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Breakin’ boundaries: BLM-inspired artists launch new mixed-media project


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A new exhibition at Derby’s QUAD arts centre seeks to highlight the experience of marginalised groups within the city through expressive street culture.

Launched as part of QUAD’s annual Format International Photography Festival, AMP Voices combines footage of breakdancing and spoken-word performances with stylised photography and short-form interview clips. The exhibition has been conceived by Disruption, a group of four Birmingham-based creatives who each bring their own unique talents to the project.

“It’s our first collective exhibition and I am so grateful to have it be presented at QUAD,” says spoken-word artist Sipho Ndlovu. “I am excited to have it be part of an international photography exhibition which captures joyous diversity, locally.”

Disruption was conceived in response to the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, and forms part of the O’Driscoll Collective, founded by dance artist Jamaal O’Driscoll. Jamaal was born deaf and grew up with severe dyslexia and ADHD, meaning he had to find routes to express himself outside of verbal communication. His father would dance and sing at local social clubs, and Jamaal soon discovered that he too had a passion and talent for dance. “I had a lot of energy, so I always gravitated towards movement in some form, or stuff that’s nonverbal,” he says. When his father passed away after a long struggle with depression, Jamaal founded the O’Driscoll Collective to continue his father’s legacy.

“We all come together to create something out of all our backgrounds”

Anthony Shintai, digital artist

The four members of Disruption all met through their shared background in dancing, but have each developed their dance experience into a different niche. Digital artist Anthony Shintai, for instance, realised that he was spending more time capturing dance from behind the camera than participating in it directly. “I just wanted to capture moments of training – trying to do cool moves and goofing off – but then it came to a point where it felt like I was capturing dance more than actually doing it,” he says. “The love for capturing those moments motivated me to put in the time and dedication to study my craft and get better at it.”

Emily Labhart, producer for the Disruption Collective, discovered her passion for dance through growing up in a diverse community and being introduced to dancehall and hip-hop by her friends. “It really broadened my experience and knowledge of different dance styles, but more importantly, the cultures that are attached to those styles,” she says. Emily went on to study the dances of the African diaspora at university, and later set up the Dancehall Origins project to address cultural imbalances within dance around the world.

Disruption found themselves at QUAD through an open call to collectives from all over England to pitch ideas for what they could bring to Format, and QUAD’s Artistic Director, Louise Fedotov-Clements, was impressed by the range of storytelling tools at their disposal. “Format isn’t just about taking photos,” Louise says. “We want to help people to understand that photography can be all sorts of different things, and ways of articulating it can be through spoken word, breakdancing and talking to people in the city. It can be about life in its broadest sense, and Disruption are helping us to explain that to people.” 

Although Shintai describes Jamaal as “the magnet that brought everybody together,” he makes it clear that Disruption’s artistic process is entirely democratic and non-hierarchical. “All the stuff that we’ve created has been a joint thing, so it’s not just one person saying something and then everyone follows,” he explains. “We all come together to create something out of all our backgrounds.”

 “The research process is so integral to what we’re about”

Emily Labhart, producer

Jamaal agrees. “It’s not focusing on the different art forms – it’s focusing on the purpose of why you’re doing it,” he says. “When you’re purpose-driven, the art form applies when necessary, instead of the other way around. If you’re super separated, then it’s not a collective.”

Disruption’s projects always begin with qualitative research, so that the work they create depicts pertinent issues in an authentic way. So far, their research for AMP Voices has included travelling around Derbyshire, visiting churches and interviewing members of the local dance scene, such as Kid Karam.

“For the Disruption team to be able to exhibit at QUAD is a generous opportunity to expand our research into the Derby arena, meeting like-minded creatives and sharing on a reputable platform,” Sipho says. “I am excited to start 2022 so boldly.”

AMP Voices will continue to evolve until the exhibition ends on 3rd July. “It’s almost a bit weird actually having the exhibition, because the research process is so integral to what we’re about,” Emily says. “Having something final up almost feels a bit jarring – which is why we have such a strong digital element to the exhibition, because as time goes on, we can add new things and keep it going and growing.”

Visit derbyquad.co.uk/disruption for more information

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