Sunday, 22 April 2018

Sunday Short: Running the gauntlet of a benefits appeal

Screen shot of a tumblr post. Transcript below.
[theconcealedweapon] Some people can lift 200 pounds. But if they carries it everywhere they want for an entire day without ever putting is down, they'd severely tear their muscles and cause permanent damage to their body.
Some people can enter a 140F car in the summer to get something out of the car. But if they stayed in the car, they'd die from the heat.
Some people can hold their breath underwater for 30 second. But if they tried to go scuba diving without the necessary gear, they'd drown.
Clearly, someone doing for a short period of time does not automatically mean that they can do it indefinitely with no problem.
So why do people assume that if someone can walk for a few seconds, they don't need a wheelchair?


[Skeletonmug] THIS THIS THIS
it goes further that wheelchair users too.
It's a very important issue with people who can't work "normal" jobs due to chronic pain and chronic fatigue.
Sure I can go to a friend's house and talk and maybe play a board game for few hours. But a) I'm not doing that without incurring pain and fatigue and b) that is not the same level of exertion as working even a part time job.
Sure I can write a blog posts  some weeks but I still incur pain and fatigue and I can't do it everyday. It's not the same as working even a part time office job.
Sure I can walk to the shop and back using mm [sic] cane but I can't do it at any given time without notice and I end up with increased pain and fatigue. This is not the same as being able to walk anywhere I want whenever I want.
You, dear judgemental and biased assessor, could walk the length of Hadrian's wall in 5 days*, but lemme tell you, even if you have trained for it and even if you are fit and healthy, you will be exhausted and in pain by the end of it. But you can do it. So from that I can of course extrapolate that you can walk 84miles up and down literal mountains all the time whenever you want, one after another with no rest and of course you'll be fine and the pain and fatigue will be trivial and [not] eventually prohibitive?
No? Then you can't decide that because I can walk to the shops and back using my stick and incurring pain and fatigue that that means I am fit to work a regular job or have zero mobility issues.
*I have actually done this before I got stick. It was way tougher than I thought. 

This is a fairly old post now but it popped up again today and it couldn't be better timed.

This post is going to be unusually candid and personal but I think it's important to share my experience with applying for PIP (Personal Independence Payment).

The quick rundown of the timeline is as follows:

  • October 2016 - receive a letter from the Department of Work and Pensions stating that I will be being moved from my Disability Living Allowance on to PIP and need to apply for PIP by November 2016.
  • November 2016 - Face to Face assessment with DWP assessor
  • December 2016 - receive a letter from the DWP saying that I have been awarded the standard rate for mobility at £21.61. This is over a 75% decrease in what I was receiving in DLA and a demotion in grade.
  • December 2017 - Request documents so I can submit what is known as a "mandatory reconsideration".
  • January 2017 - Date for mandatory reconsideration passes without me receiving the requested paperwork. 
  • January 2017 - finally receive paperwork
  • February 2017 - Submit mandatory reconsideration 
  • February 2017 - Receive refusal of mandatory reconsideration.
  • March 2017 - Submit formal request for appeal and tribunal
  • February 2018 - Receive letter with date of tribunal and option for submitting supplemental information. 
  • April 2018 - Appeals Tribunal held. Decision given. Awarded an increase to include Standard Rate Care. This is a 100% increase from the original award.

The reason this is being paired with the above tumblr post is that so much of the application, assessment, reconsideration and tribunal is about repeatedly reminding and convincing complete strangers that being able to do one thing does not mean that I can do everything all the time.

There is a key phrase in the guidance and scoring criteria for PIP and other disability related benefits: "reasonably, reliably and repeatedly".
What this basically means is can you do it with reasonable levels of pain, discomfort or distress, no more than an able bodied person would be expected to endure; that they can be expected to reliably perform the task in an expected manner; that they can repeat the task in a reasonable time frame.

