National Theatre of Scotland and The Royal Society of Edinburgh present Thirteen Fragments
National Theatre of Scotland in partnership with the RSE’s Post Covid-19 Futures Commission present a new short digital artwork featuring spoken word and movement Thirteen Fragments, created by award-winning writer and performer Hannah Lavery collaborating with musician Beldina Odenyo, choreographer Natali McCleary and filmmaker Beth Chalmers. The project has been commissioned as part of the RSE Post Covid-19 Futures Commission and was premiered online during the RSE’s summer events programme, Curious 2021.
Thirteen Fragments presents an artistic response to the Commission’s work, which addresses how Scotland can emerge from the Covid pandemic as a more equitable society and explores how a nation’s resilience can be built up and developed. RSE Fellows have informed research on the piece including Public Debate & Participation Co-Chair Talat Yaqoob (consultant and researcher), Zinnie Harris (playwright, screenwriter and director) and Mark Cousins (filmmaker, writer, historian and curator).
Zinnie Harris FRSE: [00:00:00] Welcome to this panel event discussing Thirteen Fragments, this beautiful, eloquent and thoughtful piece of work written and directed by Hannah Lavery about women’s experience during the pandemic. The film is a co-production between the National Theatre of Scotland and the Royal Society of Edinburgh, commissioned to reflect some aspects of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Post-Covid Futures Commission.
My name is Zinnie Harris and I’m a theatre director and playwright. With me, I have two wonderful and interesting women that I hope will join in a conversation about this short film. Firstly, Hannah Lavery herself, the writer and director of the piece of work that you’ve just watched. Hannah is a poet, playwright, performer, and director.
She’s one of Imaginate’s Accelerator artists, and an associate artist with the National Theatre of Scotland, as well as writer in residence at the Lyceum Youth Theatre. In November 2020, her highly acclaimed play Lament for Sheku Bayoh was produced by the Royal Lyceum Theatre, National Theatre of Scotland and the Edinburgh International Festival in a production that Hannah directed.
And that piece of work: Lament, is back on at the International Festival this year. Her poetry has been published widely and her poem Scotland, You’re No Mine was selected by Roseanne Watt as one of the best Scottish poems in 2019. Her pamphlet Finding Seaglass was published by Stewed Rhubarb Press in 2019 and her debut poetry collection Blood Salt Spring will be published by Polygon in 2022.
Talat Yaqoob is an independent consultant, campaigner and Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Her work focuses on tackling inequalities, primarily on gender and race equality. She’s the co-founder of Women 50:50, which aims to increase women’s representation in politics, and the founder of Pass the Mic, the first and only directory of women of color experts to amplify their voices and expertise in Scotland.
Hopefully in this next 30 to 40 minutes, we’re going to talk a lot of the, about a lot of the themes that came out of that piece of work. But I just wanted to kick off by saying: what struck me about the work was that it feels both utterly contemporary and I’m thinking of the references to iPad goodbyes and homeschooling, but it also weaves references from across the ages, making it feel mythic and classical.
We hear Trojan, we hear and get images of Trojan women, Cassandra, a grandmother handing us rosemary – all the time while we’re placing our experience in the context, we’re placing our experience about this last year in the context of past generations, it also, for me kind of conjured up something of the…
connectedness that we have had as we not only live through the pandemic, but experience the shared trauma of things like the Sarah Everett and the Black Lives Matter, but also that we’ve lived this time in, in utter isolation. So I just thought I’d kind of kick off really asking you Hannah, to tell us a little bit about your, your hopes and aims as you started this, this piece of work.
Hannah Lavery: [00:03:06] I think for me, I was really interested when I had like my first conversations with the Royal Society of Edinburgh about this idea of a resilient, how we kind of move forward into the future. And I was really informed by Lynn, Professor Lynn Abrams, caring about inequality at home and Talat’s work on discussions, kind of the importance of discussions with communities.
I really, so I suppose I kind of started off with looking at the silences, I think, and something about… Who, the experiences that are, that we, we need to recognise and to value as we move forward and how that would inform the kind of future that we want. But there seemed to be… I suppose it seemed to be that last year almost felt like a reckoning.
And that I wanted to sort of reflect that, but also to and I think the reason why it’s fragmentary is it felt also that we were, we were responding to it as women, as Scottish women, as women of colour. With all our different parts of ourselves. And I felt that it was the, you know, as a mother as well, it felt like there were so many pulls and pushes and, and, and moments of, of, of … Things felt like we were, the tension, it felt like a breaking down and a rebuilding and a breaking down again. And so this idea of what our future would be for me, I wanted to create a piece that felt a bit like a provocation. That was a bit kind of like: what is it? What is the future? What is it that we want?
And I think I was struck, especially around the conversations that happened around Sarah Everard and then the conversations that were happening around Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond at beginning of this year and the end of last year was these ideas about what is it? What, what society do you want to emerge on and what it is about safety and how do we flourish and how do we get past the idea of just surviving or this idea of resilience is something this feeling that we want more than just to cope that we deserve more than just coping.
And we deserve to look into our future and we deserve to, to say to our, to our children and to our daughters that actually that you can climb the tree. You can go as high as you want, that you can have ambition. And that we come, that we move forward, but we move forward with our wounds. We move forward with our grandmother’s memories and we hold all of that.
So I think I was trying to do all of that. And I was really struck by these conversations that we’re beginning within the Commissions and the, you know, the kind of work that I was sent, that was really about these discussions that need to happen, and about the burden that women are carrying.
