerate and tolerant in sometimes stressful situations.

Jack Quashie is a gentleman, we wish you well.

Jack Quashie, Photo Paul Jones. 

Friday, 7 October 2016

The day we handed over

Lawrence at the Outside In/Inside Out festival, Glasgow

"Two years ago you wouldn't have got me in a room like this. I would've run a mile." Danny

We've taken The Homeless Library to various public places with great pomp attached, the Houses of Parliament come to mind. Always the readings by people who've experienced homelessness are the crucial moment, after Lois and I set the scene. But this was the deepest we've dived, the most fragile  that we've allowed ourselves to be in public. Both Lawrence and Lois wept as they read. I caught Danny's eye at one point and it was as if I was looking into a sea of sadness. And yet we made it through. And it was Lawrence who threw the lifebelt and pulled us out.

It was the day that the balance changed. The makers of The Homeless Library are now leading the discussion. Not only did their voices come through loud and clear, so did their insight. They knew homelessness, the support services, the poem making. And they shared this expertise, without sentiment, but with kindness and generosity. It wasn't just the mechanics of the poems, it was the heart of the poems that they took us to. And yet they kept the ambiguity: "I wrote this and then I read it again and I thought I don't know what it means but I keep coming back to it." (Lawrence)

Lawrence at the Outside In/Inside Out festival

What was it about today? When we started to talk Lois and I had set the agenda. By the end of the discussion, it was led by Danny, Lawrence and Christine. We couldn't possibly speak for them and frame their experience. In fact, it suddenly overwhelmed us all.

It was Lawrence who saved us. He was the parent in the end. Not only was he looking after us, the panel of five, he wanted to make sure everyone in that room left with hope. It was an act of absolute generosity. This was not a politicians' answer, it was not a dry answer. He was trying to see people's faces, read their eyes, and to answer their need.

Danny has been the ballast of many of our sessions. His kindness and calmness settled many people down so that they could write or make art with us. I cannot put into words the contribution he has made to this strange word construction The Homeless Library. He has also written pieces of work that were ruthless in their honesty and which have touched many people. Today he came to a university and spoke to a room of professors and PhDs and artists and by the end of it he was giving people advice on how to write.

Phil and Danny at the Outside In/Inside Out festival

Christine was with us both as a support worker and as a person who has experienced homelessness and found a path through. She never pushed herself to the forefront and wasquietly looked after the situation, with a sense of humour and a sparkle. She is on the door at the Booth Centre and manages situations every day that are the most chaotic (and potentially violent) that can be imagined. Today she read in public for the first time. She read beautifully, and instead of being the professional look after-er, she was the artist.

Christine, at the Outside In/Inside Out festival

Afterwards, one of the festival organisers, took us to one side: "Hearing these people speak and seeing this work affected me. And it did the same to several other people I've spoken to. It made me think about how we do what we do, I'm thinking about my practice, how I make poetry. It's also made me think about what is happening in this country right now." (Professor Jeffrey Robinson)

Part of the audience for The Homeless Library at at the Outside In/Inside Out festival.

The Homeless Library was presented at the Outside In/Inside Out festival of outsider poetry at Glasgow University. We were delighted that Jerry and Diane Rothenberg and John Bloomberg-Rissman were able to hear the presentations by Danny, Lawrence and Christine and talk with them. The Homeless Library is an offshoot of our project TWEET FROM ENGELS, which was included in the anthology of outsider poetry Barbaric Vast & Wild, edited by Jerry Rothenberg and John Bloomberg-Rissman, the festival is centred on a celebration of that book. We would like to thank the organisers Jeffrey Robinson,  Nuala Watt, Colin Herd and Nicky Melville for their warmth and hospitality.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Outside-in / Inside- out

This coming Thursday arthur+martha and a group of people from The Booth Centre, (A day centre offering support, advice and activities for homeless people in Manchester) will be presenting an exhibition of our project The Homeless Library to 'Outside-in / Inside- out' a festival of outside and subterranean poetry in Glasgow.

All events associated with the festival are free and open to the public. Some have limited capacity are are expected to book up quickly. See for details.

The Homeless Library is a project devised by arthur+martha to document the heritage of homelessness using interviews, artworks, poetry.  A  free ebook The Homeless Library can be downloaded here.

The Homeless Library project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.