Centrala is a small gallery space and café located in Minerva works right on the edge of the Grand Union Canal in Digbeth. It is the only UK gallery space that specialises in the display of Central and Eastern European art outside of London. On this quiet afternoon there are a few tables positioned outside in the sun, overlooking the geese leisurely making their way across the water. It’s idyllic.
As I enter the café, I am greeted by a friendly barista who instructs me on how to approach the Ewa Partum Exhibition – they recommended starting upstairs with the display of Partum’s own works, and then coming back down to see the contemporary works of a younger generation of artists, who deal with similar themes and issues to Partum.
Heeding their advice, I go up to the first floor. The space is large and understated, there are no dividing walls, and you can observe all the artworks together when you first enter. Here I am greeted by a variety of screens displaying performance pieces by Partum made in the 1970s and 80s, along with a few installations.
Ewa Partum is a Polish conceptual performance artist and film maker who began producing public works at the tail end of the 1960s, she is known primarily as a feminist artist, and is considered a pioneer of Eastern European feminism. Her work is powerful and personal and confronts the viewer head on.
The introductory panel states that this exhibition “aims to familiarise viewers with the work of Ewa Partum, but also to reflect on art as a tool of resistance and protest.”
Immediately next to this is a screen playing a short documentary video made about Partum by Janina Motylińska. I must admit, before attending this exhibition I had never heard of Ewa Partum, so this is a useful introduction that gears me up to understand the rest of the work included in the exhibition.
Turning around I am immediately drawn to an old-fashioned TV on a plinth in the centre of the room, this piece is entitled Change. The image on the screen is Partum herself in 1979. The work is a fragmentary video of a performance work. Partum has a bold black line drawn down the centre of her face and she stares directly into the camera. Makeup is used to age one side of her as the other stays youthful.
Change is captivating to watch, and I find myself staring at it for quite some time.
Pulling away I wander over to the far corner of the room where the most recent work of Partum’s included in this exhibition sits. You Take Our Freedom to Decide, So We Will Take Your Power (2017/2022) is a recreation of a 2017 work created in support of the Black Protest in Poland.
The Black Protest was a huge intergenerational protest against a parliamentary bill that sought to criminalise abortion in all cases. The symbol of this protest came to be a black umbrella. In Centrala, real images of these protests accompany the artwork, highlighting the importance of the feminist struggle in Poland to an international audience.
This exhibition is an important and educational display which introduces the audience to a radical and pioneering feminist artist. It is both highly interesting and powerful, and as I head downstairs to get myself a coffee in Centrala’s wonderful café I am very excited to see how contemporary artists have responded to Partum’s work in the downstairs space.
Empower Poetry delivered a truly unique experience last Wednesday at Zumhof Biergarten, on Lower Trinity Street. One which provided a safe space for all attendees, and samosa for just a pound.
The upstairs of Zumhof is a bit of an enigma and I’m curious about how Empower Poetry is going to create intimacy in such a spacious venue. Curated, is the first word that comes to mind. Everything about the events set up is purposeful, the crew’s matching hoodies, the spotlights, the Instagram-inspired flower wall. The seats are cosy boasting several sofas and there’s chicken and dumplings with greens as well as free cupcakes.
Before the night kicks off, Empower’s Kohinoor states that the night’s purpose is to eliminate elitism and give power back to spoken word poetry. She’s piqued my interest already.
Keilah Rebekah, gives a brief trigger warning (a frequent occurrence throughout the night) before starting the evening off on a soulful note. Her dynamic vocals sing us through her childhood trauma. It’s great to have some creative variety from the offset, though I experience a sinking feeling and tears start streaming down my face as I helplessly reflect back Keilah’s vulnerability.
God, I wish she had a band behind her.
Next up is Destiny, who starts his first poem with ‘Dear future wife’ and all the fems in the room swoon. Destiny’s poetry is passionate and lustful, it’s humble and hilarious, and then it’s over because we swiftly move onto…
Ameena, who I adore instantly because she’s a loud-mouth brown girl, who talks about politics. ‘Why are we cancelling celebrities but not politicians?’ Ameena to-the-point flow questions. I’m clicking vigorously, while several ‘mhmms’ emanate from the crowd. Her clever rhymes and confidence definitely make Ameena one to watch.
Ade, must also get a mention. His use of an instrumental backing track matched to his spoken word is atmospheric, making him stand out from the other poets. Ade’s performance speaks on his blackness and spirituality, as he thanks his parents for their grace in raising him. It’s refreshing considering the parental focus so far has been, justifiably, negative.
Stephanie follows, and I indulge in a small sigh of relief as she appears on stage with a notebook in hand. Maybe it’s because I’m about to hit my quarter-life crisis, but there’s something about phones on stage that challenges my focus on the poetic ambiance.