Zinnie Harris FRSE: [00:06:01] There’s something so right about it being a kind of provocation. And I think that’s what’s so clever about the fact that it’s fragments. It’s not, it’s not sort of stating what comes next. It’s kind of saying this was the collective experience and you give us that beautiful image of the rose – it’s something that’s planted, but we don’t know what will, what will go on.
What will bloom. You know, that, that sense of naming it as hers. Talat this is very much the, the, the area that you’re in, isn’t it, this is a sort of artistic response to a lot of the things that you’re spending your working life, kind of thinking about. What was your response to the piece?
Talat Yaqoob FRSE: [00:06:36] Well, firstly, it is beautiful. I watched it and it’s beautiful to watch. And then I replayed it and just listened to the words and it’s, it’s both beautiful to watch and listen to and altogether a really impressive, thoughtful piece of work. And it, it made me realize how rare it is for something that is so policy focused, which is what the Commission has been doing.
It’s very much about policy – and how rare it is to hear, for there to be a way to think about it, a way to interact with it that brings in the arts and that that is all too rare. And this is a really good example of why that is a collaboration that needs to happen more often because it made me think about the work that I’m doing with a renewed sense of hope. It made me think about it in different ways. And when we were talking about the fragments, everything Hannah you’ve just outlined there are the struggles with which we have come to the Commission and tried to piece these things together because of course, you know, the fragments that Hannah so, so articulately expressed there and then does so through her spoken word and her poetry, in the thirteen fragments, those fragments exist when we’re trying to create better and improved society.
And often that fragmentation, the siloed thinking, thinking that something exists over here, but it doesn’t exist over here is why our policy making is not fit for purpose. So having a kind of… such a creative and artistic overview of what the Commission has been struggling with and researching, and understanding and talking to people about, was really refreshing, but done in such a vivid way that I think it just articulated some of the policy frustrations in a new and better way. And it really made me think about how can I do more of that in the rest of my work. And how do we do more of that in policy making, in conversation building and research.
How do we build in more creativity, more artistic approaches, to enable us to think about this and talk about this in a different way. I really enjoyed it.
Zinnie Harris FRSE: [00:09:02] Is it worth
saying, I think just before, cause we’ll talk more just to give us a, just a overview of what the commission is and what it’s doing, just for those that don’t understand or haven’t come across it?
Talat Yaqoob FRSE: [00:09:12] So the Post-Covid-19 Futures Commission was put together by the Royal Society of Edinburgh last year when we were in the midst of the pandemic, thinking about, well, what do we want to, what do we want to learn from this? How do you want to come out? And it was about building a fairer society as a consequence of that. And a whole host of experts from different areas and from public participation, from the arts, from public services and health, economy, business, scientists from all different areas were asked to come together and then working groups of wider networks were put together. And we talk about public debate and participation, building inclusive public services, access to science and, uh, building national resilience. All of these different, different areas and working groups that we have created to be able to try and put together recommendations, key learnings, ideas, and thoughts to encourage an improved Scotland, a fairer Scotland coming out of Covid-19. And having an opportunity to work with Hannah and having Hannah’s input on this fantastic film that’s been produced, puts into context, artistic context, wider context, the conversations we’re having inside the Commission. We’re asking ourselves questions such as: who gets to have access to decision-making? We’re asking ourselves questions such as: do our public services work for those who need them the most?
How do we create trust in science and expertise in a time when conspiracy and fake news is, is growing and is more of a concern? Big questions require a lot of reflection and often contradictions coming at us through the commission. So it’s a lot of big thinking. And the hope is to produce a report. Uh, there’s been a number of events, public events, and hopefully there’ll be more to come in the next parliamentary session where we outline some of our thinking in the hope of building that better Scotland everyone deserves.
Zinnie Harris FRSE: [00:11:26] And so it’s sort of, when you’re talking about what it is that art can bring is it is what, you know, what, what are we kind of getting at here? Is it that space where we can feel something kind of emotionally? We feel it in a different way. I mean, Hannah, this is to you to, you know, in a way what you’re, what you’re trying to do with the Commission is take the kind of, lots of different people’s kind of collective experience in order to take it forward.
And Hannah there you’re working with very personal material close to you I suspect. Well, that’s, that’s your starting point is always the individual. I don’t know whether either of you have a kind of thought.
Hannah Lavery: [00:11:59] I mean, I think for me, I suppose, as an artist, as a poet especially it’s… it’s about looking very closely. So it’s kind of getting back to the sort of taking – what was quite interesting for me. It was – a lot of these conversations were happening where we’re kind of taking little things and making um, you know, taking these individual moments and interactions and trying to build that into thinking about how that could be put into policy or put into decision-making that would affect a wider society.
And I suppose, to affect us all, and then I think my job is almost to turn that back around again is to go, how are these big things? How do they then relate back into a smaller and to bring that sort of individual and to bring that kind of individual response and that personal response. And so it’s certainly…
It was, I mean, the, I mean, it’s always difficult isn’t it? The I in a piece of work, especially poetry, because in a sense it is me but then it isn’t also not me. But it definitely came out of many, going almost, going back into my own circle and starting some of those conversations that were happening.
And, and then I think the piece when I brought those words into the room with Beth and Beldina. and that it was almost then about kind of again, bringing in their personal reactions in there, which is what happened with the music and the film, the filmmaking and the, and the movement. It was all sort of, we were having, we were constantly having a conversation about what this year meant to us and what that meant to us from where we stood and where we came from and how he responded to this year.
And I think that for me, I always feel that I suppose well, what art can do and what poetry can do and Roger Robinson talks really eloquently about this, is about: it creates empathy, it kind of, it draws people in and it’s about, and I think, I think very much, this is a beginning of a conversation.
