• Black Box teater
  • Oslo Internasjonale Teaterfestival
  • 12–16 March 2024
  • OITF’24 / Day #2

Class and Queerness in a Faltering Britain – TOM by BULLYACHE 
By Grace Tabea Tenga

How are the conditions for queer life in a Britain plagued by soaring inflation and rampant recession? This is the starting point of artist duo BULLYACHE with their social maximalist performance TOM. It takes the story of Orpheus out of Antiquity into a blown up unemployment center in present day UK. The Greek tragedy mirrors the current state of affairs in the island nation that has struggled to return to normalcy after one crisis to another. From Brexit to the covid pandemic coupled with a shrinking economy and stark inequality, one could easily argue that Britain is in a state of decline. And accessing help from welfare services has proven to be a difficult task, thus rising from an unemployment center's ashes in TOM. The minds behind the piece, Courtney Deyn and Jacob Samuel are using ballroom, drag and rave culture to form an encapsulating experience. The East London based collective houses and supports queer and neurodivergent artists who have impressive resumes as acrobats, gymnasts and back up dancers for icons such as Madonna, yet still have to fight to make ends meet in an increasingly gentrified capital city. For a further understanding of BULLYACHE’s performance, on Wednesday afternoon the duo had a conversation with Tine Semb, the curator behind the queer nomadic platform Karmaklubb*, exploring the various ways class structures keep artists, in particular queer artists, in the economic margins of British society. The conversation also highlighted the differences in how the working class is described and understood in England and Norway. 

Artists’ conditions are made worse not only by material limitations, but by not-so-subtle attempts of suppressing their artistic freedoms, that is sadly on the uptick in Britain. The English Art Council informed artists who receive funding to not support “overtly political or activist” statements. This was understood as an attempt to silence pro-Palestinian artists and their critique of Israel during the ongoing war on the Gaza Strip following the Hamas attack on 7 October, 2023. These forms of artistic censorship are spiking concerns in multiple European countries, in particularly Germany, where several creatives are considering leaving the country out of fear of being labeled antisemitic. Western nations who pride themselves heavily in being open, liberal and free democracies, are mimicking countries that they quote on quote “don't like to compare themselves to”. When critique of state sanctioned violence is equated to the outright hatred, artists find themselves having to choose between being vocal on political matters or keep their projects running, as several pro-Palestinian artists have had their performances, talks and exhibitions postponed or cancelled after speaking up, for instance Palestinian author Adania Shibli or artist Ai Weiwei from China. Such penalization of artists should raise alarm bells as to the ongoing pressure from the powers-that-be to squash out political dissent.

 

Black Box teater has invited dancer and art critic Grace Tabea Tenga to write a series of daily reflections on the festival