Stephanie sultrily speaks of womanhood with its joys and fears. Her flow is relaxed and cool, but purposeful. Stephanie’s imagery is expressive, demanding more and sarcastically unpacking the notorious orgasm-gap. She pauses, letting the seriousness of her words land amongst the audience, as our giggles settle.
Stephanie knows that what she’s saying is the truth, her truth, our collective truth. So, she doesn’t need pace to prove a point.
There’s a 10 minute comfort break. So, I grab myself some water because the halal friendly vibes mean no one’s going to question why I’m not drinking, and take my seat again.
Straight on is Birmingham Review’s very own, Hassan, who passionately speaks about the confines of religion. Then, Irram, who speaks about curry for breakfast on Sunday mornings and the challenges she experiences as a hijabi who wears her culture and religion proudly on her face.
Next, we’re blessed by separate performances from organisers Ryan and Kohinoor, who are both clearly experienced poets. Then, introduced to Haroon and jodY from BYOB or Bring Your Own Bars, a London poetry collective who Ryan stresses have been hugely influential in his personal spoken-word journey.
jodY’s (BYOB) performance moves me in a different way, even though he’s the only poet on the night to ask for a restart.
jodY becomes his childhood self on stage as he performs his poetry without an aide, physically embodying all of the sadness and rage that his words express. Labelled a naughty child at school, jodY’s dyslexia suffocates him as he recounts choking up whilst being made to read at school. His flow and mannerisms perfectly synced, they are a scarily accurate representation of a child falling into crippling anxiety.
Too many children are made to feel stupid when they just need a different kind of support. I take the time to thank Jody for his performance before I head out. Wait, there’s one more spoken word artist left.
Jada, is a Birmingham based poet who is “Interested in the conversations we are not having and using poetry as a medium to provoke thinking about equality, empowerment and economics”.
In her spoken-word set, Jada’s flow is well-timed and cleverly critical, talking directly to the audience about Kim Kardashian beauty standards and how they impact modern day sex and intimacy. In her final poem Jada’s voice fortifies, calling out the horrific behaviour of our government throughout the pandemic, and sharing her personal loss at being unable to attend her uncle’s funeral.
Empower Poetry’s event leaves me simultaneously fulfilled and exhausted. There is a lot to process. It’s been real, looking forward to the next.
On Saturday 15th August, Birmingham born writer Ed King releases Snapshots of Mumbai – marking 75 years of India’s independence from British colonial rule.
Supporting the text are a series of original images from photographer Paul Ward, who recently won the ‘Fashion Photographer’ category at the British Photography Awards 2020.
Exploring the might and majesty of India, whilst following the roots of British imperialism, Snapshots of Mumbai is ‘a love letter’ to the modern day megacity – published by Review Publishing, owners of Birmingham Review.
The 204 page coffee table book is an anthology of essays and interviews from Mumbai – starting with ‘South City’, a walking tour through the history of this sprawling modern metropolis.
‘Places Behind’ goes deeper under the surface of prominent areas in Mumbai, such as Dhobi Ghats – the world’s largest outdoor laundromat, and Dharavi – Asia’s biggest slum where the film Slumdog Millionaire was set.
‘Modern Gods’ explores three major driving forces behind Mumbai, told through more extensive essays on religion, entertainment, and trade.
Whilst ‘Interviews’ sees Ed King talk directly to of people about their first-hand experiences of living and working in Mumbai.
Featured in the chapter are Saami – a street hawker who works and lives on the streets of Colaba, and Ashwin Merchant – Deputy Director of the Swiss Business Hub, who had to help Mumbai police identify bodies after the 2008 terror attacks, and Naresh Fernandes – a prominent Mumbai based journalist and writer, who was editor of Time Out Mumbai when interviewed.
‘The Gallery’, the final chapter in Snapshots of Mumbai, showcases a special series of twelve photographs from the project by Paul Ward – which have already been on display as standalone exhibitions at both Wolverhampton Art Gallery and Bilston Art Gallery.
Written for audiences who may or may not know the city, Snapshots of Mumbai is also ‘a reminder’ of Britain’s colonial legacy in South Asia – introducing today’s readers to the ‘forgotten history’ of the British Raj.
The first of five books that will follow Britain’s involvement with India – from the trade of the East India Company to the military occupation enforced by the British Crown – the Snapshots of… series will further cover Kochi, Chennai, Kolkata, and Kashmir.
Ed King was born in Birmingham, but has a longstanding relationship with India – having covered music events across the country for a number of UK titles.
Although it was his own ignorance of the history between the two countries that spurred him to write Snapshots of Mumbai.
