“Send Me” Inceptions

by | Feb 7, 2024

On 9 December 2022 we sat, saturated by days of conversation and energised
for new collaborations. This was not a workshop with defined aims and objectives,
rather it was an invitation to share food and ideas. Three curators, Kara, Sofia and
Bonita and a curious leader, Frederik, sat to question how, why what could be
possible for us to conjure from contexts of confinement. You see, civic space has
been shrinking around the world and artists are screaming at society to wake up.
The impression of freedom and democracy might just be a myth after all.

This myth lurked over the neighbourhood Mexico City neighbourhood of Roma.
We’d parted ways with our comrades just a few blocks away at Casa Refugio (the
house of Refuge) where we had been sharing experiences on safety and creative
insecurity as part of the annual Safe Havens Meeting. Our energy was low after
trying to craft a response to mark the first day of executions against protestors in
Iran. We didn’t need to know Mohsen Shekari, to feel dread that someone could be
publicly hung just for speaking out against the murder of Masha Amini. Solidarity is
our currency.

We sat down and tried to exhale a bit, noticing the tension in my body. There are
only so many contexts and artistic approaches to safety that one can digest in four
days. Thankfully there had been moments to move and opportunities to shout. The
Argentina victory in the World Cup had definitely brought some joy for balance to
recalibrate those lolls when it all gets too much. This thing of curatorial activism,
though sometimes feels impossible, is not devoid of celebrations for nations or
dancing or late night musing.

In between courses of food and bottles of wine a street rapper stopped and
demanded our attention. He lamented about the conditions of life in Mexico, all the
while fabulating in rhymes. My command of Spanish wasn’t quite good enough to
grasp all he was saying but found myself bound to the bold broadcast of each bar.
He finished, “buena suerte’ said Sofia, wishing him the best of luck as he continued
his journey of storytelling. This performer had coincidentally situated us in a moment
of negotiation, pausing the intellectualisation of curation.

We resumed our conversation, trying to tie together threads between the last four
days of deep engagement and desperate places – Uganda, South Africa, Mexico,
Sweden. “The archive…”, she said, “we need to look at the archive” because these
conditions of persecution are not new. And so we pondered and pontificated about
what could be drawn from histories of artists trying to demand a different world. Sofia
continued “They would encode it in mail, you know some artists didn’t even know if
their work would ever be shown so they sent it elsewhere.” Bonita agreed, sharing
about how artists in South Africa used all kinds of methods to send messages that
would sustain their struggle for liberation.

I then thought of how, even today ,we send each other small snippets of
information via digital messages. Sometimes we courier things to places where
postage has been dying a slow death. Artworks come in suitcases now and security
warnings move in encrypted applications. But we are still sending to each other. One
trip at a time we deliver those small things needed to sustain creative practice.
Sometimes when we go back those artists have left, suffocated by the impossibility
of their story. Sometimes they return. Sometimes they stay.

After leaving this alchemic and polyphonic night I couldn’t let go of this process of
sending. In my mind I replayed Sam Cooke’s 1957 hit You Send Me. I wonder if his
love song was a longing for freedom, an acing for a thrill, the infatuation for security,
all the while wanting to be held.

by Kara Blackmore

More on Safe Havens Conference 2022 – Organised by Safe Havens Freedom Talks (SH|FT) – an independent NGO dedicated to facilitating opportunities for artists and organisations in the Arts Rights Justice field to meet and share knowledge.

Cover image from Safe Havens Conference 2022