#ShakeTheSystem is led by Cultural Producer Rose Ziaei,  Associate Art Director Tiff Webster, Art Director, and Strategic Mentor Sai Murray and Strategic Consultant and Mentor Farzana Khan. Rose and Tiff were both participants on the Shake! programme, bringing their own insider experience and high-level skills to the project.

As an introduction, they both sat down and asked each other  5 questions to get to know each other’s journey, why they applied for their roles and their interest in being part of #ShakeTheSystem 10 Year Anniversary.

T: What’s your story?

R: I was born in Iran under an Aries full moon (fyi: Libra sun/Scorpio rising), which probably has a lot do with why I detested anyone telling me what to do as a child. I remember getting into so much trouble for doing the complete opposite to what my mum, teachers, anyone with a bit of authority would tell me to do; because I felt I was the one who knew what’s best for me. Now, as an adult, I can understand that fiery Aries side of me a bit deeper and recognise and accept it as my continuous battle with power structures. My mum & I had to move to the UK when I was 12, and it’s interesting reflecting back on my story, and realising my politicisation started from early childhood experiences of violence, displacement, and harm both in Iran and the UK. As a child, you don’t have the language or ability to connect your experiences to deeper roots, to wider systems, and that’s something I’ve really tried to be conscious of and carry with me in my work with young people now.

The second stage came through the education system and academia. I felt there was more to life than we were being taught through logic and reasoning. I felt disillusioned after studying many European philosophers who tried to separate mind/body. It felt too disconnected from what I had learned through family gatherings, where elders would cite the mystical poetry of the likes of Hafez, Saadi, and Rumi – who not only talked about mind/body/soul as interconnected but about the connection of our soul to the Divine. I wrote my dissertation about faith, and what I now know as Divine love. When I found Audre Lorde’s “I feel therefore I can be free’, it was an instant validation to trust my inner truth and accept my ability to feel deeply as pure magic.

Another important part of my journey has been my work. I started by working in different youth projects in the international development sector. At the time, I was naïve in a lot of ways and kept thinking there’s got to be a way to do this without causing so much harm. I kept digging deeper and felt like I belonged by reading the work of authors like Bell Hooks, J Kimberlé Crenshaw, James Baldwin, Edward Said, Franz Fanon, etc. highlighting the intersections of identity and oppression, and alongside many others made me realise the development sector is neo-colonialist. I also decided to step back, and unpack my own saviour complexes which I developed from working within charity/NGO sectors, and deeply deconstruct how much of my care was rooted in an escape of my own discomfort, which meant doing a lot of deep healing work on myself. I started to align my values with my practice more and worked on a refugee youth project, and various youth organisations and youth centres, mainly because I felt the place in which transformative change was possible was through my connections with young people and decolonial pedagogy.  In a lot of ways, the different projects I worked on, got me to work through my experience of the trauma of violence and harm in my own younger life, and examine my coping mechanisms. My spiritual and healing practices are so important to me now – I’ve come so far from glorifying burn out culture, and I’ve worked a lot on aligning myself with work that aligns with my values and passion of intersecting healing, creativity, and social justice, and joining the dots between deep inner work and systemic change which has luckily brought me to Shake!, Healing Justice, and now Platform.

T: *Snaps fingers* Amen to THAT! 

R: How would you describe yourself? 

T: I’m a storyteller, a hard worker, I’m persistent and tenacious. I’m loyal, proud of my heritage, my background and my ancestors. Being working class is as intrinsic and informative to my identity as being a black queer woman. I come from a background of farmers, builders, and carpenters, so I grew up wanting to create with my hands, always wanting to build. Values, family and community are important to me. I’m a problem-solver, curious, creative and big on self- development and improvement. It sounds like I take myself hella seriously, (which I do); my background and how I identity is important to me. But, I’m also a joker at heart and a big softy. I’m an introvert, super emotional and am a massive neek with no shame.

T: When did you first get involved with Shake! And how? 

