Responding to COVID-19 – Hafsah

Head and shoulders photograph of Hafsah smiling wearing dark blue headscarf and bright blue top

Before Hafsah joined us as Community Producer, she contributed a film to our COVID-19 Collecting project, and she tells us about her contribution here.

Tell us a little about yourself…

My name’s Hafsah Aneela Bashir and I am a British Pakistani poet, playwright and performer originally from the East end of London. I have an MA in Postcolonial Literary and Culture from the University of Leeds and have a keen interest in writing as a form of resistance and liberty. I am co-director of the arts collective, Outside The Frame Arts. I work with marginalized and underrepresented communities delivering creative workshops centred around identity and empowerment. I completed an Artistic Director Leadership Programme, a scheme preparing Leaders Of Tomorrow from minority ethnic backgrounds for future leadership roles. Current work includes writing the libretto for a Tete a Tete Festival commission with FormidAbility exploring Bristol’s role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade through the story of Pero Jones. I am founder of the Poetry Health Service, a free digital creative service offering poetry panaceas as a tool for connection and healing with over 80 contributing poets and I am mother to 5 wonderful children which is what really takes up my time!

What has creating looked like for you during this time?

At first creating looked like a form of paralysis for me. Of mind and body. I felt a lot of numbness, fear and anxiety. I, like many other freelance artists, was impacted as the arts sector was hit heavily. I was unsure how to move forward with my practice. I also felt I couldn’t create as my main priority was to keep my family and community safe. It took me a long time to write one poem. The only way I could do it was to start small. Tiny haikus that summed up my feelings in 5,7,5 syllables. Then I decided to share short stories and poetry written by people of colour every day for an hour on my Instagram live. This went on for a mammoth 75 days and it is through this that the Poetry Health Service was born. 

What have you decided to donate to the Covid-19 collection?

I have decided to donate my 10-minute Greater Manchester Creative Commission poetry film developed and produced during lockdown last year with Kirstie Henderson of Brave Day Create. I was one of 60 artists commissioned to respond to the pandemic. The film in essence captures the impact of Covid-19 on Black, Asian and Global Majority communities who expressed how they were feeling by writing and sharing haikus over Instagram with me.

Why did you decide to donate to the COVID-19 collection?

I remember trying to research the impact of the Spanish Flu 100 years earlier and coming across fascinating photographs of quarantined towns and cities, people wearing masks, empty streets, makeshift hospitals and wondering where are the communities that look like me – what were they doing during this time? How had they been impacted? I know that what I had collected together was valuable and wanted it archived so that in 100 years’ time someone will be able to bear witness to a much more diverse and representative human story.

What has the process of collecting all the material and the responses from people been like for you?

I am a firm believer in building capacity and power through creative expression. Collecting the material was an enriching experience due to the content, the energy behind the sharing and the people’s will to provide comfort and solidarity to each other through the written form. The responses were at times, poignant, funny, sad and joyous. They gave a real insight into how people were feeling towards the government’s terrible handling of Covid-19, gave a clear indication to the rising level of mental health issues within the community, depicted the resilience and generosity of a people coming together and also portrayed the devastating impact of death and grief as people lost their loved ones.

[You can read more about Hafsah in our blog post Introducing…]