This piece, to me, it felt like this is… would hopefully support conversation because I, my hope was it would, it would… it would offer an opportunity for people to build their empathy for each other. And I feel like that when we’re talking about creating fairer better societies, then it feels to me that the root of that, or the, what supports that is us developing our empathy for each other.
Zinnie Harris FRSE: [00:14:23] Yes, absolutely. And, and also sort of giving space. I mean, I sort of feel a little bit, the other kind of achievement of the piece is that it, it allows a kind of contemplation, a kind of almost it’s, it’s almost meditative you know, the way that you, you read it and it allows you to sort of, you’re drawn into, to an experience that allows kind of thought rather than, you know, quite often when we’re thinking about how are we going to make things better or how –
There’s quite a lot of sort of facts coming at us. And I mean, I don’t know. Maybe Talat you can speak to that better, but it allowed me to kind of stop and, and take some space.
Talat Yaqoob FRSE: [00:15:01] You know, in the policy landscape, we, we use the term ‘lived experience’ a lot. And sometimes we use it accurately. A lot of the times we don’t. And what this piece illustrates is to me, that’s the thing about it is it’s a personal reflection I guess to me, is exactly what Hannah said: bringing it back to those who are livingit day in day out, bringing it back to those experiences because decision-making and policy-making in Scotland. We, we do talk a lot about being progressive. We do talk and there are very good things about it, but we’re not there yet. We’re nowhere near there yet. We’re pretty heavy on the rhetoric at times of it. So policy making, decision making is still quite – really very exclusionary.
It’s a small group of people, and sometimes that includes me, talking about things and then those things happening to people. It’s not happening with people. And whilst watching this multiple times now today again, thinking about the fact that none of that matters, if those stories, those experiences, the granular level of how, how has Covid felt? How has inequality felt? What impact has that had on your life, on your livelihood, on your family, on your relationships, on your health? If those two things are not linked together, policy making and decisions will never be fit for purpose. So that’s why those two sides matter. The decision-making can’t happen over here with the experience of life happening somewhere else.
And I think that’s what this brings us back to the words, bring us back to how people have felt, what that experience has been, Hannah talking about her own experiences and talking to others in her network and then building this wonderful production. I think more of that needs to happen and more of that, and the policy realm needs to come together so that the data and the science doesn’t feel so far away.
The numbers that we’ve talked about when we talk about numbers of people who have died from Covid-19. When we talk about the number of people who have come, who have contracted Covid-19, they’re not numbers, they’re people, they’re families that are affected. They are friends that are grieving. They are communities that are harmed.
And in the case of Covid-19, Black, Asian, minority ethnic communities, women, disabled people, working class communities – disproportionately affected. They aren’t just numbers. These are people’s lives. And I think we need to bring that back into focus more because as Covid-19 has progressed, I think we have started to normalise some of the harm of it.
And you become used to some of the, the, the bad news of it. But we have to go back to remembering it’s people, it’s communities, it’s us and our next door neighbours and our mothers and our fathers and our families. And I think this piece of work does that very well. And I think we need to do more of that across decision-making.
Zinnie Harris FRSE: [00:18:22] Something so eloquent about, you know, we, we talked to our children about, I’m not, I’m going to misquote probably, but ‘talk to our children about death as we share our laptops’. And you know, that, that kind of sense of, of, you know, having to do the day-to-day and the homeschooling and all that kind of stuff, and having to grapple with these kind of huge, huge, difficult things that were happening.
But I think that the piece is, is broader than just Covid-19 in a way, because it’s talking about this year, you know, she, she starts – sorry, Hannah, you start with, you know, that year, this year and, and the kind of emotional experience that we’ve been through as women, you know has been so affected by the fact that actually we were all safe, oddly. We didn’t have, we didn’t have to go out at night. We didn’t, you know, there was something about being in our houses and then having this kind of horrific, you know, I mean, I know it happens all the time and Sarah Everard sort of hit a level of publicity that, that isn’t afforded a lot of, of murders.
And we have to be mindful of that, but there was this kind of moment of kind of collective, what the hell is this? How can we be safe? And then, you know, many times we, and now we’re having to sort of re navigate, coming out into the world and how are we going to take that space? And, and was that was how did that sort of emerge Hannah, or was that just so much part of your kind of emotional landscape of the year that it was bound to be there in a reflection?
Hannah Lavery: [00:19:47] Well, I mean,
I mean, I think, yeah, I mean, I, I, there was, I’d had this, I was doing a series of workshops and a young woman said to me… we were talking about zoom and we were talking about how, you know, that, that normal conversation about how awfulit is, we miss seeing people in real life and bla bla, and she just sort of piped up and she said ‘actually, I found it really liberating because I’m in control of what people see and I’m in control and I’m frightened about when everything opens up that will no longer be in control of how people perceive me or about being out in the world’. And I think that was very much running through my head.
And then when I started to look about that, and you know, when I’m starting to read the work about how women are very like, we’ve been thrown back in our homes and there’s a lot of talk about how we’ve kind of gone, that we’ve been taking the, the lion’s share of the kind of domestic responsibilities and all of this.
And so they seem to be this, this interesting thing about what home is or creating our homes. And then of course we had, you know, the thingwith Sarah Everard but we also had a lot of stuff around the kind of, like really sort of conversations about the world that we want and the world that we want to inhabit.
And, and I think for me, that, that felt really something that I wanted to talk about. And I felt that there was a, there is… we talk about resilience and we talk about it, it seems to be so much about… resilience to me often seems it’s like a flight or fight response and it feels like we spend, and I think a lot of people kind of reassess their lives and went: actually I don’t want to live my life on that level of stress. I don’t want to just survive. I want to have more. And I want to be in control more. And, and when we started to talk about this in the room, this is when the film came about this idea about Nat’s body as a landscape, but also that we were controlling the gaze.