R: I remember it was at a time where I felt deeply exhausted, and disillusioned by development NGOs, charity sectors, educational institutions, cultural sectors, basically a lot, and wanted to align with more people who understood those sectors and understood my struggles. I was researching organisations combining art and activism in the UK in 2015, and came across Platform, and Shake!, and I just followed them for a while until I saw the Surviving the State course being advertised in 2016 and applied to be a part of it.

R: What’s your Shake! story, and what’s been your biggest learning through Shake! so far?

T: I took part in Shake!’s ‘Healing The Cuts’ programme in August 2017. Later on, I formed part of the editing team to produce a Short-Doc titled: ‘Surviving The State’ (2018) using content filmed by the young people from the ‘Healing The Cuts’ programme. This lead to the ‘Gentrification: Where Are We Now’ & ‘Gentrifiers- Redefining The Role of the Artist’ (2018) events with the ICA. I’m now part of the Shake The System! 10 year anniversary assisting in the curation of an Anthology of Movements 2010-2020 as Assistant Art Director.

I am honored to have been accepted to be part of this project for Shake! Archiving, documenting our narratives, our testimonies and the legacy of Shake! Alongside their impact and influence that have generated waves and served as a catalyst for change and healing within individuals and groups and our communities. What I’ve learnt most so far was the power of courage, the honing in of my skills, to trust myself more and my voice. Shake gave me the gift of hope, that there are people and communities actively on the ground working for and alongside young people, resisting, healing  and amplifying their light and their voices.

T: What was Shake!’s impact on you and what led you to apply for this role?

R: I remember doing a lot of free writing during and after the course to process the transformation that was happening, and I actually went back to some of my journal entries from that time to answer this question (which btw sent me on a whole journey!). I ended up reading through my journal entries from 2014 and I’d written things like ‘I trust the journey more than any destination’, fast forward to 2016 and hearing Farzana say ‘trust the process and let go of outcomes’, I felt like my inner/outer worlds were finally aligning. I’d experienced the disconnect between inner/outer worlds in so many places and felt like I was home. I was unpacking a lot of stuff around belonging, and the running theme of my free writes were James Baldwin’s words: “the place in which I’ll fit will not exist until I make it”. In a lot of ways, the biggest impact came from being in community with people who had interconnected values, experiences, struggles, and being held through a nurturing space that felt safe enough to go deep without fear of microaggressions or leaving unheard, or cynical. This allowed me to not only unpack and process systems of oppression through arts, but also have the space to imagine alternatives. I was able to see the transformative change that I deeply trusted and believed was possible, modelled in practice by Shake!. Since then, I have attended probably almost all things Shake! related, and initiated and facilitated the reading group with fellow shakers: Annick and Shezara and did other bits of work both voluntarily and on a freelance basis. The Cultural Producer role just felt aligned with me. I’d seen Shake! methods and tools being used in other spaces without acknowledgement, and I knew I wanted to play an active role in capturing Shake!s impact so it’s an honour to have been trusted with its legacy work which needs to be handled with deep care.

R: How did you decide what to do in the world, including this role? 

T: I’m still in the process of deciding. I trust that I am being guided daily towards where I am most of use. Practising the discernment to know what opportunities to say Yes to, and those to say No to. Those that are not for me. Saying Yes to where my skills flourish, where I am most of use and reach my highest potential. We all have different paths to follow. It was actually through co-editing the Short- Doc for Shake! In combination with the documentary filmed for The New Beacon Books refurbishment in 2017 with Shades of Noir, that I’m currently being led down the route of investigative documentary journalism and film-making.

I decided to apply for this role with Shake! as it was an opportunity I was saying Yes to. I wanted to support and explore creatively within the role. There’s something about working alongside people that know you, trust your creative vision and support growth. It’s a liberating opportunity that not many get to have.

T: What are you hopeful for? 

