Amina Atiq is a Yemeni-Scouse writer, performance artist, facilitator and activist. Part of RISE at River Festival, internationally renowned artist, Yolart was commissioned by RISE to produce artwork called, Reclaiming Babel. This new work is a celebration of the diversity of women living in Liverpool and aims to highlight the positive impact shared experience and interaction can have in creating social cohesion and community. Amina produced a written response to this artwork – Rise women, Rise. Below she blogs about working with Jola (Yolart) and her inspiration behind the response.
Rise Women, Rise is a dramatic narrative poem set in Liverpool and inspired by the mythical creature, the Liver Bird. Bella overlooks the sea, waiting for women to approach Liverpool from different walks of life. The rhythmic language moves and swells with the crashing of the waves, emphasising that women will move mountains to the city until their voices are heard.
The process of writing the poem has been an exciting and an emotional journey for Liverpool is an important city for my family, and myself. My granddad immigrated in the 1950’s and settled as a businessman. Today, we are four generations and very proud to call ourselves Yemeni-Scouse. But more importantly, my city shaped the woman I am today. She taught me to stand up, speak up and be anything (Sir, I Speak Scouse, BBC Radio 6), that I can be both Yemeni and Scouse and that I don’t have to sacrifice anything to belong here.
The first question I asked myself when I began writing: what is it to be a woman today? I questioned my own womanhood, and with the rise of the extreme right-wing parties, I was conflicted in my belief that I can be a strong and visible woman in my Hijab. I went through various drafts, crossing out lines and adding new ones, but all I could think about was the pressure women face in today’s society. I began scattering words but the list was endless. I made sure I kept revisiting the question and throughout the process, I was getting closer to an answer.
I attended several workshops with Jola (Yolart), we sat with different women in the community. We introduced ourselves and shared our achievements, aspirations and the struggles we face as women in the 21st century. I also got the chance to observe Jola’s work when the women were getting their photographs taken by her. The women expressed themselves physically in response to the notion of ‘strong women’ reclaiming the Tower of Babel. I left every workshop, inspired and wanting to be around groups of women more often. I realised we need to create more safe spaces for women to be around each other.
All women had something in common: no matter what they achieved, they felt they were not good enough because they were pressured by society. Hence, I set out to write this poem to empower the women of Liverpool, also to recognise the part they play in making this city unique.
I had the chance to record with the talented John Bligh (Captain Kirkdale), a musician and sound engineer. The first question he asked me, ‘How do you hear this poem?’ I replied, ‘Waves crashing and rising as the poem moves’. We agreed to use a piano as the base of the track and add world music sounds to represent the diversity of Liverpool.
The moral of the poem is that women have been ‘ignored, silenced and their names buried in history books’ and that society is waiting for us ‘to break’. But I remind myself and the women around me that it is okay not to be okay. We are allowed to be weak and we can be strong because we are human.
In my final recording session, I broke down in tears because I felt that the words have a greater meaning, and that we women have come a long way but we still have a long way to go. But to see my city dedicating a season to extraordinary female artists, thinkers and leaders gives me hope that this is the start of something powerful and we will not forget this moment of greatness.
A message from myself to all the women reading this: we need each other, we are only greater when we work together. Thank you for your hard work and not giving up. I hear you and I see you making our future brighter and this city needs you.