Nadeem Din-Gabisi for Diasporas Now at Humber Street Gallery, 2024 © Abbie Jennings

Diasporas Now at Humber Street Gallery – Words by Michelle Dee

The morning after the night before when Space 2 was transformed into a dancehall. Last night January 27 Diasporas Now, a platform showcasing interdisciplinary performances by artists of colour landed at Humber Street Gallery.

Founded by Rieko Whitfield, Paola Estrella and Lulu Wang, Diasporas Now support artists from across the country to come together in different venues, to share their talents to new audiences. The work shown could be contemporary dance; performance art, music performance, spoken word, vocals and loops, theatre and movement, whatever. Six artists had been handpicked for Hull from a call-out by Diasporas Now, whose tagline reads Diasporas Now: a platform for expanded performance by the global majority.


On a far wall a figure in a white satin slip dress with long dark hair, is scratching the wall. The movement is gradual and immediately eerie. Their fingers are clutching a string of beads wrapped around one wrist, and continue to trace the wall creating the scratching, grating sound.

Each movement epitomises focus and intensity. I can’t help but see horror tropes; the white dress; the dark hair hanging down; the unnatural slide of the limbs insect-like, across the wall: and now as their arms twist and wrap around their head.

This is Sattva, presenting a drama-filled opener of contorted bodies, with an emphasis on arms. Every element, from the ringing sound of the high heel on concrete, to the shape of the hands and exacting finger positions, has been meticulously considered. No movement or gesture is wasted or throwaway. It is all present to serve the performance.

Right now on the second floor of HSG there are an array of light and sound systems, mixing desks laptops and other tech, dotted about the gallery. There is however still plenty of space to move, and many folk fifty or more from different backgrounds and age groups have ventured out to discover just what Diasporas Now is about.

James Jordan Johnson

The next performer, James Jordan Johnson, brings a performance that can only be described as unusual: maybe disturbing. A calabash of sugar water is placed in the centre of the gallery and replaced, balanced. The hard shell of the calabash gourd when hollowed out and dried, becomes a bowl in many West African kitchens.

The artist, a young black man barefoot in shirt sleeves and trousers, takes family snaps from a brown envelope and places them deliberately on the floor: arranging them. Placing another picture the opposite side of the space, he repeatedly steps on it, taking his time: commanding the attention. I see this as a moment of grounding before the work begins.

Drinking from the calabash he sprays the liquid out of his mouth in a ritualistic fashion: akin to a witch doctor. Then drinking and scooping out the remains of the liquid, he lies face down on the floor and begins to sputter the sugar solution from his mouth. Incredibly by using his lips and later a sugary wet cheek he draws a circle with his mouth on the floor.

The use of sugar harks back to the colonies and the sugar plantations, and how sugar production is inextricably linked to the trade in human suffering. Is this ordeal, this process, that takes a long enough time for the viewer to be assaulted by different responses from, “That’s not very hygienic,’ to one with an uncomfortable colonial slant. ‘A barefoot black man is here right now damn near licking the floor.’

I am told later that James also carries out this work outdoors in public places, even in the street. With the circle drawn and now staining the floor, and with concrete dust and grime all over his face  he stands and leaves the room, no word or explanation.

I watch fascinated as people carefully edge around the circle. The flow of people in the room has been altered significantly by the sudden appearance of a sacred circle. Speaking with James I learned that the circle symbolises re-generation, changing expressions of identity in an urban environment and the ancestral connection. The sugar water circle remained on the floor all night. It took a long while for people to feel confident enough to desecrate it: the circle like the artist possessed hidden resilience.

Bakani Pick-Up Company

Next two accomplished artists from Bakani Pick-Up Company shared and danced their truths in response to an initially unspoken question: What does freedom mean to me?

To begin they pace the room, taking up space; acknowledging one and other; mirroring; popping and locking, in a call response duet. Then, as one dancer continues solo, the other approaches the mic and talks of self determination; of self belief; of bodily autonomy; about the sense of when to act and when to hold back; of perception. ‘It’s all a matter of perspective,’ they repeat.

The spoken form was disarmingly casual not scripted or stylised; like having a chat over a coffee. This work was for anyone who has ever felt marginalised. Sat next to me some are crying at the sheer directness, and maybe the burning need to have someone say publicly:

‘My being here is not a political statement’ i.e. I exist for me and only for me. I am more than any special characteristics society has stuck me with.

