From You to Me to You

Dorothea Smartt & Sherlee Mitchell  

»As a Black person and a woman, I don’t read history for facts. I read it for clues« (Alice Walker)

Dorothea Smartt’s work as a poet, writer, and live artist is in some respect dedicated to Alice Walker’s concept of reading history. Her searing, evocative, and spirited voice “coils up your feelings around granite chips of truth” (The Caribbean Times) and gives us clues about the multi-layered cultural myths, the unwritten histories, and the life experiences of Black Women living in the U.K. today.
Smartt was born in London and grew up in Battersea. Her parents came to London from Barbados in the 1950s. She writes poetry both in her ‘London voice’ (as she calls it) and in the ‘Bajan’ (Barbadian) voice of her childhood. ”I learnt to speak English from my parents, who speak in a very particular way. So I use language in a very particular way, and I always say to people, poetry saved my Bajan voice.”
It was her involvement with the Black Women’s Movement that got her into writing. She worked for local groups and Black Women’s co-operatives in Brixton, organising newsletters and writing book reviews and theatre reviews. She didn’t think of publishing poetry until some of the women she worked with got her involved in performance, and her poetry was incorporated into a live art piece performed at Brixton Art Gallery. Not long after that, Black Women Talk, a small publishing collective, decided to put an anthology together and asked her to submit some work. Other invitations followed and the performances continued as she received invitations to read at benefits and women’s events. Her solo performance work, Medusa, a combination of poetry and visuals, began to take on a life of its own. Cleverly using the image of hair-dressing to merge the myth of Medusa with a Black woman’s experience (Dorothea was once called ‘Medusa’ at school because of her hair-style), the work led to her first commission from the Institute of Contemporary Arts. The result of this commission was From You to Me to You.
She conceived this illustrated solo performance with photographer and educator Sherlee Mitchell: Two daughters capture the lives and deaths of their parents and the passing of the first post-war generation of Caribbean immigrants to Britain. Through her poetic writing and the extraordinary archival family photographs assembled and projected by Mitchell, the piece offers an intimate and moving look at the legacies of parents and children in the crossing from the Caribbean Islands to Britain and in the crossing from life to death.
Dorothea’s other collaborative performances include Fo(u)r Women and Home Is Where the Heart Kicks. Her poetry has appeared in several groundbreaking anthologies, including Bittersweet (an anthology presented at last year’s City of Women Festival), The Fire People (Payback Press, 1998), Voice Memory Ashes (Mango Publishing, 1999), Mythic Women/Real Women (Faber, 2000), and IC3: The Penguin Book of New Black Writing in Britain (2000). A former visiting writer at Florida International University, Smartt runs workshops, has recently joined the poetryclass teacher-training team, and is now also a part-time lecturer on creative writing at Birkbeck College.

By: Dorothea Smartt & Sherlee Mitchell; photography: Sherlee Mitchell; commissioned by: ICA Live Arts (London).

In co-operation with: Cankarjev dom
With the support of the British Council


Date and time of event: 
Oct 14th 21:00
Place of event: 
Cankarjev dom, Kosovelova dvorana