Candice Nembhard in conversation with writer/researcher Tamara Hart
“I don’t care much for relevance as much as I do impact and this often gets me into trouble,” remarks Candice Nembhard, a writer, poet, artist and curator based between Birmingham and Berlin.
We first met at Kunstverein in Hamburg earlier this year, where she presented one of her now signature poetry-based performances. Honeyed and poised, her voice flowed through the room with quiet strength. Whether in spoken word or writing, the artist articulates the taxed lingo that often codes our encounters and draws on marginalised communities who fight against such structures. Whether through her QTBIPOC event series ALL FRUITS RIPE, her arts collective Poet & Prophetess, or the co-production of The R.A.P Party Berlin, Candice poetically weaves together support networks that offer platforms for communities to express critical thought.
“The irony is I’m not a very creative person,” she explains, “I think I do my best to illustrate existing worlds that people don’t see rather than build them.” These intuitive forms of observation allow her to draw on architecture that often goes unnoticed, socio-racial and gender signifiers embedded in systems of power. Her words are a gentle reminder: there is work to be done. Currently an artist-curator at Birmingham’s Eastside Projects, Candice writes extensively for publications such as 1-1, SAND Journal, Berlin ArtLink and Sleek Magazine. Her visual performances have been exhibited at The Volksbühne (Berlin), Birmingham Hippodrome (Birmingham), BOZAR (Brussels), Kunstverein (Hamburg), Soho House (Berlin), Hebbel Am Ufer Theatre (Berlin), and Galerie Wedding (Berlin). In 2019, she wrote and directed her first short cinepoem, The Morning After Love.
As the world decomposes and time melts in quarantine, Candice exchanges notes with us on solidarity, oration and the importance of black queer womxn perspectives.
Q: You have built various support networks through Poet & Prophetess, ALL FRUITS RIPE and The R.A.P Party Berlin. How do these communities influence your practice?
So much of my practice revolves around the communities I’m a part of. I want to stress that building these groups and platforms was not a solo effort and I’m only as great as the support I receive and accept.
Poet & Prophetess started with three writers bonding over our love of poetry. Two years on we’ve expanded to London and Birmingham, watched writers become Barbican Young Poets, attend Oxford University, sell-out theatre productions and make music. My hope is that the spirit of mentorship is passed on as the collective continues to grow.
ALL FRUITS RIPE came about after I was commissioned to make a short video piece for a queer festival in Berlin. In my research, I was looking for queer cinema that centred and celebrated black people. Sadly, the list was small, so, quite selfishly, I created a series for QTBIPOC filmmakers. ALL FRUITS RIPE has taught me much about the practice of image-making as well as the funds needed to tell queer stories truthfully.
The R.A.P Party Berlin came about thanks to Inua Ellams and Theresa Lola who wanted to expand the London event into the Berlin spoken word scene. I believe Musa Okwonga passed on my name to co-ordinate it with Azadê Peşmen. We’ve hosted many great performers and it’s such a blessing to see what people have to offer on stage.
Q: How can we continue to build communities of support during a crisis? What form can collectivity take within the bounds of isolation?
If you’re looking for communal support, you’ll find it, or you’ll plant the seed and nurture it. There’s no right or wrong way to build a supportive environment, but I think asking what people need is the first step.
You can’t build a community if you aren’t willing to give. We’re already seeing that isolation is a collective effort, so I think it’s less about forms and more about mindful caregiving and caretaking. Something I’m still learning.
Q: In The Orator as Non-Mythic (2020), you draw on American activist and poet Pat Parker. A radical civil and gay rights activist, Parker explored poetry through a black lesbian feminist lens. How does her perspective remain relevant?
Much of what I know and do is informed by black queer women and their experiences. Their work might not be relevant to everyone, but broadly speaking, their work concerns everyone with black women at the epicentre.
The Orator as Non-Mythic is not just a salute to Pat Parker, although, in the context of the original performance, it is. The piece could have easily referenced, Audre Lorde, Ntozake Shange, Staceyann Chin, Barbara Smith and numerous others.
I called on Parker because she says exactly what I want to emphasise regarding the entitlement of speech. We are given the freedom to speak, but often don’t have much to say. Many orators are criticised purely on their ability to speak as opposed to their content and context.
Q: Speaking of the orator, you reference to this figure as ‘proudly forgotten by the canon’. What role does this orator play in social and political landscapes?
When we study oration, we often look towards the speaker rather than what is spoken. I believe that impactful study of oration comes from the acknowledgement of different textual codes and how they are used by different speakers for specific audiences.
I like the idea that you can create new texts (and new canons) by melding different principles from different codes for your intended output. As language evolves, so do orators, but the basic principles of language remain the same. It’s not political, although it might have political uses.
To quote Anne Sexton, “Like carpenters, they want to know which tools/They never ask why build.”
Q: How do you move between the artistic contexts of Birmingham and Berlin and what exchanges take place between these different spaces?
I lived in Berlin for three years and it gave me the opportunity to experiment with mediums and beta test my ideas. Birmingham pushes me to put those ideas into action, give it a form, and more importantly, give it context.
Upon reflection, I get the feeling that many artists in Berlin want to reject the institution around art-making but somehow need it to validate their rebelliousness. Myself included. I think Birmingham provides just enough validation that artists feel seen without extracting the raw material of their work.
Q: As the founder of The Black Borough, an Afro-European archive, what does the practice of archiving mean to you?
Archives tell us where we’re going and who we’re becoming. I like that they take shape as poetry chapbooks, photo albums, or as record collections. My fear is that we’re compiling images, sounds, and materials but not filing them in sustainable ways i.e. we’re using social media and not backing up our analogue findings. Archiving is essential and I pray the people keeping them alive are adequately funded.
Q: As a poet, writer and artist, how do you find the words to express in this time of collapse?
I struggle with the expectation that artists ought to respond to times of crisis, primarily because it often funnels our work into arbitrary contexts. My first priority is my own well being, so I try and keep up with some semblance of a morning routine, read articles, write my newsletter, call friends, and journal. I have to trust that the words will come.
I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to [express] if it weren’t for people believing that I was meant to do this work. All I can do is pass the baton on and pay homage to the communities that keep me focused, hold me accountable, and challenge me to be better.
Published: 21/05/2020 by Queerdirect
Interview and Edited by Tamara Hart
Photo Credit: Lewis Soulier