I like to think that strangers are just friends I haven’t met yet

In a widening field Journeys in Body and Imagination Miranda Tufnell and Chris Crickmay write that:

‘The stories of our lives include many places -places lived in, visited, remembered, heard of, and dreamed about. Some’ of these hold a special significance -the place we were born, the place we’ regard as home, places we love to go, places we avoid. Every place is many places -for you and for me each place will be different’

Thinking back I consider my high school experience. I was the new girl at school five times, in the five years of my senior education from 11 – 16. In each new place and school I began with a slightly different version of myself, reflecting and learning from each past experience to take forward into the next. I got better at it. On the first day of each new school year, I would stand at the front of a class of strangers and the teacher would introduce me as the new girl. This is Ria, she has moved from….lets all welcome her. I would look up at the thirty faces staring back at me and feel nervous and embarrassed and hope for a friendly smile or gesture, someone to sit next to, someone to have lunch with, a group who would invite me into their already established clic. It still kind of feels that way for me, when beginning in a new place, standing in the presence of strangers and being the new girl.

I would make good friends, and then I would leave again. I would try to stay in touch, but the momentum would fade as I kept moving and there became more and more people to keep in touch with which became difficult to keep up. When I finished school, I just kept moving. I didn’t really know where to go or where to begin so on impulse one day I jumped on a train, I had no money and no ticket but decided that I would just see where it took me and leave where ever I might end up to chance. I started in Rugby and I waited to be asked for my ticket, but no one came. I got off at Manchester, my city of birth, and although I had not lived there for a long time, it made sense to me to begin at the beginning and be in a place where I knew I could stay with family if the shit hit the fan. But on my way into the City I met strangers whom I told my story to and they invited me to Reading, so I went there for a while and met someone who invited me to Leeds, so I went there for a while. I carried on doing this until one day I became stranded in Tamworth late at night. It had been three months and my Mum was quite worried about me, so I went home.

Looking back at my naivety and the risks I took as a young woman travelling around the country, taking on the invitations of strangers, although I like to think that strangers are just friends I haven’t met yet, I can say I am much more cautious today. But there was a kind of knowing and a kind of trust and mutual agreement I could sense in people and a lure to the places they took me. I felt as though I was entrusting guardians guiding safe passages through my nomadic existence. I was on a quest, searching for a place to stay and to call my home. But at the time I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for.

Some twelve years later I initiated the Train project, a two week drift across the UK rail network by train, never leaving the stations and only stopping to change platform and direction. I slept, ate, washed, and performed on the trains and at stations for two solid weeks. I had come to realise that home had become a series of beginnings, where placelessness, in motion was my stability. Like birds flying off for the winter, their home is in between places, they have left but not yet arrived and for a while travelling is home.

My grandparents whom had migrated from Jamaica in the 60s both worked for British rail up to their retirement. There beginnings here were then invested in the connectivity of others through transportation, and it suddenly occurred to me that the trainline not only connected me to them, geographically, but to their labour and lives and our history. I was in search of more than just a place to stay, I was also looking for a way to make sense of my identity, my heritage, and my other homes.

Creative Migrations

AWingAPreyASong is a multi-platform project experimenting across artforms. But since ‘Art’ is not a career choice how is it that we become creatives?It begins with a journey of neccessity, a migration of the imagination..
I was born a cockney sparrow into London’s gutters. But from my pushchair I saw a vast colourful country inside the capitol’s free galleries and museums. This was my introduction to the world of the artist’s imagination and i accepted its truths without question as only the mind of a child can. I explored paintings as if I was looking through glazed frames into real places where the mind was free to soar and the possibilities of life seemed limitless. Unconsciously I knew ‘here’ I had arrived in a land of my own. To this day I have the sense of coming home when I pass through the gates of lofty exhibition spaces. A feeling I struggle to have anywhere else, except inside the pages of a book, in the theatre, or whilst playing music or dancing. It is this sense of creative belonging that I try to share with young people as I encourage them to recognise their own call of the wild, knowing that through writing and drama they too will surely discover new lands of the imaginagion to name home.

I Dream of Building a New Nest in a Place once Known as Home

It was in 1962 when my Grandparents Hubert and Matilda Douglas migrated from Jamaican to England. This was the year of Jamaica’s independence, just over fifty years ago now. I know my farther came over later in 1971, and the experience really unsettled him, he never quite felt at home in England. I often wonder if his being unsettled passed onto me as I move from place to place.  Being born in Manchester in the 80’s me and my cousins marked the first British born generation of our family. We would all gather at the family home, our Caribbean nest. I loved those times and Matilda’s cooking, always something on the hob and the scent of spices floating through the house. There were times of laughter, there were times of sorrow. When Matilda was diagnosed with dementia a few years ago, I hadn’t anticipated how quickly she would lose her memory and abilities, that she would need full time care and subsequently lose the family home.

