Tomiwa Folorunso (Executive Producer) and Natasha Thembiso Ruwona (Director) draw on Maud Sulter’s 1988 essay ‘Call and Response’ to reflect on the making of maud. (2022).
I don’t want to write a call,
or a response.
It feels like a pressure, an expectation. I do not want this. I would quite simply like to just be.
A call and response might be to ask and receive an answer, to exchange and listen.
To ask and receive seems entitled. But perhaps then like many things, it’s one of context, who is being asked, and who is receiving. To exchange and listen. This feels different – caring, less ego, less extraction, more mutuality. A willingness, to learn, to know more, to do better, to be told one may be wrong, and to be told one may be right.
Do you think Maud realised how brave she was? How brave she is. A bravery that transcends. Words spoken or written before we were born resonate in the now. On the surface it seems incredible but underneath should scare and sadden us, because if things had changed then her words would speak to what used to be, a past we couldn’t understand, not a present we can.
Brave then and brave of now, that is Maud. Oh how little has changed.
A braveness carried through and across truths, the bravery to name this knowing. She speaks to us – how little has changed – we speak of her, Maud Sulter.
It is through Maud I’ve found collaboration, and met collectivity. The co-authorship of a project that is me yet more than me – it extends beyond and becomes us, we, them, ours. I have learned how love can form the foundations of work, through friendship. As ‘co-conspirators’ to use Maud’s words, we have developed a space to share not only ourselves but an exchange that is grounded in passion, nurtured in respect and trust, an exchange of knowledge and experiences.
A co-conspirator. That’s who you are to me, and I am to you, I think. Conspirator seems apt because at the beginning when it was you and I silently whispering the thoughts and ideas that would become this, it felt impossible. To conspire was the only way. It is the only way.
And our gang of conspirators grew. Unexpected collaborations which remind me that it’s always bigger than us. It’s grounded in our shared but individual experiences. We have each stood on an edge, desperately searching for anything that we could hold to ground ourselves, to grow from.
Individually, together, we held imagination at the forefront of what we do, and what we have done.
A space of and for joy to become and breathe. A space to dream;
But what conditions are required for dreaming? It is difficult. To dream anew we need to face the world as it is, and to confront ourselves.
This silence you mention makes room for tuning in, being in this body, in this place that we call home. In this space of togetherness.
Joy. We laughed a lot. I think that’s what I loved about the making of maud. It was hard, and we were holding so much; histories, anger, resilience, sadness, all the heavy stuff. And we held each other with laughter, not to brush over the pain but because, I think, there was an overwhelming sense of gratitude.
Grateful to have found one another and Maud. Grateful to make a film, to play with, and stretch each of our creative practices, individually and collaboratively. And then to contribute to her memory, to add to her archive through our lens.
‘Being written out of history can happen to you.’
She knew of the dangers of visibility and the difficulties of archiving ourselves and each other. Maud was written out of Scottish history for so long, with only fragments of her life and work scattered behind institutional walls, her memory alive in those who knew her and who began the process of excavating these traces.
Through absence, I learned of Maud Sulter. In that space between uncertainty and knowing. I wonder about the possibility of being in a state of discontent which pushes you to challenge what is all around you. It welcomes bravery, because what is the alternative?
1) Sulter, ‘Call and Response’, 601.
‘Yes being visible can be dangerous. But being invisible eats away at your soul.’
I am both visible and invisible. Constantly wrestling between the two. Unsure which hill to climb. Maud suggests that it’s harder to be invisible, but I am not sure. Because being visible also eats away at your soul, or rather, it’s crushed down, so lightly at first and then you blink and it’s almost gone. So you must retreat, you must go inside yourself, to find the silence and tune in.
When you see yourself you realise how very few see you with such clarity, and so it feels as if you have no choice, but to force yourself out, and to become visible again.
When we made maud. I don’t think we were visible or invisible. We were the co-conspirators of our own path(s).
I am thinking about desire in relation to creativity. How desire is intrinsically linked to making – to create in response to the absence, or as a response to what we see, experience and know.
I think that we held Maud’s bravery close to us, guiding us throughout the project, as our own desires to hold a space for her legacy became real. This film is a labour of love which places ourselves and each other very much in the landscape that is Scotland – a conversation with the land. ‘No one will document our future but us’ she writes.
Returning to collectivity – we are the past, present and future.
‘As I have outlined, there are traces of a presence scattered like cowrie shells in sand. Signposts that indicate a past where we tried to transcend the labels of ‘otherness’ which left no place for the exploration of who we were as individuals, as family, as collectives across divisions.’
Natasha, I think we made a cowrie shell.
2) Sulter, Thin Black Line(s), p. 23.
3) Sulter, ‘Call and Response’, 600.1
Himid, L, et al 2011, Thin Black Line(s), Making Histories Visible Project, UCLan Centre For Contemporary Art, Preston.
Sulter, M. (2021) ‘Call and Response’, Art History Special Issue: Rethinking British Art: Black Artists and Modernism, 44 (3), 598-602.