Celebrating 250 years of contribution to British society by poets of colour including Nikita Gill, Ben Okri and Benjamin Zephaniah
The Museum of Colour (MoC) is launching its highly-anticipated ‘My Words’ interactive exhibition on Wednesday 14 September 2022, at the Manchester Poetry Library. Co-curated by Museum of Colour founder Samenua Sesher, Melanie Abrahams of Renaissance One and Joy Francis from Words of Colour, the exhibition – thought to be the first of its kind – will showcase the who’s who of poetry created by poets from the global majority of the last two centuries.
The Museum of Colour CIC is the UK’s foremost arts and heritage digital enterprise focussed on the creative journeys of British people of colour. Its mission is to present a continually evolving online repository of once-forgotten wisdom.
Poets will range from modern day scribes such as John Agard, Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Valerie Bloom, who paved the way for resounding voices such as Benjamin Zephaniah, Patience Agbabi and Daljit Nagra, evolving through to contemporary stars that include Caleb Femi, Keisha Thompson and Nikita Gill.
In all, over thirty poets will feature in this one-of-a-kind, multimedia spectacle, a powerful collection of ancestral voices from across the diasporas. ‘My Words’ brings together multiple art forms and builds a historical collection that is accessible from anywhere in the world and environmentally respectful.
Accompanying the launch event are regional in-person workshops plus exclusively-recorded spoken word contributions and podcasts and a public competition via MoC’s digital platforms.
Of the exhibition, MoC Founder Samenua Sesher OBE commented, “Witnessing the resurgence of intolerance in the 21st century, compelled me to create the Museum of Colour. This exhibition is an opportunity to see the poets of colour who have influenced the culture we enjoy today and about whom we know too little. I believe that capturing history in a people centred way will give us a more honest and inclusive story of Britain.The exquisite and dynamic poetry that we hear today in many more places than ever before, has been transformed by these artists.”
A unique set of portraits of living poets have also been commissioned and will be taken by photographer Derrick Kakembo. Kakembo commented, “Working with these amazing poets has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The best part for me was learning about their personal stories, their upbringing, inspirations, relationship with Britain and the important journey poetry has played in their lives. It has truly been enlightening.
I’m honoured to have shared such a surreal space and moment with some of Britain’s most iconic, legendary and influential masters of literature and poetry. The stories will, for sure, stay with me forever.”
Poet Roger Robinson, winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize 2019 for ‘A Portable Paradise’, stated: “One of the problems of black cultures is that we have not had the resources, equipment, time or culture of archiving, so I’m really glad to be a part of My Words which goes back and collects lost knowledge and practitioners, and joins them with present movements.
I love that this project is led by black women, even more so black women who have decades in an industry that has always prevented their progress.
Black and brown poets have always been working below the radar of mainstream media, so this archiving is a necessary corrective to their unnecessary invisibility.”
Poet Shazea Quraishi keenly added, “I never thought I would be in a museum because I don’t have the profile. Museums are so central to my experience of the world and always have been , to understanding who we are and where we come from, the living beings we share the planet with, just understanding things beyond our particular lived experience. There are exhibitions which have changed how I think about things.’”
The ‘My Words’ preview will take place on Wednesday 14 September with the full exhibition available online from Thursday 15 September at museumofcolour.org.uk
- For press, filming and launch event requests please contact Toussaint Davy or Juanita Rosenior at TGRG at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
- Limited opportunities are available for press to film the recording of archival material at Manchester Poetry Library on Tuesday 13 September 2022 by request.
- Image of Zambian poet Kayo Chingonyi taken by Derrick Kakembo.
- The MoC lead is Samenua Sesher OBE. She is the founder and director of Museum of Colour and started her career in theatre, and has worked in television drama and community arts. Sesher was a 2008/09 Clore Fellow and is currently on the faculty for Oxford Cultural Leaders and an Associate of People’s Palace Projects. She is available for interview.
- Melanie Abrahams has been curating and producing literature and spoken word for over 20 years, both independently and as Director of arts organisation Renaissance One. She received an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Society of Literature in 2020. Melanie was a curator and consultant for the recently unveiled Windrush Monument at Waterloo station. She is available for interview.
- Joy Francis is co-founder and executive director of Words of Colour, which has developed, produced and promoted writers of colour since 2006. A producer, director, writer and curator, the former journalist is a longstanding activist for racial equality and cultural inclusion in the media, publishing and creative industries. She was a Judge for the British Book Awards 2022 and was elected as a Royal Society of Literature Honorary Fellow 2022. She is available for interview.
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- The ‘My Words’ exhibition will be online from September 15, 2022, with an in-person preview launch with live music performances taking place the evening before on September 14, 2022, at the Manchester Poetry Library and Museum, M15 6BG. URL: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/my-words-the-launch-tickets-396126905237
- About Manchester Poetry Library
Manchester Poetry Library at Manchester Metropolitan University offers a collection of contemporary poetry, from books to recordings, in multiple languages. Manchester Poetry Library is the North West’s first public poetry library, based in the heart of Manchester, a UNESCO City of Literature. Building on the University’s proud literary heritage, and its Manchester Writing School that is home to multiple award-winning poets and writers, the Manchester Poetry Library aims to be a centre for creative and academic excellence in poetry research. Through the co-curation of its collection, and year-round public programme, its aim is to create a place where language is celebrated in all its diversity, and where the next generation of writers and readers are made. mmu.ac.uk/poetrylibrary Twitter @McrPoetryLib Instragram @mcrpoetrylibrary
- Project funders to date include Paul Hamlyn, National Lottery Heritage Fund, Foyle Foundation, Arts Council England.
- Collaborators include Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) Manchester Poetry Library, Science Museum, Sadlers Wells, Renaissance One, Words of Colour, Bodleian Library, Pitt Rivers Museum.