In Conversation with Roger Robinson

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Roger Robinson is a poet, screenwriter , musician amongst many other things. Over our phone conversation, I had the opportunity to talk race, diversity, art and gentrification amongst many other subjects with him.

K: What are the influences behind your creative work?

R: I started writing very personal work. My aim was to express personal experiences through writing, so my second book Suckle was about motherhood and my relationship with my mother and inspiring female figures in my life, and my third book was about migrations. At the moment I am interested in recorded poetry, about lives of urban black folk in London.

K: Did you ever feel like there was a lack of representation in your area of the profession as a young maker? How did you Overcome that?

R: Most definitely, I couldn’t find any mentors that represented my experiences. I was making work around the subject of black vulnerability and that was pretty much non-existence. Black invisibility is a major problem in the UK. It seems to be a bigger possibility in America. But At the moment because how communication is much easier, the younger generation have a better opportunity to build support networks, but not so much in my generation.

K: You have lived in both Brixton and were born in Hackney, two areas that are under the extreme risk of further gentrification, do you think there is a link between the independent artist’s success and gentrification?

R: Gentrification always starts with artists, once you have an abundance of artists starting, land developers will start supporting it.

K: That’s right we see more and more of these areas becoming part of the art scene, which then destroys the working class culture that doesn’t fit in, but what about the working class artists in these areas who want to make work? Where do they fit in?

R: That’s the evil Thing about gentrification is there is no humanity or concern for the  community that the capitalist system feeds off of. My new EP is actually very much related to this subject:

http://www.jahtari.org/music/JTRLP07.htm

K: On the subject of representation and diversity, as a musician, what are your feelings about #BritsSoWhite ( A hashtag that brought up the conversation around the Brit awards being very white centred, influenced by #OscarsSoWhite?

R: You’d never expect Britain to not be so white. This is information we already had.

K: yes Britain has been white since the beginning of the Brit Awards.

R: Everything is white in England, all media is white. The real discussion should be, how can I change that on a daily basis? Maybe by Recommending a diverse range of artists to young artists so they can see themselves reflected. Not complaining but action.

K: I also think having mentors and teachers that represent our experiences as marginalised groups, is very important and we can see how young artist thrive through that.

R: Yes that’s very true, for example, Warsan Shire ( The poet of the poems in Beyonce’s Lemonade)  attended some of my writing classes, and now her writing is found inspiring by many women everywhere.

More about Warsan Shire http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/28/arts/music/warsan-shire-who-gave-poetry-to-beyonces-lemonade.html?_r=0

We talked a lot about the root of problems such as lack of diversity, it is obviously racism which causes racial Bias:

K: Do you think Racism will ever end?

R: No, I think it’s all about moving forward. For example, I am biased in my gender and I am learning more and more about gender politics, we just need to keep moving forward and educate ourselves.


On the subject of the lack of diversity, we talked about Universities and the Curriculums.

K: The way in which curriculum is so whitewashed, you are made to feel that there is no place for you, and it seems like tutors don’t want to make an effort to expand their knowledge on a diverse group of artists.

R: Some tutors don’t know because they don’t want to know. They are just not invested in making the curriculum diverse. Sometimes you can recommend artists all you like to them but they will never make it to the curriculum. Curriculums tend to stay the same for too long.

Making changes in the university or on your course as an individual is too much responsibility. What can we do as students to change the courses we are on? Do we really have the power to diversify the curriculum? But more importantly, do we have the energy for all the responsibility?

The subject of gender politics came up quite a lot during our conversation.

K: You mentioned how sometimes when you’re meeting new people they assume you might not be straight! Do you think because of the stereotypes around creativity being associated with homosexuality, people might mistake your sexuality?

R: Probably,  “Letters from my father’s brother” in which I wrote about my uncle and his journey as a gay man, it gave the impression that I might be gay, which I think was a good challenging situation for the audience.

K: It might also be because we are yearning for representation, as soon as we see someone that we can relate to we want them to represent us on all levels.

R: Perhaps. I wrote a lot about black male vulnerability, which is a very rare subject,  and vulnerability is often associated with homosexuality, I look back at my book Suckle, and I think, what was I thinking writing this? But then again when I write I don’t hold back anything.

K: You now seem to be at a position of inspiring and influencing young performance makers, how does that feel?

R: I’m just glad that there’s a way for them, I’m super happy to be that link, I just really like art, and want to see more art and good art from multicultural people. I know that money is such a limiter, I started the hashtag #Artist Tweets which is advice for and by artists, I am working on creating a document of these tweets. It’s about building relationships.     

You can find out more about Roger’s work on his website:

http://rogerrobinsononline.com/