And then the point in the film where we lose the control. When it, when we start talking about when we have the jump cuts, which we felt that, you know, that was about the way a body is there, you know, like where female body is is, is, is without our control, the way it’s seen in the way it’s perceived and then –
but actually having the control of where we point the camera and where we want to be seen. And I think that was trying to talk to the idea about actually the world we want. Or outwith this year is one that we have more control of, the world that, that feels safe for us. And whether that is as, as you know, someone of colour or whether that is someone in terms of, you know, of, of being a woman and being in and being free of uh, you know, all the different burdens that we have to carry then that, that, that, yeah, that was a real starting point for me.
And when actually, when I got the commission, it was literally just off the back of, the time I was given it, was just on the back of what was happening with Sarah Everard. So that was very much in the news as well. So I think that all kind of informed it.
Zinnie Harris FRSE: [00:22:40] I mean, so many things we were kind of up against ourselves as women. I mean, lots of us were, were taken into a much more kind of heavy caring role of kind of either elderly relatives or of young children, or, you know, I mean, even teenagers required so much more than sort of previously. So it’s sort of set against this backdrop and Talat you will probably be able to speak to this much more, but a kind of sense that actually a lot of the ground that we’d gained in terms of kind of our own time and, and being able to put, put our own work first, somehow sort of slid away. And there was a kind of, you know, I think personally we, or a lot of us kind of felt that we’d gone back to a kind of real grind – there was nothing but the domestic, and I don’t know if this…
Talat Yaqoob FRSE: [00:23:25] Covid-19 for me
has illustrated how the equality or the progress that we thought we’d gained is actually really quite superficial. And that it didn’t. It, it didn’t take much for those… for the ground to shift again. So how quickly women took on disproportionate levels, even even higher disproportionate levels of care, women were more likely to lose income and the number of hours that they’re working.
It was… Black, Asian, minority ethnic communities more likely to get Covid and die as a consequence of Covid, equally a higher proportion of them likely to lose income, but more likely to be frontline staff putting their own lives at risk and saving the lives of others. We know this and Covid-19 has exacerbated those, those inequalities, but there are certain things like the language that we use, suddenly people became ‘vulnerable’, using the term vulnerable a lot more, thought we had moved on from that. How quickly, when we’re talking about current, the shape of policy-making right now, it’s about getting back out and opening up and really particularly UK government decisions about learning to live with Covid, but not really thinking through what kind of impact does that have for those who are most at risk, unpaid carers and frontline staff – across the board the` majority of those are women, and within that disproportionate numbers of women of color.
So I think it, it has illustrated to more people than just those of us who work with inequalities, how slow the progress has been and how fast we’ve we’ve retreated back into a very unequal space, and some of the wins that we had achieved, even those, we’re going to need to fight for again. So there’s just, there’s, there’s a lot of… there’s a lot within the experience of Covid-19 which has highlighted, which those of us who experienced inequality regularly, it’s highlighted that further and I hope has highlighted it to those who experience less of that inequality. We’ve certainly had a lot of that talk. Now we need to convert that into kind of change and learning. I think there’s a… there’s a line. And again, I’m going to do the same thing Zinnie, which is I’m going to remember the line and then not do it justice.
And I’m very sorry about that. But there is a line where you said: ‘as if we all had a choice as if we all had our say’ I think it is? And that’s exactly it with choices and the level of stake and the level of space you occupy within the conversations that are taking place and decisions are being made is already decided by the… your protected characteristics, your class, you know, your experience, your education level, the personal networks you have.
So. We didn’t all have multiple, multiple choices. We didn’t all have a say. And that is what defined our experience over the last 15, 16 months.
Hannah Lavery: [00:26:47] Yeah, no, I mean, I definitely wanted to speak to that. And that line is also about, you know, they seem to also be a lot of last year where there was a lot of people that wanted to know supposedly about, about our lives and that, you know, that our lives were mattered and it was.
And so there was a kind of call to share experience, but then, but, but there was such a vulnerability in that not knowing where that led to and what that meant. And so there was, I felt there was a, it was a year of a lot of promises and then it was, you’ve had your say and then realising actually, don’t, you know, that we haven’t finished speaking and that actually these worlds that we haven’t, we’re not that power of not been able to create you own worlds.
And, and, and so, yeah, I did. It definitely feels that… And I think because we were so – you know, our society feels so divided and I think a lot of us were experiencing each other through social media last year, perhaps. You know, it felt like a lot of people were speaking for people and it, you know, and you were in, or conversations were beginning and ending before you’d even had a chance to, or before the people who needed to speak had spoken, if that makes any sense. I think I wanted to sort of, I definitely want to reflect that in the piece. And I definitely feel that really strongly, that a lot of conversations were started last year, or a lot of promises of discussion or conversations were made.
But I, but I worry that as we come out of it, that there will be, they will. They will not, they will, they will stop or they will, they will, the energy to have them will stop. And I think that’s a real concern, concern of mine, I think, because I think you’re right. I think we’re at this really kind of we’re at this point where we could you know, that we could have a proper reckoning. That we could really say: these are the things that we’ve learned as communities, as individuals, as families. This is a moment for us to say, what, what do we want? And, um, and what’s acceptable and, and that we just need to keep the energy and the fire going, because the worry is as things open up, that we’ll be kind of sucked back into those busy, overwhelming exhausting lives.
And that all of this…. beginnings stuff, will not kind of go to the next step.
