Arts section writer
Ananya Wilson-Bhattacharya is a graduate of English literature at UEA and a lifelong (aspiring) writer. Her interests include UK and Indian politics, questions of race, intersectional and Marxist feminism and literature by marginalised writers. She also enjoys song-writing with her guitar, playing open mics around Norwich and snacking too often. She tweets @AnanyaWilson.
(04.03.22) – Two Billion Beats by Sonali Bhattacharya – Review
The presence of South Asian characters in British theatre is not the extreme rarity it once was. Whilst South Asians and people of colour more widely are still hugely underrepresented in theatre – as actors, writers, directors and in storylines – there has undoubtedly been some progress in recent years. What remains less visible, however, is South Asian characters engaging in rich discussions of history in all its complexity, from a questioning, left-wing perspective. If this is not for you, you should probably avoid playwright and Momentum activist Sonali Bhattacharyya’s Two Billion Beats, showing now at London’s Orange Tree Theatre.
In November 2021, as Glasgow swirled with police, delegates and protesters during the COP26 conference, one sound art gallery was hosting a unique performance. There, Norwich band The Neutrinos performed Darkroom, their lockdown-inspired, one-audience member soundscape show which takes place – as the name suggests – entirely in darkness. I caught up with vocalist Karen Reilly about the show, the band’s partner project Klanghaus and their dream Darkroom performance venue.
(21.07.21) – Love After Babel and Other Poems – Chandramohan S
“They ask me why do you write poems?
I write poems – the people have the right to…bear arms.”
These lines, taken from his one-stanza masterpiece ‘Why Do I Write Poetry?’, encapsulate the very essence of Chandramohan S’ approach to his craft in his third collection, Love after Babel and Other Poems. These poems are unapologetically weapons, fighting against the pre-modern notion of caste in all its insidious 21st century glory.
(16.03.21) – Black Lives Matter: Poems for a New World – Review
The revival of the Black Lives Matter movement has inspired an array of haunting artistic responses. Black Lives Matter: Poems for a New World, edited by Ambrose Musiyiwa, is no exception. With over 100 contributions from writers of diverse ages and backgrounds, the collection is a poignant exploration of an era of renewed protest and newfound solidarities, against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic.
(29.09.20) – Heaven is a Photograph Review
‘I do not take photos/I give them/as I always give/in love’, the protagonist of Christine Sloan Stoddard’s poetry/photography collection Heaven is a Photograph declares, a characteristically bold admission of vulnerability. These lines, taken from the poem ‘Unrequited Pixels’, evoke an overarching theme of the collection: the emotional intensity of the protagonist’s relationship with photography. Charting the protagonist’s journey, from a childhood as the daughter of a photographer to becoming a photographer herself, Stoddard’s brief and beautiful collection explores the power of both photography and photographer – through a deft and deeply meta combination of verse and photography itself.
(03.07.20) – Misbehaviour (2020) – Review
Philippa Lowthorpe’s recent film on the 1970 Miss World Pageant, Misbehaviour, has enjoyed the advantage of being released just before the lockdown, giving people no choice but to watch it from the comfort of their homes. But while undoubtedly watchable, the film’s approach to feminism and intersectionality notably erases contemporary feminist movements led by women of colour.
warning: this review contains spoilers.
When I learned that the BBC was airing the first ever television adaptation of Malorie Blackman’s award-winning teen novel, Noughts and Crosses, I was instantly intrigued. How would Blackman’s vision of an alternately racialised society play out on the small screen in 2020?
The speculative fiction novel (first of a series), published in 2001, follows a teenage friendship – later romance – between Callum, a member of the Nought (light-skinned) oppressed underclass, and Sephy, a member of the Cross (dark-skinned) ruling class. The adaptation is more adult, dramatic and violent – it also contains several new plot points.
(24.03.20) – Avenues for Justice – Interview with Cindy Ruskin
Later on that cold December day, after my meeting with Sally, I battle my way through the New York snow to meet the artist Cindy Ruskin in her apartment in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The apartment is filled with art supplies, paintings and other works, including a renovated garbage can laden with small models and storytelling sketches.
The New York art scene is famous for its alternative, underground character. But the city is also home to various initiatives aimed at making art accessible – as an entertainment form and as an activity – to a wider proportion of the public. I met up with two New York artists changing the role of art through such projects to discuss their respective projects’ structures, experiences of participation, and the social significance of their art within the gritty realities of New York life.
