Brownton Abbey is an Afro Futuristic Space Party where “queer, black and brown disabled folks reign supreme”. Combining activism, arts, music and drag to great effect, they “invite you to take up space, drench yourself in futurist ritual, and get transcendental, as Brownton Abbey take you to church!”
We caught up with Tarik Elmoutawakil, the Artistic Director of Brownton Abbey. He’s a Brighton local and also one half of Marlborough Productions. We discuss the return of Brownton Abbey post-lockdown. Brownton Abbey: Talk Show opens at the Battersea Arts Centre in June.
We began by discussing Brownton Abbey’s previous work: “Brownton Abbey started as an event at Brighton Festival in 2018. I was the lead artist on the project. It came as an idea at a time of deep grief having lost my dad and a relationship. I was feeling incredibly lonely and disconnected from other people of colour in Brighton. The chain of events gave me the idea an Afro Futuristic Space Church themed performance party that centres and elevates disabled queer people of colour.”
“We have support from Unlimited (an arts commissioning programme nurturing new work by disabled artists). We commissioned four artists in the first round. We’ve since commissioned another six to make creative work.” As well as performing at Brighton Festival, they’ve played the Southbank Centre. They were also flown out to Toronto for the Cripping the Arts Festival.
On their upcoming show: “The event should be enjoyable for people who have no experience of seeing live art or performance art. It may also appeal to people who do but don’t like going to clubs. It’s a way of bridging different audiences and making art forms more accessible. We have a BSL interpreter for every performance. We make sure the dance floors are always accessible. Same with backstage. We have an intersectional approach to accessibility thinking about class, race, gender and disability. We’re working really hard to remove barriers. We demonstrate what the world would look like if difference was deified rather than demonised.
“When we commission the artists, we work with ones who have some experience already or who can work in a club space; where an audience mid-dance will pay attention to what’s happening on stage. It’s never just one art form – very much interdisciplinary arts. Expect drag, cabaret, dance, live music. We have an installation piece for the first performance: an interdimensional shaman, I believe! That might raise the energy of the audience.
“With Brownton Abbey we aim to raise the consciousness of people – like they’ve taken a drug but in a beautiful way. Having a psychedelic or ecstatic experience.”
The pandemic arrived in March 2020 – as you may recall! – and live arts came to a sudden end. How were Brownton Abbey affected by lockdown? “We have to cancel our seven day tour. We have a commission from Unlimited. Touring a collective of disabled artists shouldn’t be done on the cheap. We make sure people’s needs are cared for. Fortunately, I imagine Brownton as a space ship that collections queer people of colour. I felt that within the project there was a possibility to adapt Brownton Abbey so it could make sense as a digital work. We worked with the commissioned artists to have their pieces filmed instead. We made beautiful captures of their performances. I’ll be interviewing each of the performers in character as an alien god at home – so wearing half human drag. It gives a deeper insight into their work. And it’s a rare opportunity to see queer people of colour talking art, politics, the state of the world – sharing that black gold.”
“Pre-lockdown we did a mini-Brownton Abbey with a micro-audience which we filmed and live streamed. We’ll be sharing more widely in the future. That event had kemetic yoga, DJs and featured an international collaboration with Purity – a South African musician. We had another South African musician whose one half of Desire playing with a full band.
“We have Brownton Abbey Insta – I have to admit that I’m not updating it every day. There’s a strong disability social justice element to what we do. I don’t expect any of the artists to go beyond their means and I understand the effect of the capitalist machine on the arts. So that means if we don’t have the most up to date social accounts we’ll focus more on the art. Be sure to follow Marlborough Productions – we do have a good social media presence there!”
Check out Brownton Abbey’s website here.