“The term ‘Empire’ was never taught in my history lessons,” tells Ed King, “it was a left to fade behind tales of the League of Nations and other heroic feathers in caps.
“But the legacy of British India has shaped both countries, tied them together – and it’s becoming part of the world’s conveniently forgotten history.
“I wrote Snapshots of Mumbai because I wanted to learn about the relationship between Britain and India myself. Something I hoped to pass on in an engaging narrative surrounded by beautiful pictures – thank you Paul Ward. This book is not an accusation of ignorance; I want the book to be enjoyed. It is, quite simply, a love letter to the city – an exploration of Mumbai.
“But we should hold on to history and know how the world was formed by our grandparents, our great grandparent’s, and those that came before. It is a frightening and absurd chapter to forget. There’s still an audience for truth.”
Ed King interviewed about Snapshots of Mumbai – filmed at Oikos Café, Erdington
Snapshots of Mumbai is available in both hardback and paperback editions from Saturday, 15 August, release by Review Publishing.
That difficult second album was a little more challenging for REWS, aka the Belfast born London living rock songstress that is Shauna Tohill.
Not only did Tohill have her band spilt in two, following an absurdly strong debut album, but that pesky global pandemic severed the promo gigs for her follow up right down the middle as well – with concerns over coronavirus cutting short the aptly named Phoenix Tour in early March.
Now, on the red latter date that is 7th August 2020, finally something is going her way. REWS’s sophomore album, Warriors, has hit the shelves – or whatever lexicon describes our current online purchasing patterns. But sterilised, self-isolated, never before touched by human hands copies of this 11 track return to glory are now flinging themselves up and down the country. At least something can.
So, is it any good? Has the wait been worth it?
It is tempting to make similes about the name of the previously cancelled tour… but a mythical bird that is gloriously reborn from the flames and ash of its own demise is quite a fitting symbol. If I can find something in Greek mythology that symbolises a killer rock riff and soaring vocals, then the metaphor may be complete.
But to use the parlance of more modern times, Warriors is ‘a banger’ – start to finish, a wrecking ball of a rock album. Warriors is more mature, robust, and ultimately promising than its predecessor, showing a diversity and bravery in its approach that screams gold stars for Tohill and her team.
Opening with ‘Birdsong’, which is simply a corker of a tune, the album is peppered with chorus catching singles such as ‘Monster’ and ‘Heat on Fire’– standing tall as singles should.
Across the 11 tracks there are moments of wonderful restraint, held against Tohill’s powerful front person persona which has always made REWS such a confident and class act – the album’s sorta/kinda title track ‘Today We’re Warriors’ is a great line in the sand for this, alongside the furiously addictive ‘Razorblade’.
And whilst Tohill has not lost her flair for melody, it’s the song writing that really shines across Warriors – this is development, and in that crazy good way that makes you believe you’ll be listening to this artist in your dotage.
‘Move On’ is a cracking raw edge, ‘Play Dead’ shows a confident grasp on the new ensemble, and the denouement, ‘Bad Habits’, is a wonderful surprise and goodbye. Or rather, see you later – we hope. And to this writer, lyrically Warriors is unrecognisable from what came before. I just love it.
REWS have often been referred to as a ‘powerhouse’ – and this declaration to not go quietly into the night is another stamp of their increasing authority on modern rock. Which, honestly, it might not have been – with all the hurdles that have been put in front of it, you’d be forgiven for making a few stumbles along the way.
Warriors if the start of something, not the end – with bright red plumes to send it on its way. And if you’ve ever seen Shauna Tohill strut her funky stuff on stage, you know this is going to ABSOLUTELY SLAY live – once the doors are open and the drinks are flowing again. Socially distanced mosh pit anyone?
Like much of the entertainment industry, Birmingham Review has been ‘resting’ since the end of March – when we published our last article before all that pesky pandemic malarkey.
Although we were amongst the lucky ones; the venues were closing, the gigs weren’t happening, so a surprise holiday was about the darkest cloud on our horizon. And how many times had we cried out for the ‘life pause button’… Our hats are off and our hearts go out to all the artists and venues who have been much more adversely affected.
But there was one casualty in Camp Review, our gig with REWS – originally scheduled for 21st March at the O2 Institute 3, with local punk-rocksters [SKETCH] supporting – was postponed.
Until when, we didn’t know. No one knew. And there were a lot of questions before that one that people needed answering.