Hubert had passed on some years before and it felt as though a whole part of my world was disappearing with Matilda. Her stories, her memories, her home, all fading away, no longer can I smell the scent of her cooking, nor hear her sweet voice recall the family’s history. Our nest is empty. We do not gather there anymore, there is no flock, no afternoon rum or dominos. Everyone has flown off in different directions, and with that I think about freedom. We all have a new kind of freedom, the kind in which I know is not the same for our family back home; we have a privileged freedom which comes with our documents and status to this place. It means we have a kind of independence that does not rely on the community of family. I wonder if this was the freedom that my Grandparents anticipated in their long and difficult journey to Britain and the many years of labour and struggles that followed. I wondered if they imagined that with freedom also came the scattered flock, dispersed and moving outwards in many directions. Things change and I embrace this, but as I glide with the freedom I was given, I smell the change of season in the air and look upon the many birds migrating for the winter. I never liked the cold here and sense the movement in my wings drawn to warmer lands and I dream of building a new nest in a place once known as home.

The migrations project offers me new perspectives on journeying through narratives, and new insights and ways of looking at migration. I personally feel blessed to live in a land with such a thriving migrant community, where I learn so much about the world around me through the people that I meet here. There is a kind of knowing when you are from a migrant family that is hard to explain, like an acknowledging of being a person of the world, carrying many stories within your body of places known and unknown. Stories are so important for all of us, to tell and to listen to. It is the core of our human connection, consciousness, communication and the way in which we relate to each other and our environments. Storytelling, illustration, song, poetry and rhythm are ancient ritual practices embed in all our routes and I am curious about how they have evolved through creative visions combining new technologies and media. I am very excited about the collaboration between the artists on this project and very much looking forward to the readings of A Wing A Prey A Song on 30th October 2013.

Matilda and MeImage from the telling of my story Matilda and Me

Independence Day for Nigeria 01/10/1960-2013

“In 2005 I was an artist in residence at Bristol’s Empire & Commonwealth Museum where i was granted access to a rare archive of super-8 footage taken 1st October 1960 on Nigeria’s actual 1st day of independence! Editing the footage and combining with a new poem and a soundtrack composed by Nathan Ng i made a ‘moving exhibit’  in which i reflected on the sad outbreak of the Biafra War only 7yrs later. This war set the precedent for all the later conflicts which involved western oil interests and ethnic cleansing and yet inspite of the deaths of over 1 million people, today it is barely remembered or acknowledged internationally…

‘Lest we forget’ the people who came before us who fought to preserve their place on this increasingly crowded and hungry earth, and the many forced migrations that survival has required of those that struggle to find for themselves a place to call home…

“London is a small bird with a really fast heartbeat”.

theres and exhibition on for a while it’s nice maybe go check it if you are around about.
They were doing questions and a lady started her sentence with …
Then when the Birds came for a Photo – shoot with me in Hoxton Square…
This Little guy Lev. 3years old. was so inquisitive as to what i was up to and naturally started to talk to the birds.
 Watcher Lev. 3yr old Bird Workshop1 Individual 43Cacca Bird Workshop1 Individual 18Bird Workshop1 Individual 31
Lev. means Heart, Lion and is a Russian and Arabic name.
His parent’s Ruth & Jack. who live in Haggesrston.


Thanking Mr Walcott by Maggie Harris

The man I live with is full with the love of birds
Although he no longer considers me one.
I have advised him to read Jean Rhys
The Wide Sargasso Sea

And re-acquaint himself with Mr Rochester
Who almost lost himself in the love
Of a Caribbean woman. We are a breed apart
And sometimes people can’t take too much of us

Like curry. It’s something seeing a young bird
Trilling in the wild, quite another to bring it inside
Give it a home in the front room. It’s another thing
To turn your room into a hide, watch the blue tits

And magpies vie for the titbits outside
And pin them down with your binoculars
And the desire to be able to fly. The thing
About flying is: you need wings

And to grow them you need to become
Another creature entirely. That’s when the whole
Business gets crazy.

At least we have Mr Walcott who has compared us
To swifts, we sleep on the wing
Exist on this astral plane: it’s called being a migrant.

Maggie Harris

Meditation by Maggie Harris

That bird singing outside that window
early bird, late bird
bird dreaming of fandango
late night soirees on some veranda

he is remembering St Lucia, the Antilles
a fisherwoman’s ballad of the sea
light is streaming through her net
net full of singing sardines
and a hot mouth conch thinking

he’s the business but who
later that day becomes lambi
for 60 EC dollars down by the waterfront
where the cruise ships slip easy into blue

Maggie Harris