Saoirse Amira Anis on communal making, ‘seepage’, and her work for Art Night Dundee
Informed by Black queer literature and her personal ancestry, Saoirse Amira Anis’s work is an all-consuming tangle of performance, sculpture, drawing, writing, photography and film – a multitude of mediums approached, in her own words, “without finesse but with a lot of love.”
The “proudly Dundee-based” artist gradated from DJCAD in 2018, served on the committee of GENERATORprojects for two years, and now has a major solo show at Dundee Contemporary Arts, symphony for a fraying body, inspired by her bodily experience of rage, and the watery folklore of her Moroccan and Scottish heritage. For Art Night Dundee 2023 on Saturday 24 June, Saoirse will extend this work into a performance, embodying a mythical creature returning to the sea from the confines of the gallery.
Saoirse spoke to SCAN’s Communications Lead Claire Biddles about the process of expanding her work, collaborating with her Black peers and the significance of the Firth of Tay.
- Claire: Can you tell me a bit about your experience of expanding the work from your DCA show into a performance?
Saoirse: It’s honestly been quite a ride! I haven’t properly done a performance like this in a few years, so it’s been a bit rusty, but incredible.
The main thought behind the expansion was to continue this process of “seepage” that’s happening in the show – the creature seeps into the film, which seeps into the gallery, which will now seep into the city (and maybe into people’s minds, allowing the seepage to continue ad infinitum). The main challenge, ultimately, has been to make sure that I’m crafting a performance that works first time – like there’s not much room for “oh let’s just wait and see what happens” which is how I’m used to working. Again – it’s been great! A proper learning curve that really feels like I’ve made a big leap and added some more strings to my proverbial artist-bow!
- What was it like to construct the costume with your community of Black peers? I’m particularly interested in this element, because I feel like I haven’t seen a communal making process in a collaborative artwork for a while!
It’s been truly dreamy! I never really make anything without having to pull in help from people, so I wanted to see what it would be like to collaborate with people from the beginning, the communal aspect of which was an opportunity to practice the collectivity that’s vital to the more conceptual side of symphony for a fraying body. The collaboration began with Sabrina Henry, who then brought Dr Sequoia Barnes on board – both of whom are incredibly talented and experienced, so they’ve essentially been this wonderful leak-proof boat keeping us all afloat, teaching me and holding me as we bob along. It’s been great to work with people whose expertise and skills have elevated the work far beyond what I could have done without them.
It’s also been a chance to spend time with a bunch of wonderful Black brown/BPOC people, which doesn’t happen very often in Dundee due to the incredible whiteness of the arts community. I should say that “community of Black peers” was written in the original copy because I hadn’t quite gotten round to inviting other people yet, but can now confirm that artists Ashanti Harris and Debjani Banerjee are joining us (today, as I write this!) for our big day of communal-making, and Dundee-based artist Shona Inatimi will join us on Monday (really working down to the wire here). It means so much to me that the labour, energy and joy of these delightful people now lives in the fabric of this work. It’s truly been so much fun devising and making this costume, and I’m excessively grateful for the joy and softness of the time we’ve spent together.
- I know you’re based in Dundee – does the location of the performance at the waterfront hold particular meaning for you?
I’ve been so lucky that most of my flats in Dundee have looked onto the Firth of Tay, so it has been one of the most constant things in my life for the past nine years. It’s made me realise that living near a body of water is one of my foundational needs, even though I’m not sure I could accurately articulate why (I’m a Pisces by the way). So I guess I wanted to honour it – thank it in a way for all of the joy and comfort it’s given me over the years. symphony for a fraying body is also very water-centric, so it made sense to take the work back to where it began – the sea.
- Can you expand a little on the balance of hope and rage in your work?
Oh this is a nice question! The work was born from rage, from feeling angry all the time and not knowing where to put that anger. So I guess the ultimate goal for myself in making this work was to find a way to loosen and unravel that rage in a way that allowed it to sit more comfortably within my body, through which hope naturally emerges. Through reading folks like Audre Lorde and Sophia Al-Maria, I found glimmers and guidance towards the hope that lies – I think – exclusively within community, where we can freely express our rage and know that we will be understood.
- What are you hoping audiences will take away from the work for Art Night?
Ooh that’s a scary question! I guess firstly a sense of wonder at the absurdity of a rope-laden mythical sea creature dancing on land through Dundee. But also maybe a sense of the freedom that can come from embracing – not just rage – but all of the feelings that hurt, and the ability to grapple with those feelings that comes from community. And that in order to have hope we must come together in rage.