Despite this being specifically in the guidance for PIP applicants, it seems that any assessors and professionals involved in decision making don't keep this in mind or have a poor understanding of what it actually means. There is also a tendency for people to think in very discrete terms and not consider that doing thing A will also have an impact on your ability to do things B,C and D. It's not just about doing thing A again and again.
On top of that it's recognising that things A, B, C, and D may have different stresses on the system or difficulties associated with them. Sometimes it helps to think about it as a game of Tetris with really big awkwardly shaped blocks. Each day you may only be able to fit in one big awkward shaped block. Or you can fit a B block and a C block but that's it, not other. Of course you also need to consider the long term impact of activities or situations. Symptoms don't stop and our bodies don't resent at midnight ready for a fresh day.

This is why my PIP appeal was brutal. Because I have to repeatedly, with every activity, from cooking a simple meal to walking to a bus stop remind them that even if I can do it once I can't do it again and again. Even if I said I can start cooking a meal, I can't necessarily finish cooking a meal or do anything after cooking a meal.
Additionally if it can only be done with pain, fatigue, distress, or confusion then it is not being done in a reasonable fashion.
Even communication. Yes I might be communicating with you now but can I do it reasonably, reliably and repeatedly.

It is ridiculously exhausting to have to do this again and again. It's not just the frustration of repeating oneself, it is the pain and distress of having to justify your experience to people who are absolutely failing to grasp what you are telling them.

Disabled and chronically ill people really need able bodied people to actually consider and appreciate the ease with which they do things every day and how that is not the experience of disabled people. More than that we need able bodied people to listen to disabled people and respect and understand that we are not exaggerating. We are trying to be as open and frank about our experiences as we can. It we say we can't do something it's because we can't. It doesn't matter if we did it yesterday or we did something that you judge to be similar. If we say we can't do it or we can not do it reasonably, reliably and repeatedly then we can't.

If more people understood this then people wouldn't have to go through 16 months of intrusive, distressing and at times physically and mentally demanding scrutiny.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Sunday Short - People>Profit

This post first appeared on Tumblr on Thursday 12th of April [content warning for some indirect racism and colonialism]

[Three screen grabs of a tumblr comment thread. transcripts below]

First picture:
[Jennykilledmyfamily] To my understanding sweatshops are part of the industrial development process of a developing country. like how the united states had child labour and (pretty much) sweatshops during the industrial revolution. so it's awful in the short term but creates benefits in the long term.
[marxistbarbie] what kind of late stage capitalist dystopia are you on to say something like this!
[Jennykilledmyfamily] The kind that puts food on my plate every day and night so I don't have to stand in line for a loaf of bread my whole life
[Sophrosynic] ew
[sophrosynic] TFW you try to defend capitalism but accidentally admit that capitalism is a system that literally cannot function without exploiting people in the most morally reprehensible way possible just so that a small group of people don't have to stand in a bread line
[tomatomutato] So what would people in China be doing if we got rid of sweatshops? Would they all become software developers? They'd likely be doing subsistence farming. They wouldn't live in poverty like they do now, true but they'd starve to death.
I say this as somebody who is not in favour of the status quo with 80% of wealth earned going to the top 1%. I've just heard some arguments against it that I hadn't considered before.

second picture:
[justsomeantifas] congratulations on missing the point, big time.
[arcaneinteractions] Wait how the fuck did you get from "subsistence farming" to "starving to death"? Like, China prior to the entry of the agents of capitalism wasn't exactly some barren hellscape waiting for western intervention to save its starving people.
[Tomatomutato] "Wait how the fuck did you get from "subsistence farming" to "starving to death"? " Pretty easily, actually. If you are making just enough to feed you and your family you are pretty much screwed if anyone gets sick or so there's a dry season and you can't farm.
[arcaneinteractions] aw man i am going to knock your socks off by inventing the grain silo
[Tomatomutato] So that implies that you are growing enough to have excess to store it. Which is great if that's the case but that's a different scenario. I don't want to mince words here but what exactly is it you're saying should happen? Hypothetically, we shut down all factories that could be described as a sweatshop, what happens next?
Are there any other jobs the citizens could do to make a living? Is farming and growing your own food and building your own grain silo etc something you are saying should actually happen in China or are you just being rhetorical? 
Because many of the factory workers are people who left the countryside to move into the city because of extreme poverty. If farming was viable and preferable to working in a sweatshop more people would do it.
[justsomeantifas] at first I thought this was funny then i just got sad because I honestly can't imagine being this unimaginative or this misinformed or this resistant to actually learning shit. lol
[geekycubil] Where does @tomatomutato think all the people currently working in factories are getting their food from? More people working in factories means fewer people working on farms. Since the factory workers aren't currently starving according to tomatomutato this means the reduced number of farmers are already producing enough food for them. If these people suddenly stopped working in factories the food supply wouldn't be affected. If they all started farming, all other things being equal, the food supply would reasonably be expected to go up. It's a myth that increasing safety decreases jobs, in general, but let's pick something like reasonable overtime rules. Wouldn't reducing the number of hours a given person works create more jobs since more jobs would be needed to reach the same number of labor-hours?