But on Friday 17th July, we can once again celebrate both of these bands – and whilst we desperately still want to see them share a stage, having the same single release day is a pretty good interim measure. So welcome back one and all – and however you’ve been hit by the coronaviris crisis, we wish you all the luck and love you need to make it through x
Someone once challenged me to name a band, any band, that continuously gets better as they get older – single after single, album after album, tour after tour… still grabbing your attention in the way they first did. Try it. It’s not as easy as it sounds. And you can’t say The Beatles.
REWS, however, are one of these bands – it’s why Birmingham Review has thrown so much page space their way. When we first saw them, they were awesome. The next time they came to Brum, they were even better. The time after that, they had taken another step up. And the story continues…
But the sword of album two was always hanging over their heads, alongside a line up change that was so unfortunately timed it could have derailed any ensemble. Old or new. Pyro was a ferocious debut, a real monster of an album, which is great… but how the f*ck are you going to pull another one of those out the bag???
Kicking off, and we use the adjective/noun deliberately, with a Shauna Tohill signature foot stomping guitar riff, ‘Today We’re Warriors’ is immediately another REWS banger (official term). Add it to the list, pour another shandy, and scream with the windows rolled down – REWS keep getting bigger and bolder.
But with maturity comes confidence, and REWS pull back on the reigns of their new single – with a pause, rim tap, and tempered vocals taking over after about 10secs in. You know that question about ‘still grabbing your attention’… yeah, well, this is how you do that.
But the ferocity we know and love REWS for is not too far behind, with the dance between IN YOUR FACE ROCK and a stripped-back-strut-inducing sound keeping this track on its toes from start to finish. If this is the taste of Warriors – REWS’s sophomore album, set for release on 7th August – then I might just have an answer to my original question…
“Today were warriors – the song exclaims exactly what the name suggests!” explains Shauna Tohill. “Every morning we wake up, we have a choice in what kind of journey we will lead. There are dark days where our path is unclear and blocked (some more than others) and that’s when I want to encourage everyone to keep fighting forward, to gather together in the spirit of music with those who are good in your life, to support and respect each other!
“TODAY, we got this, we will get through this and we will keep moving forward to see a better, positive, thriving and equal future for all women, men, children from all races and backgrounds. Today, we’re warriors!”
‘Today We’re Warriors’ – REWS
‘Today We’re Warriors’ by REWS is out from Friday 17th July, released via Marshall Records. REWS sophomore album, Warriors, is set for release on Friday 7th August – to pre-order a copy, visit www.transistormusic.com/rews
Infectious. If I was going to review the latest single from [SKETCH] in a word, that would be it. Give me two, and I’d stick ‘seriously’ in as a prefix.
But if this new track from Birmingham’s tartan clad pop punkrocksters doesn’t ignite-the-planet’s-musical-blue-touch-paper-and-shower-down-a-sparkling-rain-of-glorious-audio-technicolour-onto-the-ears-and-mosh-pits-across-the… perhaps two words is a good limit. Seriously infectious… yep, that about sums it up.
A love song, of sorts, ‘Do You Love Me Yet?’ is “more of an attitude” than a dedication – with [SKETCH] never shying away from using personal experience as inspiration (check out ‘My Girlfriend’s a Vampire’ and keep bear that in mind).
With immediate swagger, the tracks starts off suitably high octane – there is no escape, so you might as well surrender. Front man Foley’s vocals have just the right amount of confidence and grit, slicing through a punchy pop punk masterclass and infectious lyrics. There’s that word again. But seriously (and that one) if you can make it to the end of the chorus with singing along, whether you know the right words or not, then you’re probably dead inside.
“We like to call this an absolute stomper,” tells Matt Robinson – [SKETCH] percussionist, lyricist, general manager, and all round ambassador of the local music scene. “It’s boyish ego mixed with massive vulnerability, and it represents a wider audience… it’s a statement to them.”
Written by Robinson and Foley, ‘Do You Love Me Yet?’ was conceived “in the rain, in a shed” – then recorded by Gavin Monaghan at his Magic Garden Studios in Wolverhampton. But the contagious little number has already travelled a lot further than up the Birmingham Road, climbing to No10 on Banks Radio Australia Top 15 UK tracks chart.
But if December and the idea of standing in a room full of strangers seems too far away, you can always listen to ‘Do You Love Me Yet?’ a little closer to home…
‘Do You Love Me Yet?’ – [SKETCH]
‘Do You Love Me Yet?’ Warriors’ by [SKETCH] is out from Friday 17th July, released through the band’s social media and usual suspect online streaming platforms.For more on [SKETCH], visit www.sketchband.com
NOT NORMAL NOT OK is a campaign to encourage safety and respect within live music venues, and to combat the culture of sexual aggression in the music industry and beyond – from dance floor to dressing room, everyone deserves a safe place to play.
To learn more about the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign, click here. To sign up and join the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign, click here.