R: Practicing hope every day is an organising tool for me – of course some days are easier than others, but it’s remaining faithful that change is possible, alternative ways of existing are possible, and remembering we have the gift of seeing each other through the journey of actualising our reimagined worlds. I’m hopeful for our capacity to be in better relationships with each other and the rest of the universe, and for our capacity to hold loss and grief gently but with more courage, with better tools. Capitalist structures value productivity, outcomes, individualism, and power over process and collective liberation – it’s a strategic move. The more we work, the more we’re unable to slow down to process and feel our real feelings which pulls us away from looking at how the same capitalist structures are breaking our hearts and not serving us. We have the ability to create ourselves anew in accordance with the rhythms of nature, and right now, although there’s chaos, there’s also an opening, the gateway to transformation. It feels to me that our only task right now is to slow down and really take our time to heal, heal the split, the separation. Life is not either/or, it is both/and – death/life dark/light go hand in hand, and I’m hopeful we will be reborn into a higher dimension and experience the world as an interconnected sacred place again. As much as I am a part of this world, the world is also a part of me which helps me stay hopeful, like Adrienne Maree Brown and many others, I find hope in Octavia Butler’s words: “all that you touch, you change. All that you change, changes you. The only lasting truth is change. God is change”. I’m basically hopeful for collective liberation, healing, justice, creativity – love.

R: Who/what has recently inspired you?

T: Most recently I’ve been inspired by screenwriters for fictitious sci-fi series and of documentary films that I’ve been watching during the current lockdown. I’ve been observing the stories being told on the screens. The theme of War plays a large part of the framework of stories and our human history. Even now, with Covid-19, this is being framed as a ‘War’ against humanity; with each country in military war mode. This is worrying, but also reveals how war-crazed our reality actually is and how deeply rooted warlike and militarized thinking is taught to us. We are in a global health crisis that requires solidarity and cooperation, not a ‘War’. The writers of these series and documentary films mentioned all write about ‘othering‘, framed with two opposing sides, an ‘us’ against ‘them’ storyline; the ‘good’ vs ‘bad’, but what I truly appreciate and am most inspired-by are the adaptations from these linear storylines that play such a big part of our societal framework and psyche, and how ‘wars’ are framed, how illnesses are personified,  how ‘identity’ is discussed and how it truly is not as ‘black and white’ as we are taught that life is. It’s nuanced and complex. They ask the important questions, why are the ‘bad’ people ‘bad’ and is that really true? Ultimately, what is the truth? and how can we write narratives either fictitious or real that reflect truth, justice, fairness, love and kindness.

I’ve most recently been inspired by the screen writings of Rebecca Sugar for the animated series Steven Universe which, albeit a cartoon, I would say that it is for all ages. It focuses on kindness, healthy relationships, acceptance, queerness, love and family. It’s a beautiful masterpiece. The complex and intellectual sci- fi storytelling with wonderful metaphors for the human condition in Star Trek Discovery. The writers room for this series write about people that constantly make mistakes and explore alternative ways of solving their conflicts. The writing shows the struggle of identities across the universe working on their conflicts with being accepting and tolerant. Lastly, Hillbilly: Beyond the stereotypes in the heart of US’s Appalachia by filmmakers Ashley York and Sally Rubin. An Appalachian filmmaker travels home to examine why the stereotype exists, how it affects her community, and what lies behind the simplistic portrayal. This type of storytelling is of testimonials, I think testimonials are crucial in revealing truth. Hearing someone’s story transforms the ideas and stories we may have created in our own minds, or are told by the media, and that in reality are far from the truth.

T: Name 3 things you’ve recently discovered about yourself?

R:  1. I don’t know if it’s a completely new discovery, but the way music impacts my soul on a spiritual level has become even more clear during lockdown. I tuned into Joe Kay’s 4-hour Soulection quarantine set, and it honestly felt like a spiritual journey.

2. My obsession with playing backgammon online is becoming a bit wild. My inner Iranian uncle vibes have truly come out.

3. I’m still as rubbish as I have always been with texting/online communications, if anything I’m probably even worse because everyone is extra active online. I’m still working on finding the balance between holding myself accountable for taking time to reply/setting boundaries around online communication. The real ones have managed to still love me but also tell me when I’m taking it too far so that’s useful.

R: What brings you joy? 

T: Big breakfasts that include a ton of pastries and fruit, my grandmothers and my mother’s cooking, laughing and eating in company, the season of autumn, dancing, seeing younger family members grow and becoming. The feeling I get when I’m creatively doing something I love, and at the same time knowing it’s important work, that brings me the most joy.

Cultural Producer – Rose Ziaei

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