Third picture
[anfem-cripplepunk] I can't believe people are seriously justifying slave and child labour and sweat-shops. People in Asia don't deserve to suffer for "first world/developed" and Western countries and their comfort, privilege and capitalism. 
So much racist, colonialist, imperialist, nationalist, xenomisic, ableist and classist bullshit wrapped up together in a nice pile of shit and tied with a bow.
Goddess fuck, we shouldn't need to debate the economics when human lives are at stake. People >profits.
And when those of y'all are busy defending capitalism no matter the cost don't suddenly pretend like you care about the plight of Chinese people, and how they'd deal with the aftermath of ending the aforementioned three [slave and child labour and sweatshops]. You're really jsut concerned with how we would deal with the aftermath.

My contribution:

[Skeletonmug] plus nobody is saying just close down those factories. What most people are saying is “hey why not pay a fucking living wage to people and regulate their working conditions.” they can keep their jobs if they want to but they don’t have to be working in dangerous conditions and earning next to nothing.

And before you say it that doesn’t mean that prices of products have o go up which will hurt other poor working people who need to buy that stuff. If they really want to, if they have an ounce of actual ethics, companies can absorb all that extra cost of production and just have a smaller profit margin. Don’t forget profit comes after wages and overheads, it’s litterally just numbers on a page. They don’t need super high profits for anything other than supporting a capitalist economy that places more value on profit than on human welfare.

And if the cost of products go up then here’s an idea for you, how about ... how about those companies that are paying their hard working staff so little that a small price increase makes buying things prohibitive ... how about hey give their staff a pay increase too. And where would the money for that come from? you guessed it, that fucking useless profit margin, or the equally fucking useless CEO bonuses and pay that is often 800% what their workers get. Maybe if they can go manage to live on less than £1000000 a year then some of their staff can live on more than £13000 and not be in poverty. Wouldn’t that be nice.

See how we’ve managed to reduce sweatshops and poverty and dangerous working practices? It was that easy. And that’s still working in a capitalist structure, that still abiding by he rules of business ownership and profit and wages material consumption and CEOs making big salaries.

Now me personally I’d go a hell of a lot further than that and mandate a universal basic income for people so that they aren’t forced into working in horrendous conditions and have the power to be able to demand better working conditions because they know they won’t starve. But you know, that’s just me.

also for the love of kittens can we please stop with this othering of an entire continent (Asia) and country (China) and stop treating them like some parochial slightly stupid cousins. There are actually some super developed economies in Asia as well as incredibly complex socioeconomic and political histories which make it not a straightforward issue and makes comparison to countries like the USA meaningless. Also we need to stop thinking that terrible working conditions and virtual slave labour only happen in "foreign places" it happens in the US and the UK and probably other "developed" countries too.

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Sunday, 8 April 2018

Sunday Short - Non Specific Accessibility Aids

This post first appeared on Tumblr earlier this week. I was initially hesitant about posting this because that would be three disability Sunday Shorts in a row. But I decided to go for it because it's an important topic

For ridiculous reasons I have been without a mobile phone for two months now which is infuriating.

I haven’t been able to afford to buy a replacement and I have lived in hope that the place I sent it to get fixed would actually return it. That’s a whole other story though.

The thing I don’t think people realise is actually how disabling this is for some people. I know there are all sorts of stereotypes and prejudice about The Youth and Their Addiction to Screens which largely is bullshit. The truth of the matter is that for modern life, especially for people brought up with the tech, smart phones are incredibly useful. They can keep you in touch with people, you can conduct web searches, you can easily check your bank balance when you are out, you can check Google Maps for directions, use it as a train ticket and so so much more.

