Dorothea Smartt & Sherlee Mitchell

About artist / group: 

Dorothea 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

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.

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