Zinnie Harris FRSE: [00:29:09] And what’s your sense on that Talat, because I think we… hope is a sort of thing that we all had our own experience of last year. I mean, you know, at every point there was, you know, right at the beginning, there was kind of people saying online ‘oh but this is great, this is how the, you know, climate change is going to be held in its tracks and the airplanes aren’t in’. And then, you know, as we kind of got into it that didn’t really kind of turn out to be the case. And then, you know, there is now this sort of highlight on how unequal society was. It was highlighted before, but it has come to the sort of national debate in a, in a slightly more high profile way.
And do you – what is your sort of sense of how that will be taken forward, or, or do you think as she sort of, as it says in the piece, you know, the time capsule, will it be buried or will that, will that rose bloom?
Talat Yaqoob FRSE: [00:29:57] So I. I want to be an optimist, but it’s not my natural disposition. I’m not going to lie.
I, and I also acknowledge the fact that the piece ends hopefully, the piece ends in hope. And I, I, and that’s where, you know, we’re talking about the rules and we’re talking about uh, climbing that tree and, and, and it’s, it’s the ending of it. It’s beautiful. And I do think there’s hope there.
The concern, I guess I have with this. And I just, it links exactly to what Hannah was saying there. At the beginning of this, there was a lot of conversation we kept hearing ‘build back better’ or ‘build forward better’. What my concern is is that we’re talking a lot about – so now over the last few weeks we’ve been talking about opening up, changes and essentially, no restrictions in England. Very few restrictions within Scotland. So although we’re keeping face masks, which I agree with, what I am, what we’ve witnessed, is actually a return back to normal. But normal wasn’t working for the majority of people. So there was a conversation that was optimistic.
I would say in the first six months we were really talking about, you know, this is, this is a point where we should be thinking about how we build a better society. There was a lot of conversation about 4 day working weeks, conversations about flexible working becoming the norm. How do people who have always been isolated because, you know, thinking about the fact that some people were having to stay at home or stay very local, but for a lot of disabled people and unpaid carers that was every day, that was normal life. We were experiencing a little piece of what their everyday life was. Actually, you know, 15 months on and how we are opening up makes me think we’re actually forgetting those lessons of the first six months.
And part of that is frustration, exhaustion, and a lack of empathy. And I think we need to get, get back into that first six month thinking, which was, we’ve got to get through this together. And if we’re going to get through it together, that means we’ve all got to be given what’s needed to get through it together.
Some of us need more than others because some of us are further back in the queue because of historic institutionalised inequality. So, how are we going to do that building back where everyone gets to start from the same place, or is at the very least given what’s needed to end up in the same place? That conversation is still frustratingly far behind.
Zinnie Harris FRSE: [00:32:46] Hmm. And, and I think also the sort of very human thing of when an era is over. And of course we’re not, we’re not really quite to the end of it yet, but that sort of feeling of, well, you know, that’s it done now? We’ll, we’ll just move on. But actually something about, as you said, those early conversations, we need to sort of remember the things that we were learning and, and, and, you know, it might be all too tempting just to kind of…
put it all in a cupboard and go, well that, that was the time that was sort of thing. Hannah any thoughts from you about that?
Hannah Lavery: [00:33:15] Yeah. No, I’m in total agreement and I share a lot of that and I think that, I think for me, it was also just that whole thing about, there was a point where we realised that we had agency and, and it feels that there’s so, there’s so much now that now, taking that away from us again, that we actually realise that as communities we could look after our neighbours if we wanted to, that we could, there was something in that that was, I found… really kind of the revolutionary in a sense that actually, you know, just give us what we need and we will make, you know, we will knock on our neighbour’s doors and we will, we will make sure people are okay.
And you know, when you had small villages and small towns and big towns, and everything has got people going out for like Black Lives Matter and they were just, they were just saying, right, that’s it, we’re just going to go and stand in our village green and we’re just going to do this. And it just. There was such, I mean, obviously there was a lot of, you know, we could talk about the kind of naivety of that or whatever, or the performativeness of that, but, but they just felt like, oh actually as communities, we can change things.
We don’t need permission. We don’t need to wait. We can just do it ourselves. And, and, and, you know, I’m not even sure really where I’m going with that, but it feels like that was, that was really hopeful. That felt like that, that we could. That we could kind of… make these really, and they were capable. Actually I think that’s what it was.
We were really capable of changing quickly and responding and we didn’t, and now it feels, I suppose it does feel in a sense that some of that’s been kind of… You know, there’s so many barriers that we put up about that where actually, there was a moment where we just went: actually I can just help my neighbour or I can say enough’s enough.
I can, I can as an individual, or I can as a community, or I can… And I, and it did feel really hopeful.
Zinnie Harris FRSE: [00:35:05] There was a reaching out wasn’t it, a sort of reaching out to people that you wouldn’t necessarily kind of have known and, and yeah, absolutely.
Talat Yaqoob FRSE: [00:35:14] I think
I think there’s also an exhaustion. People, you know, I think there’s an exhaustion in the number of barriers that exist. And I think people want to see at least some change. People want to be able to see that their voice has made some kind of difference, because that is what gives you the hope, the enthusiasm, the passion to do more. And so when you and yes, it’s, you’d call it naiveity, or – but they wanted to see some good happen.
Cause that’s what, that’s what spurs you to keep going. And I think that there certainly feels like an exhaustion and also. And I feel this as somebody who’s campaigned on equalities issues for a long time: there’s so many things to fight. I mean, there’s so many different aspects to fight. Covid-19 has highlighted all of that, but they existed all along.
