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Performer Selina Thompson: 'Blackness is not a monolith'

Selina Thompson

“WE may not be an enslaved people anymore,” says Leeds-based performer Selina Thompson. “But throughout the world, people are living in the afterlife of both slavery and colonialism.”
It’s an issue that has been debated and written about many times, and it is the focus of Thompson’s new work, salt.

Using a mix of performance, film footage, captured and archived sound, salt. (deliberately stylised with a lower case ‘s’ and full stop at the end), explores grief, forgetting, home and colonialism by taking the audience on a journey to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean via an epic journey on a cargo ship.

salt. is not really about slavery and colonialism,” says Thompson, who will perform the show at Bristol’s annual contemporary theatre festival, Mayfest. “What it’s really about is the afterlife of those things, how it has shaped, and absolutely defined the world that we live in today – how it remains the foundation and justification for global inequality, gross injustice, and huge amounts of endless violence.”

No stranger to exploring race and identity in her work, Thompson’s previous projects include Dark & Lovely, an interactive performance that examined the politics of afro hair and black British female identity; and Race Cards, a project that invited the audience to answer one of 1,000 questions (devised by Thompson) concerning race.

From her own experience, how does Thompson define what it means to be black in the UK?
“There are as many ways to be black as there are black people,” she says. “My aim with all of my work exploring race has never been to make this question easier to answer, rather to reveal the absurdity of asking it in the first place.

“We live in a world that is constantly trying to make blackness a monolith. It is not.”

No surprise then that the artist isn’t keen on the term ‘black community’.

“Who is the black community? Who are you speaking to [when using that term]? Why does the term ‘black community’ fall so easily from people’s lips, but ‘white community’ sounds so absurd?”

A passionate artist and performer, Thompson says that developing salt. “was not a trip backwards in order to mourn, but a moving through the world; revisiting sites of resistance and agency, and thinking about how the confidence, passion, dedication and vision of those that went before me, can inspire me and my generation now.”

As such, it goes without saying that Thompson has no time for those who have argued that the black community – for want of a better term – should move on from slavery.

“Plenty of artists, commentators and thinkers from ‘the black community’ do not engage with or dwell on slavery,” she says. “If that is what you seek, turn to their work.

“Why do we need to move on? And when you say ‘move on’, what do you really mean? And why must your concerns silence me and my work?

“Who are you to decide what moving on does or does not look like? And move on to what? I will move on from it when it is truly over.”

She adds: “Sometimes the best way to move on from something is to confront it, to sit with it, to understand it – and to find yourself empowered in the knowledge you have.”
What was Thompson’s inspiration for salt?

“The world around me,” she says. “The news I was absorbing from around the world, the conversations I was having online and in person; the teachings of my mother and father and the rest of my family from birth, and movements of protest and resistance happening globally.

“The world is in turmoil, and I am a young woman trying to work out how I have freedom within it, and how I can use my life for it to be a better place. That thought process is what salt is about.”

salt. is performed as part of Mayfest at Arnolfini, 16 Narrow Quay, Bristol BS1 on May 12-13 and May 18-19. Visit www.mayfestbristol.co.uk

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