For pretty much anybody of any age ho uses a smart phone regularly, being without one for a protracted period of time is an inconvenience at best. We can’t deny how useful they are.

But I want you to consider that usefulness and expand it a bit further.

I want you to consider it as an accessibility aid for disabled people.

Consider somebody who has sevee anxiety or autism and who struggles being out, especially in busy places. Their smart phone has apps that can help to calm or distract them, it has music, audiobooks, meditations or white noise to drown out or distract from excessive stimuli. It can help communication if you struggle talking to other or can bypass stressful communication altogether for example by giving you directions instead of having to ask a stranger. Most importantly for many it can allow you to contact somebody you know and trust either to come and pick you up/help you or just to keep you calm and centred while you manage yourself.

Consider the person with ME who gets struck with excess fatigue or pain while out. They can use their phone to look for the closest taxi rank, bus stop or to order a taxi because they cant walk anymore and aren’t safe to drive. They can use apps or google street vie and similar to find the nearest bench to sit. They can use their phone to communicate to people f the fatigue effects their speech. They can use apps to check when they last took meds and when it’s safe to take another dose. Again, they can call for support, help and guidance when they are so exhausted they can’t think clearly.

Consider the person who is partially sighted who can use apps to magnify text on labels and packages or to read out loud signs. They can have spoken directions to navigate a busy town centre. They can use the bus services app to get a ticket so they don’t have to try and see the coins and ticket machine when travelling.

There are so many different ways a smart phone can help disabled people access the world around them. They are useful for pretty much everybody but they can be the thing that makes the world actually accessible to others. But a smart phone isn’t considered an access aid. You’ll never get government funding for a smart phone no matter how useful it is to a person.

There are so many other everyday objects I could have used as an example - a hand blender, a microwave, a laptop or tablet, a “fancy” one cup kettle- but also a pre booked seat on a train, first class on a plane (for the leg room amongst other things), taxis, specific housing.

We have to stop seeing access aids as medical devices that are prescribed and start recognising that what might be a convenience to you, an able bodied person is actually a major help to a disabled person. We need to do this to reduce disableism, increase accessibility and to realise that things like being without a phone isn’t always just a minor annoyance.

This is what is often called a “disability tax” - the extra costs that disabled people need to pay in order to have normal access and a normal standard of living. What is a non-essential item or a perk to an able bodied person is virtually a necessity to a disabled person.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Sunday Short - this is systemic disableism

This post first appeared on facebook on 24/03/18

This was inspired by the HuffPost article BBC Journalist Criticises Heathrow Airport's Treatment of Disabled Passengers
This is what we mean by systemic disableism. Having guidelines or systems or accessibility features is all well and good but they have to work. You have to be able to use them smoothly and effectively. If they are an afterthought, addition, or hidden away in the back of a training folder they aren't actually accommodations.

You need to think about accessibility right from the beginning and have accommodations for disabled people as seamless a feature as any service you offer to literally any other customer. If you are designing services or features for your customers you have to include all you customers able bodied and disabled right from the start because if you don't the chances are your accommodations won't actually accommodate. A disabled customer, client, or service user is no lesser than any other customer. They are not a subclass, or different species. They are people who should be valued equally with your able bodied customers. And that means you don't lose a wheelchair.

You can read more about my thoughts on this issue along with more examples in this article: Your Accessibility Needs to Be Accessible

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Laptop Fund

My laptop is on its last legs. It has recurring power issues, is starting to crash more frequently and is doing some weird stuff. Though I have an old back up laptop it is old and has its own problems and doesn't run some of the programs I need. I am disabled and often stuck at home: my laptop is what keeps me connected to the world. I use it to talk to friends and family, see what is going on in the world and to learn.

