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31 January 2018

A Cup of Tea with Khadijah

We sat down for a cup of tea and a chat with our Creative Associate Artist, poet and theatre-maker Khadijah Ibrahiim, to discuss creativity, her inspirations and heritage, and our upcoming project, ‘Windrush: an Influential Force on British Culture’.

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First question on the agenda was ‘What does being creative mean to you?’ For Khadijah, it means “…using your imagination and allowing it to be free, to flow, to come up with ideas that one would expect to do if one was dreaming about things…reimagining the world in a different way.”

Khadijah is the Artistic Director of Leeds Young Authors, an organisation which aims to help young people develop their artistic abilities as confident writers and live performers. Although the group was initially planned to run for only a year, it has now been growing for over 15 years, and has been central to Khadijah’s life for a long time: “To watch the young people involved grow into independent artists and go on to create theatre, be published, be radio producers, be journalists is amazing. I’m very, very proud of that aspect of my creativity in terms of engaging communities and young people.”

In 2014, Khadijah published her full collection ‘Another Crossing’ through Peepal Tree Press and went on to create a one woman show based on this collection which was performed at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. For Khadijah, the collection is “a culmination of personal stories, family stories, community stories…that otherwise wouldn’t be told.” She was shortlisted for the Jerwood Poetry Prize last year – a “very proud moment”. Despite these many successes, she still believes that “you’re only as good as your last work”.

Khadijah Ibrahim
Khadijah Ibrahiim

As a GCF Creative Associate Artist, Khadijah works very closely with the Foundation on many projects and helps us continue the legacy of Geraldine, who’s work Khadijah really admired: “She was not only an amazing composer and director, she was an amazing mentor and advisor, especially in the work that I was doing in my early days with Leeds Young Authors. She saw something in me that she would always encourage. It was maybe just a passing word from her, but these were very strong words that made you feel quite focussed…Her legacy, to be part of that legacy, to be working to keep that legacy alive – I feel really proud about that.”

I asked Khadijah what guidance she would give to young creatives who want to pursue a career in the arts. Her advice?

Never stop, always keep going…Keep on progressing. Keep on believing in yourself. The best advisor is yourself. The best motivation comes from self-motivation…I think creativity is a very spiritual thing – it’s given to you through some spiritual realm, that’s what I believe. You cannot force it…My advice is keep on going, keep on believing in yourself, surround yourself with creative people and creative energy that can inspire you, be inspired by other people’s work, be an inspiration to other people, and the rest will come.

Khadijah is a Project Producer on our Heritage Lottery funded performance project, ‘Windrush: an Influential Force on British Culture’. June 2018 marks the 70th anniversary of Windrush. Bringing the first wave of Caribbean migrants to Britain in 1948, this momentous historical event marked the beginning of the mass immigration movement in the UK that resulted in an estimated 172,000 West Indian born people living in the UK by 1961; the ‘Windrush Generation’. To celebrate, we are producing a live presentation that will be performed by both young people and adults from across Leeds on 22nd and 23rd June 2018. I asked Khadijah about her personal connection to this story:

My connection to the story of Windrush is through my Jamaican heritage. First and foremost though my ancestral line, my grandparents who came to England. They were part on the Windrush movement…My grandparents arrived in the 50s and my parents arrived in the early 60s. So they’re part of that Windrush Generation…Everything I have created so far has talked about that migration, that settlement, that sense of longing, because as an African-Caribbean woman born in Britain, there’s always a sense of exploring identity and belonging, and so the Windrush story is my story.

Finally, Khadijah talked me through her ideas for our celebratory Windrush performances in June this year: “The idea is not to just tell the story straightforward because its been told many times, not to say it couldn’t be told like that as its been told before because I’m aware, as much as I know the story, a lot of don’t know the story so its still quite new to them. And it’s quite exciting working with the young people in presenting that story to them and how they visualise that.”

Click here to listen to Khadijah’s interview in full and discover more about her incredible heritage and vision for the Windrush Project. More info on our Windrush performances on 22nd and 23rd June will be released very soon. Make sure you keep your eyes peeled on our website and social media pages!

19 January 2018

Our 2017 – What a Year!

2017 was a big year for us at GCF and, to celebrate, we’ve created this very handy infographic that shows you all the amazing things we got up to. A massive thank you to everyone who helped make our projects, events, partnerships and goals a reality – we couldn’t have done it without your support. Here’s to another action-packed and creative year! To view the infographic full size, click here.

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Please explore our Projects Page to find out more about what we’ve got planned in the coming months.

9 November 2017

Call for Young Creatives to take part in new performance project

Looking for a new opportunity to develop your creative skills and perform to a wide audience? The Geraldine Connor Foundation is currently searching for young creatives aged 14+ and based in Leeds who are interested in music, spoken word, dance or film to create and take part in a production celebrating the 70th Anniversary of Windrush.

What was Windrush? The ship called ‘Empire Windrush’ brought the first wave of Caribbean migrants to Britain in 1948, marking the beginning of the mass immigration movement in the UK that resulted in an estimated 172,000 West Indian born people living in the UK by 1961. To many, they are known as the Windrush Generation. Our brand-new production that you will help create will explore this momentous historical event and its impact in Britain today.