(02.01.20) – Rosina Kazi Interview
The Canadian electronic music scene is relatively little-known internationally, not least its radical activist elements. But LAL, the Toronto-based electronic duo, never sought widespread international recognition. Instead, the self-identified ‘semi-anarchist’ couple – singer-songwriter/manager Rosina Kazi, and producer-instrumentalist Nicholas Murray – have embraced their position outside the mainstream by fostering a literal and metaphorical space for alternative musicians and poets. They produce their own unique sounds, inspired by both European electronic and fusion bands. They’re also influenced by both the Canadian, and the global socio-political landscapes. I sat down with Rosina in a downtown Toronto coffee shop to discuss the band’s history, potential move to Europe, and their community performance space, Unit 2.
The alternative British Asian pop genre, Asian Underground, held a significant place back in the early-mid ‘90s as a uniquely transgressive genre combining Indian classical instrumentation, jazz, the contemporary sounds of dub, drum ‘n’ bass and jungle, interspersed with crooning Bollywood-style vocals. The genre blew up and enjoyed mainstream popularity in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, exerting significant influence on Western hip hop, R&B and urban music at the time. DJ Isuru Perera, better known simply as DJ Isuru, is one of the leading figures in today’s Asian Underground revival, having collaborated with a range of DJs and performers aspiring to reintroduce this strand of ‘90s Dance music to a younger generation. He is also a regular presenter on SOAS radio, where he hosts various (mainly British Asian) musicians from different eras, playing their music with accompanying track-by-track analysis.
Racial diversity in Western cinema has been particularly contentious since the Oscars scandal of 2016, when not one actor of colour was nominated for an award. But this was especially shocking falling in the midst of a marked increase in diversity, illustrated recently by two major hit films of this summer: Gurinder Chadha’s Blinded by the Light and Danny Boyle’s Yesterday. By now, critics have noted the similarities between the two films: British South Asian male protagonists, small-town lives, fanaticism around sensational twentieth-century Western musicians. However, these comparisons have obscured fundamental differences, not only in genre, but also in their approaches to South Asian identity.
(28.08.19) – Leila Review
In the wake of the recent lockdown in Kashmir, the region long contested between India, Pakistan and its own people, in which communication has been drastically halted and public gatherings banned, Indian politics has found its way into international headlines. But the situation in Kashmir is just one aspect of a much broader, increasingly fascist regime run by a Hindu-supremacist, far-right government. Over the past five years under this regime, Muslims have been lynched by government-affiliated mobs for alleged beef consumption; persecution – and murder – of Dalits (members of the lowest castes) through similar means has soared; journalists have been assassinated for trying to tell the truth. This is why Deepa Mehta’s Netflix drama series Leila provides a timely and disturbing picture of a future India, situated only decades from now in 2047. Unlike many dystopian dramas, Leila is not set in a post-apocalyptic or reorganised world which encodes real socio-political dynamics within imaginary ones. Instead, it neatly locates contemporary Indian landmarks and structural oppressions within the complex fabric of a dystopian future state: Aryavarta, a set of strictly segregated communities governed by fully-fledged totalitarianism.
If you’re passing through Brixton Market, exploring the vintage clothing stalls or lamenting the overpriced pints designed to rip off tourists, it’s easy to miss the Brixton Recreation Centre, tucked away and accessible only by a remote entrance. But this abandoned-looking building is in fact one of two homes of a fascinating local photography exhibition. The Lost Legacies of The British Black Panthers provides a vital insight into the anti-racist activism of the Windrush generation which is often overlooked in our understanding of twentieth-century British history.
(30.07.19) – Review: Darling, It’s Me by Alison Winch
I was eager to get my hands on a copy of Alison Winch’s debut poetry collection, Darling, It’s Me. With ‘fiercely feminist’ poems on the themes of motherhood and marriage, I was expecting rich, analysable material and I undoubtedly found it. Winch intersperses her narrative of contemporary women’s experiences with a series of extended metaphors rooted in Enlightenment philosophies and the European societies where these were developed, occasionally shifting form to witty sketches involving philosophers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.
tw: mentions of suicide
In recent years, the indie-rock revival has gained traction across the UK, spurning artists such as Circa Waves, The Magic Gang, Sea Girls and countless other bands and solo artists with catchy, accessible lyrics and melodies against guitar-heavy backgrounds. I will fully admit to being an indie fan at heart; these artists generally make up a large proportion of my ‘heavy rotation’ on Spotify at any given moment. But the genre can’t always be credited with much lyrical originality, or indeed, with much engagement with the world beyond the singers’ own personal dilemmas and often relentless self-deprecation.
Since the Norwich poetry scene largely consists of current or former students and local writers, a chef originating from Cairo doesn’t seem to fit the mould. But Salah El Nagar has achieved local fame, both for his widely translated Arabic poems, and for his cooking. By day, he runs Ramses Egyptian Food, usually located in the market in the heart of Norwich city centre (he also runs pop-up stalls at venues around the city). By evening, you can find him at the Birdcage, promoting acceptance, diversity, and gender equality through his poignant and witty poems.