I think for, for many people who want to engage in that. Knowing where to start and, you know, Hannah, your, your piece really highlights the contradictions. There’s a bit that I was really, um, struck by was: ‘we clung to our borders? We clung to our borders hoping for escape, but just not for them’. Again, I’ve not done that justice I’m very sorry, but that, those contradictions.
The way in which it is this group of people get something, but this group of people who’ve decided has, does not. And these are arbitrary nonsense categories we’ve created, which is really just to ensure that those who have power keep it and those who don’t have power don’t get any. And that frustration, that exhaustion for people who have been fighting inequalities and fighting for justice, Covid-19 is even more exhausting because there’s even more to be done. So I think there’s… There’s hope within that because more people I think are, are awake and, and are aware of this. But I think there’s so many barriers in being able to do something about it that we need to really try and tackle.
Zinnie Harris FRSE: [00:37:30] And and
I don’t know if the, if you have any sort of solution to that, but I mean, you know, Hannah’s able to make this wonderfully sort of provocative piece to really kind of keep that dialogue going or, or to, to, to re provoke and, and you obviously are involved in policy, but for sort of the person that, that isn’t plugged into, either of those things – it is difficult to know how to, you know, particularly as you say, when, when a lot of us just want to move on with our lives and get onto the next thing or are back in that busy world, how do we keep that conversation going?
How do we sort of tackle those things?
Hannah Lavery: [00:38:05] I mean, it definitely feels to me that like we’ve lived through a global pandemic and we’ve got a global issue around climate change. So so many, always just, and I think I put, that’s why I had that line: call it Scotland. It was like, it’s no, none of the solutions… Though I feel that actually bringing power closer to people is always a good thing, but actually all of these conversations feel to me like they’re global conversations. And I think that we need to. Kind of see this pandemic as being, you know, it’s, it’s beyond our borders and it’s beyond – we can’t, we can’t be caught even just for our own self-interest, we need to look beyond our own sort of um… yeah, we need to look beyond and see how we, that the solutions are global solutions and these conversations are global conversations.
And, and I think that, you know, it’s, it’s good to talk about positive future for Scotland, but I think that that positive future for Scotland really can only be fully realised if it’s a positive future for all of us wherever we live. And I think that that felt really really, I really wanted to make that kind of point in the piece, but that also feels to me that that was one of the opportunities that we had with this pandemic was to start to realise that the solutions to many of our problems are solutions that we have to find together as a, as a world and not keep kind of dreaming of our own kind of nation.
I mean, the whole idea. You know, it just seems bizarre to me that we’re living in a point where we’re still obsessed by nationhood cause it feels obscene really.
Zinnie Harris FRSE: [00:39:47] Do you sort of, you reached sort of globally, but also kind of consciously in the piece you, you reach back in time on a number of, of kind of occasions.
We hear sort of Cassandra, we were kind of given the image of the Trojan women and, and I wondered how that sort of fitted into your experience of, of you know, a woman living through this year. That’s my thought to you, Hannah. And, and also Talat, whether there is a role for that in policy – of kind of thinking, you know, not just, just out at the contemporary, but also the, the sort of, how have we dealt with moments like this in the past, really? How, how do we connect to our own past?
Hannah Lavery: [00:40:25] Well, I think, I mean, I think that, and I actually think that Pat Barker talked about this really beautifully about actually in times of kind of peril or in times of trauma, we often go back to the Greek mythology because it gives us such a kind of uh, kind of blueprint of humanity.
And I think there’s probably some of that, but particularly the idea of Cassandra who has this sort of grasp of what the future is, but is ignored. And there was something for me, I think about the kind of silenced or ignored women who are often the canaries in the mine and we’re often,know, we can often feel the tremors of what’s happening and, and and not having that, that, those voices at the table, I think there was some of that.
And then I think there was also this year, I think, especially, you know, it has been a reckoning and I think… You know, somebody who has, who has a family history, that’s very much kind of tied and brutalised by kind of colonialism, you know, it’s it’s, it was very, you, you know – your grandmothers did appear this year for me.
Like, I did feel very accompanied by my ancestors this year. And there was a lot of voices from that and there was a lot of… looking at my own history and looking at my place and looking at what you know, this country is, sort of history in the moment and what that bonds was. I think there was a lot of those conversations happening and it felt that you couldn’t talk about this year and the future without saying actually this has been really important that we actually talk about…
Why we are, where our wealth comes from, where all of – cause we have the ability to be a progressive society. But the reason why we have the ability is that much, that we have this wealth, and, you know, behind every, what do they say? Behind every great wealth, there’s a great crime. And I think that this has been a year of reckoning.
So it felt to make absolute sense that my grandmothers are appearing. And I think when you talk about, you know, and also I think as a mother, when you talk about your children, you also, it feels to me at such a… you feel that line don’t you, you feel that kind of what you’re, what you carry and what you put forward. And so I think all of that was going on, but yeah, I definitely feel that you know, Yeah, it does feel like it’s, we’re returning back to those old stories because we need, we need those those lessons and those blueprints, I think.
Talat Yaqoob FRSE: [00:42:46] Yeah. I think in some ways, in some ways it’s, the blueprints, it’s about learning.
What has happened before? What, what we can do, what worked well. It’s also learning from history and some things knowing not, not to let some things happen again, because in some ways we are doing that. We’re becoming very insular where we’re thinking about the people who are only near us as opposed to, and our response to Covid, our response to climate change, our response to racism or sexism. It’s not happening within our borders. These are big issues that are happening everywhere, and we don’t get to close ourselves off because it doesn’t actually stop any danger. It doesn’t stop anything from happening. And it certainly doesn’t lend itself to progress because that’s not the direction progress is going in. And the progress is of more people coming together. It’s about global solutions to global problems. So I, I absolutely hear that. And I think one of the ways that has articulated itself is during Covid-19, is who we are choosing to learn from and which nations we compare ourselves to.
