Artbeat: Spoken word poet Shagufta

ev.owa-15I first saw Shagufta in action at the Let’s All Be Free Film Festival last year. She was there on the opening night to present the powerful and fascinating poetry short film ‘Borders’. Her work questions, provokes thoughts and challenges assumptions with a strong feminist message. I’ve really enjoyed her work and also recommend watching ‘Medusa’s rage’ on YouTube. Spending her time between Bristol and London, I was lucky enough to speak with her and found her to be warm, engaging, and funny. But I was mostly impressed by her strength and dedication to voicing uncomfortable, unspoken truths. Read what she had to say about our fine city!

Describe London in three words

Energetic; there is lots of energy. Kooky; there are always new things happening. London always seems to be reinventing itself in comparison to other cities. At times it’s overrated; London can forget it’s in England/ the UK, and lean towards being inward looking. There is a whole heap of stuff happening that it fails to connect with.

What/ who inspired you to do what you do?

I was obsessed with Sylvia Plath. The way she captured emotions and feelings is incredible; I would read her work and that made me think I want to do that too. Lauryn Hill as well as her music was cross discipline and a form of poetry in itself. Frieda Kahlo too; she basically draws poems and tells stories in her work. Finally MIA, she does really interesting stuff that’s experimental and mixes music and cultures.

What was the song of your youth?

TLC’s ‘Unpretty’ – I really loved it and the message behind it. The 90s was all about girl bands and girl power. I’m one of 4 sisters so it fits with that time and where women had each other’s backs and supported one another.

What do you love about what you do?

I love that I’m not restricted in terms of expression and saying what and how I feel. I’ve worked for a Local Authority and there are limits to what you can and can’t say publicly. I didn’t like being held down in that way. I like being outspoken; although I’m not challenging things, more questioning things. I represent just myself as opposed to a company which ultimately means I’m not held down to say and do the right thing. It gives me creative freedom.

And hate?

You’re broke all the time – you can either do a full time job and art on the side. Or spend full time on art, but then have money associated with it. How do you put worth on your art? I’ve been approached to do some commissions for good money, but they don’t work for me artistically so I’ve said no. It’s tough getting to the stage where you can live off your art. The beauty of more creative scenes is you can go out there and chase it. You also have to be really self-disciplined, create constant momentum and energy to drive things forward, especially if you’re working in isolation.

What makes London’s arts and culture scene unique to you?

The audience in London is really cool. I’ve performed in places such as Bristol and Plymouth where the audiences tend to be the same. In London you don’t know who to expect, you get a fresh group people who have an opinion and react to your work differently. Also, the other artists; you learn so much from them, especially on the spoken word scene. It isn’t something that’s replicated in other cities

Who should we be keeping an eye out for?

Amaal Said; an incredible poet, who was recently featured in Vogue magazine. Her work is very tender, she talks about the domestic space through the lives of aunts and mothers. It’s like you’re really listening in to someone’s private thoughts.

What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?

Giving birth – hands down the scariest thing I’ve ever done. I’m a major wuss when it comes to blood tests, so you can imagine…

Share something about you that would surprise us!

I did the Bristol 10k when my daughter was 7 months. It took me 1 hour and 7 minutes. My husband was doing it, too and made it look easy. It was actually a lot of hard work, but I’m proud of it especially after having given birth recently. I’m trying to get back into running. I actually did a 5k this weekend but had to walk some of it. My aim is to run the London Marathon!

What’s your favourite spot in London?

The Southbank. When I’m there I’m quite touristy. I love people watching, there is always something on and I like being near the water and watching the boats pass by – this is all obviously in the summer/warmer months! I love the book sellers; rummaging through the books and old portraits.

Who do you love to follow on Twitter/ Instagram?

Twitter – I follow loads of people. Mona Eltahawy stands out. She is an Egytian feminist; a really interesting character. She’s now based in the US and comes to the UK a lot.

Instagram – Amaal Said who I mentioned before as she is also a photographer.

What’s the last country you visited?

Greece. I was volunteering on the island of Leros, supporting the impact of Syrian refugees arriving in January for two weeks. It was very intense, you’re constantly running around, feeding and clothing people. I was surprised that it is completely volunteer led, and not by an international NGO. I was also surprised by how many babies there were…. I thought there would be men but there were lots of families. When you looked out from the coast, the water so choppy, windy and cold. How did these babies come across and make this journey?

Who would you want to play you in a movie of your life?

Nimrat Kaur; the lead actress in a film called The Lunchbox. I would want someone traditionally Indian looking, plus she has a really beautiful face. Her acting is great and she does roles that are aligned to alternative cinema.

What are you doing after this interview?

I’m going to play with my kids now, and do finger painting. I’d promised them I would so…

Upcoming Performances

‘Borders’ is being shown as part of the London Asian Film Festival at Regents Cinema. Have a look here:

Shagufta is also going to be taking part in the 250 Year Anniversary celebrations for the Bristol Old Vic. You can follow the latest news here:

Check out her website and follow her on Twitter at @shaguftakiqbal.

Filed under: Written & Spoken Word