“I am not your magical negress,” states the text, “I am my own light and I will be magical on my own account.” These are the words of Saoirse Anis – artist, curator and occasional Artificial Womb contributor – rendered large and definitive on poster boards in the courtyard of Jupiter Artland sculpture garden. The two wooden structures turn in towards each other, like a conversation or an open book, as various photographic images of Anis merge into each other – her gaze by turns ignoring and confronting the viewer.
This is our first stop on the Black Lives Matter mural trail, organised by Wezi Mhura, taking place across Edinburgh and Scotland this summer. While the trail has extended to other cities, the Edinburgh trail is the largest and most definitive. Entry to Jupiter Artland to see Anis’s work costs £9 per adult, but the rest of the pieces can be seen for free – with the majority within walking distance of the Grassmarket.
Furthest west, at Edinburgh Printmakers, the black text of Adebusola Ramsay’s colourful poster text reads, “Obfuscation Of Reality Upholds White Supremacy”. Ramsay recently had a show at Generator Projects, curated by Sekai Machache, entitled After Dune, where she created fabrics and abstract paintings inspired by African cloths. Here amongst the warm oranges and bright yellows there’s a suggestion of a cityscape, reflecting in on itself as the piece asks us to reflect in on ourselves. In an accompanying text she calls out the culpability of Scotland as a nation in perpetuating racial inequality, writing, “How long has the institution of, and in, Scotland been involved in the building, managing, protection, extraction, exploitation and profiteering inherent in global systems of anti-blackness and racial capitalism?… There will be reparations. To make a new world order with an ethics of care.”
At The Queen’s Hall on Clerk Street, Rudy Kanhye’s plain black posters omit the ‘v’ from the famous white supremist rebuttal to make it read, “all lies matter”. Text is heavily used throughout the mural trail, as poets, playwrights, and artists make their voices heard. At North Edinburgh Arts, Farah Nazley has contributed a mural that simply says “FULL STOP” in various skin tones on a giant, black full stop, while at City Arts Gallery Libby Odai references the NHS rainbow with raised fists and the words “We Are Essential“ and outside the Museum of Edinburgh on the Royal Mile poet Jeda Pearl writes, “Black was the first pigment used in art / You are charcoal soft / You are ancient stories handed down, whispers woven through spacetime / You are the first” in an Afro-futuristic love letter.
At the Museum of Childhood, artist Beatrice Ajayi has painted a young girl in a forest, inspired by her own experience growing up as a Black Scottish child. The girl wears a kilt and Pictish blue/green face paint, her afro hair in two puff bunches, hand outstretched to pet a passing deer. She carries a bow and a quiver of arrows on her back, like a goddess of the hunt, though her large eyes appear fearful. Her expression is similar to Ayo Adedeji’s character designs outside the Quaker Meeting House on the balcony overlooking Victoria Street. “I wanted to convey the fear and oppression black people still face today,” writes Adedeji. In the bright, anime-style posters that hang from the railings a woman with the word “human” on her arm stares solemnly at the viewer, a young man in chains looks at the butterfly perched on his hand, and a child cries. All three look defeated.
A little further up the road at The Hub are Jamal Yussuff-Adelakun’s powerful photographs of his young daughter Lola. She gazes into the camera, hands covering her face in prayer, holding her nose, or with a hand over her mouth – as she confronts George Floyd’s harrowing final words of “I can’t breathe” and considers their meaning. In the accompanying poster Yussuff-Adelakun explains how producing the photographs brought them closer together, writing, “I always promised myself that when I had children I would speak to them about the culture and heritage (including other cultures) and the reality of life, from birth; the things I know they won’t be taught in school. I check my tone when having these conversations – I don’t want to place my emotions on them. To me, it’s more about the knowledge, information and history. The day the news about George Floyd broke, I spoke to my daughter briefly about it. She understood the importance of what I just told her and we felt compelled to create our own response… never before have we used the medium of photography to talk about race injustice or racism. For me this was a nice found way to have that conversation with her.”
In the Grassmarket itself, Shona Hardie’s spray-painted scene shows people dancing, but warns, “You cannot enjoy the rhythm and ignore the blues”, while outside the Writers’ Museum Fadeke Kokumo Rocks hits hard with ‘Stolen From Africa’ – a poem about the trans-atlantic slave trade – and a more personal piece with the indispensable line, “I’m fed up telling you and spelling my name”.
Towards Lothian Road, playwright Annie George’s words line the outer walls of the Traverse Theatre, playing off Abz Mills’ bright, graffiti-style posters. Round the corner Neon Requiem has restored old photographs of his grandmother and great aunts, assigning them titles such as ‘the healer’ and ‘the teacher’. On Instagram he writes, “They are some of the most successful people in my family and they are black women – one of, if not the single most overlooked and underrated demographic in modern society. A midwife, a school teacher and a nurse. They nurtured, taught and healed others even when the world didn’t do the same for them. Never losing their pride, their poise or their power. Their lives don’t just matter. They’re essential. Here, they are celebrated.”
The artists here have also managed to retain their poise and power, despite the collective grief the Black community is experiencing and processing. The Edinburgh leg of the BLM Mural Trail feels like a request to be seen, the least we can do is honour that.
For up-to-date information about the BLM Mural Trail visit www. wezi.uk/blm-mural-trail and consider donating to their crowdfunder at http://www.gofundme.com/f/black-live-matter-mural-trail so they can commission even more murals across the country.
Words: Ana Hine
Images: Saoirse Anis, Adebusola Ramsay, Beatrice Ajayi, Ayo Adedeji, Jamal Yussuff-Adelakun, Shona Hardie, Abz Mills, Neon Requiem, Abz Mills.