More than that it's what I use to write for my blog Axes'n'Yarn and to run access:LARP. I have a very very small income through access:LARP but without the laptop I couldn't even earn that! Any contributions to my new laptop fund (or let's be honest, a refurbished laptop fund) are greatly appreciated as I am not sure how I can afford a new one right now and I am scared of loosing my connection to the world. I'm not aiming for a super fancy high end gaming laptop, my needs are fairly modest. I just need something that works, actually charges and keeps me connected.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Sunday Short - Being Disruptive is Necassary

Sunday Shorts will be brief blog posts often drawn from things i have posted on other media such as facebook or tumblr.
Screen shot of a tumblr post - an anonymous question to user beeth0ven and their reply. Transcript below.

anonymous asked:
I def get the cripple punk movement and on the other hand the entire thing is a little to Malcolm X and not enough MArtin Luther for me.

beeth0ven answered:
mlk is so often misquoted and taken out of conext by white people. MLK wasnt just "we are equal lets be peaceful" guy - knew that the apathetic white was the biggst danger of all, he knew capitalism was an evil. he said plenty of things they don't teach you in school.
You also act like malcolm x was wrong in some way. this movement isnt for you. it's not for able bodied people. sorry to hurt your feelings.

My response:

What you mean when you say this anon, is that you want to humour disabled people but not actually listen. You are happy to give people the opportunity to speak but not to make waves. You think it is sufficient for people to complain and say things suck but you are not prepared to make actual changes. You want to feel like an ally who supports disabled people but you don’t want to change the status quo or move out of your comfort zone.

Disabled people need real changes and they need real support. That’s going to shake you out of the status quo and it’s going to feel disruptive but that’s not a bad thing. That’s a positive thing because it is a sign of change.

You think the soil doesn’t get disrupted when a plant shoots? You think the plant is ad or amoral for growing?

You are the soil. We are the plants. We are growing and you will be disrupted. But it’s either that or you keep us suppressed underground.

Find me @skeletonmug on tumblr

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Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Wakanda - My Solarpunk Dream City

Or another reason to love Black Panther

At the time of writing Black Panther has been out at the cinemas for a good few weeks. It’s understandably got a lot of attention and most of it deservedly positive. Chances are, if you are reading this you have seen the film.

However this is not a Black Panther Review as such. This is me focussing on a very narrow aspect of the Black Panther themes and aesthetic. Because as well as the awesome representations, amazing female characters and strong ethical and moral themes, the entire design and concept of Wakanda was incredibly exciting especially to somebody who is a solarpunk and architecture nerd.

Screen-shot from Black Panther. the image shows a futuristic city from above surrounded by mountains. there are a number of skyscrapers of varying shapes and designs. The central tower has a large circular building spiralling around it.

About Solarpunk and Afro-Futurism

So to begin, let me just explain a little about solarpunk. Solarpunk is a movement, aesthetic and literary genre that embraces eco friendly, eco-integrated technology in a futuristic setting. It generally envisions a utopia or at least a functioning balanced society rather than a dystopia. At its most basic it is a style and aesthetic involving natural elements like plants, water, wind and sun alongside slick futuristic technology and building. More in depth it is an entire movement and way of thinking that people aspire to and is a goal to work towards not just in terms of technology but socio-politically envisioning a low impact society that provides opportunities and equality for all citizens.

Solarpunk is also closely tied to Afro-Futurism. Afro-Futurism is again simultaneously an aesthetic, a literary genre and a social movement. In brief it grew out of a desire to re-centre sci-fi away from white European style and social constructs. Authors from Africa were creating bold and beautiful sci-fi novels based on their own experiences and cultures and ignoring the “tradition” of sci-fi (and fantasy) being largely dominated by the white Western world which was heavily influenced by historic Europe. Additionally it seeks to draw on current and emerging technology and architecture from African countries. In doing so it challenges the narrative of “Africa” often seen in Western countries that tends to homogenise the entire continent and skim over the modern, functioning and often socially forward cities and countries in Africa focussing instead on wildlife, famine and seemingly less developed tribes.

Afro-futurism by its nature often encapsulates solarpunk ideals and aesthetics focusing on new technologies that work with or make use of natural resources in a sensitive and sustainable manner whilst respecting the cultures and needs of citizens.