So if you look at you know, we spent a lot of time talking about New Zealand and New Zealand has done very well. And, but, but we could also have learned from South-East Asian countries. We could have also learned fromEast African countries who have actually dealt with this exceptionally well and are dealing withit better, dare I say, than what we are, certainly UK-wide at the moment. So who we choose to learn from, who we see as equals to us, as we partner with them, learn from them. Developed through Covid-19 how vaccines are shared, how the solutions are shared, who with, who gets a stake in recovery… are all lessons that need to be learned from the inequality that’s happened before and historically.
And if you look at where we choose to learn, where vaccines are distributed, who owns copyrights, you will see the footprints of colonialism in all of that. And so. It’s vital that we learn where we’ve come from, how we’ve got to where we are today, both to learn the good, but also make sure we don’t repeat the mistakes.
And I don’t, and I think there has been a lot of call for that very much through the Black Lives Matter movement. But we, we did a lot of, you know, shared statements and support last summer when there was a resurgence of protests, but that didn’t start and end in summer. It requires us to put in the effort throughoutevery day, in all of the solutions and decisions that we’re making, solutions we’re thinking about, the research that we’re doing and, and the Royal Society of Edinburgh did an international round table to learn from it. And we had there people, uh, experts from Taiwan, from Brazil, from Argentina, from Ghana, from South Africa. And what was interesting was despite working in this area, despite reading lots of things about Covid-19 at the moment as part of the Commission – in other places we were not hearing from that diverse global audience, global expertise, andI’m really glad that the Royal Society of Edinburgh have done that. And that report will be published soon. But that shouldn’t, that shouldn’t be a one-off. That should be a normal part of the conversations that we have to create global solutions to global problems.
Zinnie Harris FRSE: [00:46:15] I think we’re probably starting to run out of time now, just the other thing that that is just so beautifully, sort of touched on in the piece is, I think it’s in part two, is that idea of friendship, which in a way of sort of chiming with what you’re saying, you know, reaching across, understanding empathetically, what other people are experiencing, but also our friends very kind of close on the ground and, and, and how important they’ve been to us?
I don’t know, Hannah if you want to say anything about your experience of friendship with other women and, and, and that kind of community of women, which you’re so talking about in this piece?
Hannah Lavery: [00:46:51] I think it’s been my female friends have got me through this. It’s been those little walks a week. And actually those little moments, if there’s, you know, the bits that are really from my real life are the ones where it’s like sitting on a bench with like my best friends.
Drinking a gin and tonic out of our kids’ water bottles and just being able to talk. And, but I think what really struck me actually is so much, and especially, I think so much of female friendship is portrayed in a way that doesn’t ever feel real to me. I think women, when we come together, we talk about the big issues.
We have those state of the nation conversations. We, we also have conversations, which are really based on listening and really hearing each other I think. I’m not all women, who wants to make a generalisation, but that there was something I felt about last year about those – and I was seeing it a lot where we were having these wonderful moments in nature together, that we were escaping together and to, and there was also I live beside the sea.
And I was just struck about how more and more women over the course of the year were taking to the sea. Like, oh, if you just start off and see one or two, and then by now I mean it’s almost like everyone, including myself now, everybody is hitting the sea to swim and we’re all, and there seems to be a thing about wanting to be strong.
And I think I was, and I think for me, you know, and I talked a little to Nat about this when we were making the film, there was something about that… Looking at our bodies differently, looking at our health differently, looking at who we were and that gaze and being free, perhaps of the gaze for awhile, to be able to say actually what we want is strength and we want power.
And actually we took to the sea and we swam together and we laughed together and we sat on benches and we shared so much that I think the normal life didn’t allow us that even though we were drowning in domestic stuff that when we got to be together and those little moments of walks or being that there was something really special in that.
And I do think. There’s a power in the way women communicate with each other. And I think it’d be, I think there’s a lot of people that could learn from the way women, where female friends communicate with each other because it’s often very rooted in empathy and it’s very rooted in, hearing each other and being vulnerable with each other.
And I think that, you know, I, I, I think that we. We would progress and we would we’d have a much more, fairer society if we were allowed vulnerability in those conversations and allowed people to, to to be wrong because actually a lot of this year is about being a lot of people are being confronted with, with realities and with people’s lives that they didn’t didn’t ever know.
And there’s been a lot of, a lot of people going, I didn’t know that. And I didn’t understand that and now, and I want to, and and so there’s, I think. Yeah. So I think that’s why they’re there, those women, in the piece.
Zinnie Harris FRSE: [00:49:40] What about you Talat, friendship did that?
Talat Yaqoob FRSE: [00:49:42] Oh! My… multiple times in my lifeit is my friends, my sister, that has saved me. And Covid-19 is no exception. I’ve had just those, I’ve not, I’ve not been brave enough to dip myself in the sea. I’ve got to be honest. Right. And I have been, I’ve been recommended it multiple times and over the last year, more and more women have been recommending it to me, so I might have to do it, but I just don’t know if I’m there yet.
But yeah, the same thing, having those walks, having that empathy, having that place to… to genuinely be all the different bits of yourself. Yeah. And one of the things that I’ve really felt during Covid is I, I would, I would have once upon a time, kept my lives quite separate. Here I am at work, now I’m going home and I’ve got to do those things.
Well, I can’t do that. You’re in my home right now. My parents are in the background. And so, you know I think in some ways it has given me, and I’ve had these conversations with lots of the women in my life. It has given. Well, it’s, it’s meant that we’ve had to be all the bits of ourselves at the same time, because everything is happening in the same space, but it’s also in some ways and lots of women in my life talked about this.