Such heartfelt and important messages delivered so succinctly, as each dancer takes their turn responding. On the surface it feels like a very simple performance but it carries so much weight and responsibility. The final embrace between them feels like appreciation for sharing and being heard.

The crowd’s response is rapturous. There are people all around who are moved to tears from hearing these words said so fearlessly. This was my own performance highlight of the Diasporas Now event.

Gisou Golshani

Blue purple lighting in one corner announces the next artist, Gisou Golshani. Mirror fragments like sculptures sit either side of a full length mirror placed on the floor. The part improv. performance recalls the Greek myth of Narcissus, who rejected the Nymph Echo and instead fell in love with his own reflection in a pool.

In Farsi and in English Gisou speaks and sings about the nature of freedom; freedom as a trap and the trap of excessive self regard. These competing narratives play out against looping sounds and layers of majestic vocals punctuated by such sudden guttural explosive refrains, that cuts through any reverie whilst one is lost amongst the transcendental soundscape.

All the while Gisou is holding, no caressing, a fragment of mirror glass in their hands. Turning the triangular shape over and over they stare at their reflection with such intent, you truly believe they are entranced by what they see.

I envisage cool temples and tall minarets in faraway Persia, feeling every vibration, my being altered rearranged and transported. The sense of danger was ever-present, so my eyes remained open as Gisou so lovingly caressed the shard laid on top the mirror: a surfeit of self, utterly beguiling.

The work tonight all comes from a very real centred place. The connection between the performance and the ideas combined with the heightened stage presence is almost overwhelming. The stillness before a performance, the length of time taken, nothing feels rushed even in the improvised work. How you improvise and retain such focus and intention is beyond me.


Nadeem Din-Gabisi

Spoken word, samples and beats, flip a switch changing the vibe as writer turned music producer Nadeem Din-Gabisi begins his set. Dynamic wordplay and variations in tone and delivery, describe stories from the wind rush generation ‘Man got off the ship for this’ he asks. It’s a commentary that sits alongside a sharp criticism of the characterisation of Britain as all conquering hero.

The mashing up of Rule Britannia put a smile on my face. The rationale behind the tub-thumping anthem has been questioned again this year, against a background of calls for reparation and restitution, by those lands and peoples who suffered, and suffer still, at British hands.

This country keeps saying it wants to raise the youth, lift them up, make them see what lies beyond their immediate surroundings. You can’t be surprised when they see what is still going on in terms of institutional racism and built-in class discrimination despite all the protests to the contrary. And even less surprised when that youth starts demanding some changes; do a little rearranging. Look, now Nadeem is doing whiteface in a balaclava just to drive home his point.

And now as the night draws to a climax feelings of warmth and kinship emanate from within – nothing to do with the visits to the pop-up bar –  and we get down to some serious dancing.

DJ Winggold

If Marvel did Deejays they would look like DJ Winggold… but he won’t be needing a special superhero suit, that guy – real-world name Charles – is shredded to the max. Like a boss he proceeds to mix, sample and MC all the while dancing behind the decks like he is taking on an army of invisible enemies. DJ Winggold highly infectious style with a personality to match.

Collectif Echoes

The final hour was given over to Collectif Echoes. A trio of DeeJays who steered us through a journey through dance music against a fast moving backdrop of DIY club and bedroom dance videos, projected on to the wall behind.

With a setlist of jungle, garage, drum and bass, dancehall and more they jumped on the mic and reminded us that most forms of music throughout history originated within black communities. If you think about it all of the popular music from the last hundred years be it folk, blues, rock n roll, r n b, hip hop and every form of electronic dance music, it’s all black music.

Some of the earlier crowds have thinned out by the time the Deejay drops Shy FX. We collectively lose ourselves, busting our best moves, to the absolute stone cold jungle classic Original Nuttah. A moment of utter explosive joy I’ll not forget in a long long time.

Tonight, thanks to Diasporas Now, we saw a bit more of what Humber Street Gallery can be, bringing new audiences and new artists together to experience things they just won’t see anywhere else in the region. More of the unusual? Yes please.


Words by Michelle Dee

All images by Abbie Jennings