So then to Black Panther or more specifically, Wakanda. If you have seen the film or to be honest just seen pro-mo pictures then you may by now have an inkling of why Wakanda and Solarpunk are related. The design of Black Panther’s Wakanda is down to Hannah Beachler, the head production designer for the film. As an aside, Beachler was strongly influenced by award winning architect Zaha Hadid and her iconic modernist designs who I happen to be a fan of. Beachler was also inspired by the Afro-futurist movement as well as the incredible real life modern and traditional architecture of a variety of African countries.

It’s worth noting that, while it’s generally not a good idea to refer to Africa in such a way as to imply one giant monolithic homogenous culture, in the case of Wakanda and Afro-futurism, it makes sense. Afro-futurism positions itself as thematically different to European sci-fi and is a pan-African phonemonon not restricted to any one country plus it deals in fictional creations. Additionally Wakanda itself being a fictional state which exists outside of colonialism and some may argue, represents a “heart” of Africa that brings together a number of different cultures and traditions. Essentially there is no single country to reference when talking about these subjects.

Seen through this context then it’s clear why the Wakanda on screen was a dream come true for an aficionado of Solarpunk or Afro-futurism. But it’s not just because it looks pretty, though it certainly does. The real excitement, for me at least, was the variety and thoughtfulness of the design.

Considering your environment

Solarpunk art often falls into the trap of envisioning the same soaring towers of class and metal alloys covered in plants, solar cells and wind turbines. Accasionally you get some divergence to stucco covered Gaudi like organic structures that sweep and curve around a city. This is a trap because it is missing some of the core ideals of solarpunk design and ethos – that people should live a live which is both in harmony with the world around us as well as living in a sustainable and equal society. The thing is, every environment, country, ecosystem and area is going to have very different needs when it comes to living that solarpunk life. At its most simple we can see this in everyday housing design. Most people in Queensland, Australia for example have houses built to maximise ventilation and minimise glare from the sun. Many houses don’t have any real sort of heating system because it’s simply not needed and insulation would not only be a waste of money but could lead to dangerous overheating. Put that house design in the UK and you are going to have cold, damp unhappy residents. Here we need buildings with thick walls, plenty of insulation, large south facing windows to maximise light and smaller north facing windows to stop us getting chilly – though we do share the need for ventilation to prevent endless damp.

Futuristic architecture and sci-fi technology doesn’t do away with this need to be cognizant of our surroundings and in solarpunk I would say the need is even greater if we want to achieve the near utopian levels of harmony the genre aspires to. But while this is where some solarpunk falls down, it’s where Beachler’s design excels. By drawing on existing architecture and emerging African technologies for her design, she created a Wakanda that works well and integrates into its environment with harmony.

The Importance of Traditional Buildings

Traditional architecture is generally a good place to start to look for simple architectural techniques that make the most of the environment, and this is no different in Africa. In Wakanda this is most obviously seen in the village of the Border Tribe who mostly live and work out of what would be recognised as “traditional” houses made of mud and wattle with thatched roofs. The buildings are cylindrical with conical roofs – similar to those found in Rwanda, Lesotho, Kenya and many other areas - and small windows. They keep the daytime heat out and keep you warm at night. But traditional design isn’t restricted to the “simple living” of the Border Tribe[1], its influence is in the central city as well.

Still from Black Panther. Image shows a bustling street view looking down a wide road. There is a futuristic road-train in he centre, the buildings are varied in size and material.
There are a number of buildings in the city that would appear to be made out of mud or clay walls albeit finished with more modern or technologically advance roofing. In other areas of Africa, for example Ghana and Mali, a number of traditional buildings are made from sweepings curves with mound shaped columns supporting the walls and roofs. They are incredible and beautiful structures, made of ingenious shapes that make the most of natural resources. Tin some cases these walls and towers are strengthened by horizontal beams and rods that project through the outer surface making them bristle like a hedgehog. Again these basic shapes and materials make their way into the fantastic and solarpunk Wakanda on screen.

A close up photo of an ancient mosque in Ghana. The building as tall mound shaped pillars with wooden spurs protruding through the clay.

This integration of traditional techniques, using local materials and building methods that are sympathetic to the local environment in order to reduce overall impact is an essential part of solarpunk design and one that is often over looked.

