Guest Blog: Jamal Harewood

What do words mean our of context? CPT Associate Artist Jamal Harewood explores our language in new show Word, co-commissioned by CPT (as part of the Spring Festivals co-commission in 2016) this April.

Back in 2014, whilst studying at the university of Chichester, I wrote an essay that looked at the word ‘n*gger’ and whether or not it was possible for the word to be reclaimed.

Despite the essay and many conversations with friends and family over the years, I find it near enough impossible to find a clear answer on the matter.

Part of the reason for my uncertainty is how much the spoken word relies on context to be understood and processed. As a kid I was constantly being told by my parents to watch my language and that, “it’s not what you said, but how you said it”.

Who would have known that my uncertainty with the word nigger, curiosity and love of hip hop would lead to me creating a piece that is co-commissioned by Sprint, Mayfest, Watch Out & Pulse festival.

Since then I’ve been on a strange journey of  discovery which has involved me becoming an audience member for a children’s spelling bee gameshow, emailing a few mainstream rappers that regularly use nigger in songs, attempting to establish what cultural appropriation actually is and whether or not it applies to words.

It may seem like an obvious statement but Word ‘s journey is completely different to The Privileged ‘s. The main difference being in assistance; outside of uni it feels as though you’re on your own, that help isn’t there and that failing isn’t acceptable. At least that’s how I felt at the beginning of making Word. Now, one year on, seven scratch performances, a couple of R&D weeks and having received guidance from both Ellie Stamp and Topher Campbell, I know that that’s not the case.

As a “solo”creator of participatory performances I tend to spend a lot of time researching and mulling things over. It’s hard to predict how people are going respond to the instructions, making scratch performances all the more important!

As it stands, with around 3 weeks left until its premier, Word blends two worlds together: hip hop and gameshow, with the intention of placing context underneath a magnifying glass.