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The story behind the Migrant Artists Mutual Aid (MaMa) Choir

This autumn is the 5th anniversary of Migrant Artists Mutual Aid (MaMa), a cross national network of women, mothers, migrants, artists, academics and activists who work together to support members of our group who are seeking sanctuary, and campaign for justice in the migration system.

From the beginning they have produced events to raise legal fighting funds for women and children seeking sanctuary in the UK, and on Saturday 12 Nov they will be holding one of these performances at Bluecoat. 

Jennifer Verson, MaMa Founder Member and lead artist, has kindly produced the blog post below - with support from the other lead artists Pamela Mastrilli and Lorena Rivero de Beer - offering a glimpse into the ongoing projects that MaMa are involved with.

For more information about the event and to book tickets please visit the event page.


When did Mamas Choir come together and what was the reason behind forming?

 

In 2012 Migrant Artists Mutual Aid (MaMa) participated in Vday, an International movement to end violence against women and girls in which people around the world perform Eve Ensler’s play The Vagina Monologues to raise money for grassroots groups.  It was a great opportunity for a really diverse group of mothers, activists, musicians, live artists, actors, directors and academics to perform together. The cast was assembled through our amazing friendship networks and we came together to support a friend who needed a specialist solicitor for her asylum struggle to protect her daughter from female genital mutilation. By 2014 when we decided to perform it again, MaMa had started holding weekly drop in sessions which were regularly attended by 20 women from around the world most of whom were in the asylum process.

When we performed at the Capstone Theatre we wanted to represent the reality of the diversity that MaMa had become. At first it was difficult trying to inspire a somewhat reluctant group to get onstage and talk about vaginas.  The creative resolution that we came to was that everybody would be onstage and between monologues we would sing together.

Transmutable Voices actually evolved because the choir really did not want to get onstage and talk about vaginas again, and we realised that we had grown creatively into something much stronger and more complex.

What kind of repertoire do you perform?

We sing songs in Swahili, Urdu, Telugu, Bantu, and English.  Each song that we sing has a migration story behind it, whether it is a song one of our choir members remember from their childhood like Gora Ki Na Ka Lo Ki, or Abi Yo Yo – a social justice folk arrangement passed down through the traditions of the Unitarians. Our repertoire embodies the complexity of human migration: songs migrate; singers migrate; and migrants’ songs make strange lands home. When we sing together in this way, we embody a new aesthetics of citizenship.

What can people expect on the night? How does the event differ from a conventional convert and auction?

The theatre is imagined as an immersive environment.  There will have an exhibition of the photo performances co-created with Manuel Vason, an installation and listening station where audience members can sit quietly and read and listen to ‘found material’ from the MaMa Choir archives, including redacted home office decisions. 

The event will begin with a choir performance that includes some excerpts of the documentary in progress by Phil Cox (Director of Native Voice Films), as well as photo performances and audio recordings.  After the choir performance there will be a chance to look at the exhibition and installation. The event will culminate in an auction of some of the photo performances. 

I don’t believe it is ethical to do socially engaged work with women in the asylum process without making a commitment to changing a system that is biased against women seeking sanctuary from violence.  In the big picture this needs to be challenged on a democratic level, but while we are doing that, we are exploring possibilities that co-created contemporary art can be collected that would play a part in preserving one of the most vital constituent parts of British democracy!

What other projects are you involved with?

MaMa creative community is a fluid network that encompasses a wide range of artists, musicians and academics. Transmutable Voices in particular was devised and produced by Jennifer Verson, Pamela Mastrilli and Lorena Rivero de Beer in close collaboration with the full MaMa choir. This has been a great collaboration because it brought in different skills and approaches that helped to shape the project and give it multiple dimensions. Jen is the director of MaMa and as a director and performer and activist has developed a distinct voice and methodology to deal with the asylum system. Pamela is a photographer and social psychologist who previously worked in Padua as an expert in the use of photography for mediation and empowerment of communities. Lorena is a performance artist and psychotherapist that for the last 8 years has been developing multimedia projects exploring intercultural encounters with diverse groups in North Liverpool. 

MaMa are also developing a working relationship with REACT (Refugee Education Across Conflicts Trust and Native Voice films after discovering a significant overlap between the work of MaMa and REACT. 

We hope to find a way of developing this project into something more long term that enables migrant women in Liverpool to access support and develop skills in creating and producing contemporary art in community and professional settings.

MaMa uses the word migrant to refer to the human reality of movement.  We all migrate whether it is from North Liverpool to South Liverpool or England to Punjab. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Fourth Geneva Convention rose out of World War II, as the international community agreed a set of principles and protocols to prevent genocide from happening again.  MaMa’s work for migrant justice is not about if each individual refugee is worthy, vulnerable or is going to ‘make a contribution’, it is about the international community’s commitment to not let history repeat itself.

Artists and civil society at the moment have a very important role in both helping people heal from the toxicity of the discourse around migration and to offer to the public alternatives of a positive vision for British citizenship.  


 

Bluecoat is proud to support this event as a production partner. 

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