ICA London presents Strange Echoes, a six-day convening celebrating the life, work and influence of poet M. NourbeSe Philip. Curated by poet Olivia Douglass, Strange Echoes positions Philip’s work as a call to which artists respond in creative forms spanning poetry to installation, film and music. Collectivity, language, belonging, and the poetics of the fragment, are themes and concerns that persist throughout the programme. New and existing Philip readers are invited to engage deeply with her work and observe her influence on Black experimental writing in Britain today.
M. NourbeSe Philip’s writing is marked by a striking distrust and re-dubbing of the English language as a colonial tool, its design reducing the experience of African people to abstraction and commodity. In her seminal texts She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks and Zong! language is ruptured and exploded to reveal the violence and absurdity it imposes on Black people. Words are fragmented into straying syllables, vowels and consonants drifting in negative space. Philip’s works of poetry, fiction and plays are not concerned with coherence; her writing blurs the boundaries between articulate speech and impulsive sound, howling out from the Atlantic, disrupting the ruling order of history and law. Her profound deconstruction of colonial language and logic urges readers to consider how the brutality and infrastructure of the transatlantic slave trade still reverberates into the realities of the world today.
As Black writers in Britain grapple with the country’s history, racism, politics and culture, they find resonance with Philip’s poetic exploration of exile and the ache of belonging. Philip’s work becomes a blueprint for articulating the complexity and beauty of Black life, and emboldens experimental, fugitive writing. With this guidance, new generations of writers across the African diaspora continue to map routes towards alternative visions of liberation and being.
Inspired by the ‘song, moan, shout, oath, ululation, curse, chant’ that composes Zong!, Strange Echoes gathers poets, artists, writers, and audiences, and seeks to catalyse collective dialogue, contributing Black British voices to M. NourbeSe Philip’s unfolding chorus of dissent.
Participants include: Joan Anim-Addo, K Bailey Obazee, Victoria Adukwei Bulley, Courtney Conrad, Olivia Douglass, Esther Heller, Latekid, Abondance Matanda, Shenece Oretha, Kareem Parkins-Brown, M. NourbeSe Philip and Ebun Sodipo.