Weekly workshop sessions will be on Monday’s 6-8pm at the Mandela Centre in Leeds, and lead to performances in June 2018. We are looking for passionate and creative young people interested in exploring their cultural heritage to sign up for this exciting new project, which will also allow you to achieve the Arts Award at Bronze or Silver level. Please note, these workshops are free to attend and, although this opportunity is unpaid, it is a fantastic chance to develop your creative skills and work alongside professional artists.

Want to find out more and express your interest? Please get in touch! Contact the Geraldine Connor Foundation by email at selina@gcfoundation.co.uk or phone us on 0113 243 1166. For more details on this exciting project, click here.

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1 November 2017

Ashley Karrell on Geraldine’s ‘unique spirit’

Leeds based film-maker, Ashley Karrell, chatted to us about Geraldine Connor ahead of the screening of his film, ‘Carnival Messiah The Film & Documentary’, which is showing at Leeds Town Hall on Tuesday 7th November as part of the 31st Leeds International Film Festival…

Geraldine Connor was a professional mentor and personal friend. It was an honour to create the film and documentary that showcases all the fantastic aspects of her epic theatrical production of Carnival Messiah. This incredible musical spectacle shows some amazing carnival costumery, magnetic voices, and a creative cast of over 150 drawn from the local Leeds community and celebrated international artists.

 

The film marks the tenth anniversary of the original production, staged at Harewood House as part of the Trust’s celebrations of the bicentenary of the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. A decade on, Carnival Messiah has taken its rightful place as a cultural landmark in Yorkshire’s arts scene and remains relevant today. Geraldine’s vision of empowerment and inclusivity through the arts lives on not only through the film, but also through the work of the many artists she mentored and inspired. It has been a privilege to ensure that her unique spirit and phenomenal impact are cherished forever.

Feel inspired too? Then come join us at Leeds Town Hall on Tuesday 7th November at 8.15pm for Carnival Messiah the Film & Documentary. More details here.

Carnival Messiah, Ashley Karrell, film, Geraldine Connor
Ashley Karrell at the premiere of ‘Carnival Messiah the Film’ at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Sept 2017

14 September 2017

Carnival Messiah: Proof That This World Needs Art

The wonderful Anna, who has been working at GCF as part of the Undergraduate Research and Leadership Scholarship at the University of Leeds, reflects on the lasting legacy of Geraldine Connor’s magnum opus, Carnival Messiah

When I applied to do a summer research project on ‘The Impact and Legacy of Carnival Messiah’, I never imagined where it would take me. From being mic’d up to interview world class opera singers, to drinking tea with the Earl of Harewood, to spending an evening freestyling to Caribbean dancehall music with a group of strangers, I have been awed and inspired at every turn. After six weeks work I can safely say there is no simple way to describe my exploration of Carnival Messiah, but I’ll do my best.

Anna May at the Carnival Messiah the Film screening
Anna May at the Carnival Messiah the Film screening

Carnival Messiah was the pinnacle of Geraldine Connor’s artistic career, both an exceptional piece of theatre and a politically charged platform for social and personal transformation. With its beginnings as a student project in the 90s at Bretton Hall and developing into a huge scale professional production with performances in Leeds, London, and Trinidad, it has now been seen by over 750,000 people across the globe. Geraldine herself described it as a ‘spectacular musical showcase, featuring a multi-ethnic multitude of singers, musicians, masqueraders, dancers and actors […] the excitement, music and colour of Carnival blended with Handel’s most inspiring and exhilarating melodies’. The classical Christian story presented in an explosion of global art forms sounds bizarre and chaotic, and in many ways it was, but it worked.

Carnival Messiah 2017 1 - Photograph by Diane Howse
Carnival Messiah, Photograph by Diane Howse

Carnival Messiah was a dazzling spectacle that received standing ovations from audiences night after night, but it was also deeply enlightening and transformative. The production was embedded with history and politics; it aimed to educate the diverse community of Leeds about its rich mutli-cultural heritage, with a focus on Caribbean culture, looking at themes such as the migrant experience, the meaning of Carnival, and the history of the slave trade. Geraldine was concerned by the harmful divisions in our society, by the way cultural difference was being exploited for conflict and exclusion, rather than celebration and unity. She saw Carnival Messiah as a way to approach these issues in a non-confrontational way, while helping each participant to develop professional and life skills at the same time. Through art, Geraldine created a platform for empowerment, equality, and hope, and paved the way to space of ‘safety and well-being where all can co-exist in love, peace and harmony’.

Carnival Messiah 2017 5 - Photograph by Diane Howse
Carnival Messiah, Photograph by Diane Howse

Ten years since the last performance at Harewood House, and six years since Geraldine passed away, Carnival Messiah is still alive and kicking. Every single person (and I mean about a hundred of them) who have spoken to me about their experience seem buoyed up by some sort of external energy, a sense of truth and joy unique to Carnival Messiah. Each person has been on their own journey, both professional and personal, which continues to impact them even now. Every interaction, the face-to-face interviews, the phone calls, even the emails, have been full of life and taught me a multitude of unexpected lessons about the creative world, but also about life more generally. I feel privileged to have had my eyes opened to the very special world of Carnival Messiah and am grateful to everyone I have met and who made this possible.

Carnival Messiah is the perfect example of good art. While drama, dance, music, design etc. may be seen primarily as a creative outlet, a source of entertainment, or a showcase of talent, we must not forget its powerful potential to enrich and transform people’s lives. To me, this is what art is, and this is what we should be striving for.

If you were involved in Carnival Messiah and would like to share your experiences about the production with us, please get in touch: info@gcfoundation.co.uk.

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