It has allowed us to maybe unpick some of the superficiality that was around us, that we were having to perform to other, other expectations, other people’s expectations, patriarchal, patriarchal expectations, whatever that might be. Some of them we’ve been able to drop because of exactly as what Hannah said at the beginning of this -you know there’s a little bit of control.
Of, of what’s being seen. I don’t have to perform in the same way. I’m not going out in the same way. And so in, in some strange ways, we’ve had conversations about feelings of relief at… being able to opt out of conventions that were harming us. Those are conversations I’ve certainly had within the wider sisterhood that I am very privileged to be part of.
Zinnie Harris FRSE: [00:51:50] Yeah, me too. I mean, my, my experience of lockdown was, was that my sister who’s, who’s also a single mum, moved in with her small child right at the start. So we, you know, we were two women and four kids and absolutely did it as this sort of kinship group. And, and really, we’re kind of talking quite a lot about how different it felt, you know, we had, we have male children, but we, we had no sort of men around and, and in some ways you’re right about the sort of losing the sort of, any sense of performative or, or, you know, having to adopt ways that, that, that maybe aren’t kind of as instinctive. But I am going to wrap this up cause I think we’re coming up against time and just firstly, to thank you both for wonderful kind of input.
Hannah, what an amazing piece of work. I think you’ve really, you’ve really done something absolutely extraordinary and I’m sure the, the audience would have, will have enjoyed watching it. Personally I had to, I wanted to, to watch it again. I don’t know if that’s possible with, with how they’re accessing it, but, but I felt that that kind of going through it, I actually watched it three times because I just felt that there was so much in your imagery that I really wanted to, to sort of ingest really, but I just thought we’d finish by just taking maybe one moment each that really resonated with us that, that we’ll kind of hang on to of the kind of plethora of rich imagery that, that Hannah gave us. Talat I don’t know if you want to start with that.
Talat Yaqoob FRSE: [00:53:14] Gosh, there’s… Hannah there’s a lot in it. I think one of the things that I, I really did pick up on was I think you talked about, there was something about Grenfell Tower in there, there was there was, George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, Sarah Everard.
What really captured, what really captured my attention was whilst everything has been happening, inequality has continued to flourish in other ways. And the reality check of bringing all of that together in, in, in this, in this piece. It was really powerful. And I think it, it created a sense of, of duty, a sense of urgency, and also highlighted some of the contradictions of what we are talking about on our front pages and what isn’t talked about. And what is on the front, forefront of our minds and what isn’t.
And I think that was exceptionally well done and a very important reminder.
Zinnie Harris FRSE: [00:54:11] Wonderful. Thank you. And Hannah, I mean, obviously you made it, all the images are yours, but, but is there one that particularly kind of you hang on to?
Hannah Lavery: [00:54:20] I think one of the powerful bits for me was I’d written a piece about statues and about, you know, if, if we built a statue for our sisters and, and Nat responded to that so beautifully with the, when we kind of, the camera came up.
Beth kinda scoped the camera up. And then when it gets to Nat’s face, she just turns away in this most beautiful image of sort of strength and power and, and defiance. And I think whenever I think of that film, I just, I see Nat’s face just kind of holding all of that history and wisdom and. Yeah. And I, I definitely feel that that, that there should be statues to our sisters and buildings built for our sisters, for our sisters to speak.
And I think that was probably that felt, felt that that’s what we were doing together as a group of women making this film is that we were creating our own. Our own space for women to speak in. And, hopefully, what’s been lovely about this today is it felt like, like that, that, that kind of provocation, or that kind of space we created has worked in some way.
Zinnie Harris FRSE: [00:55:29] And I’m also so glad that you’ve brought in the, you know, the beautiful performance and filmmaking, cause we’ve, we’ve been sort of talking about the kind of themes and, and haven’t really sort of mentioned that, but, but, but absolutely stunning imagery and music and the whole thing, but okay.
Well mine I think as you know, it’s just, I love the kind of metaphor that you give us of the rose at the beginning and, and, and what will happen to it. And, and then at the end, your, your beautiful line about what to call it, and I’ll, I’ll call it hers. I think is just, just absolutely something that I’ll hold really, really tight as we all think about what comes from this, you know. Will it be ours? Will it, will it be belong to her, us, as we go forward?
So thank you both so much. Absolutely terrific. I’ve really enjoyed this and I hope you have too.
Thirteen Fragments of anger, of love, of death, of exhaustion and of hope.
The artwork is accompanied by an insightful discussion between Hannah, Talat Yaqoob FRSE and Zinnie Harris FRSE, which focuses on some of the themes the work highlights, including the impact of Covid on women and wider society and the role that art and creativity play in the pandemic.
Hannah Lavery’s creative response to the Commission’s work is rooted in the female experience of the last year as a woman of colour, a spoken word dance piece where bursts of poetry sit within an original soundscape alongside shards of song and of movement. The coming together of Beldina Odenyo’s music, Natali McCleary’s movement and Hannah’s words sees the poetry take shape and given physical life, reflecting individual responses of the artists. Intimately filmed by Beth Chalmers, the piece explores the meaning of female resilience in Scotland today and aspirations for the future.
Hannah Lavery says:
“Inspired by the work of the RSE fellows, I wanted to make a film that would speak to the experience of women and especially women of colour, using poetry, dance, music and film. I have been so lucky to have been joined by a dream team of women collaborating with dance, music, and film to create a provocation and also a meditation on the time we are living through and what that means for us all as we look toward the future.”