Modern Architecture is Complex

All that being said, Africa isn’t a continent made up solely of traditional buildings and basic living. Like any other continent on Earth it has its share of modern cities and busy urban spaces. Here we need to consider the general history of Africa and how it fits in to modern institutional racism and what that means for solarpunk. Large parts of Africa were invaded and colonised by European countries. Many of the borders we recognise today were not “naturally occurring” (if any can be said to be) but the result of colonial intervention and war. Additionally architectural styles from the 19thC onwards have been heavily influenced by European settlers as well as mass globalisation and the spread of capitalism. European settlers had specific ideas about what houses and buildings looked like, and though their usual stone and brick wasn’t available they strove to recreate this facsimile of European architecture in the land they had colonised. This wasn’t always successful; as noted these building designs aren’t always suitable for the local conditions.

However it wasn’t all a disaster and fairly quickly European building design was adopted. The rapid increase in global markets and the post-colonial atmosphere of the mid 20th Century accelerated building and development of cities. What was peculiar was the flourishing architectural style of many African cities was still dominated by white European or Israeli[2] architects. Rapidly developing African countries where the perfect setting for radical brutalist and modernist designs of the 50s and 60s. While this undoubtedly fit in with the psyche and mood of the time it does mean that a lot of the modern African architecture that is held in high esteem has a complex history in which it is the product of post colonial colonialism. Indeed for a period there was a lack of non-white “modern architects” as opposed to merely people who build buildings, who originated from African countries as those subjects weren’t taught widely outside of European universities and/or there was segregation acting as a barrier.

Photo by Iwan Baan of La Pyramide in Abadjan, Ivory Coast. The photo shows a large modern building made of concrete and shaped like half a pyramid attached to a tall rectangular tower. The building shows signs of disrepair.

Why do I bring this up in so lengthy a manner? Well it’s because of the values and ethics that are a part of solarpunk. Most people who are into solarpunk would agree that solarpunk societies are diverse and equal, free of prejudice and, not uncommonly, free of Western neo-capitalist ideals. That means that when designing and creating a solarpunk city, especially one that is not located in a European country, it is essential to examine the influences and origins of your design. If your design relies heavily on that of white Europeans for a city in central Africa then not only is it likely that it would be ill-suited stylistically and functionally but you would be ignoring the issue of colonialism and systemic racism. This is the case whether you are envisaging a potential real world future or creating new fictional spaces, because even fictional spaces are influenced by the real world.

In the case of Wakanda and Black Panther there is a thread running throughout the film (and I promise this is not a spoiler) that questions globalisation and colonialism and their impact on non-white, non-European countries. That the architectural design reflects this is a beautiful thing. It shows a level of awareness and consideration that is often neglected in solarpunk and sci-fi design (though I would bet good money on it rarely being left out of afro-futurism).

The modern, futuristic and high tech design of Wakanda does draw on the influence of non-African architects that’s for sure: as noted at the beginning there, Zaha Hadid was stated as a major influence and she was Israeli. But those designs have been chosen with consideration of the real world source material and what including those designs implies for a solarpunk dream city. In the cases where European designed buildings have been referenced they are those which have been embraced by current societies and have integrated themselves into modern cities and are still functional. To many of the 20thC brutalist structures were never completed or were abandoned when they proved unsuitable for their environment. Instead it is more recent architecture, both by African and non-African architects that has been referenced as modern African architecture is far closer to solarpunk ideals than its predecessors. It’s in African cities that you will see some of the most cutting edge uses of materials, inspiring design and forward thinking sustainable and eco-friendly building. Not only is that a part of the solarpunk ethos, it is the way of life of Wakanda.

Photo of the Leo Surgical Centre Designed by Francis Kere an architect from Burkina Faso. The image shows a wide walkway between rows of adjoining buildings the buildings have open roofs and wide overhangs.
That Bechler managed to integrate the traditional features and techniques with cutting edge design and modern and sci-fi technology is to be applauded. This is how Sci-fi and solarpunk cities should work. I wouldn't say it's how they should look because if there is anything you take away from this it's that solarpunk cities should be defined by their locale. But it is how they should be formed: seamlessly blending traditional and simple with new and high tech. Creating a city that is free of structural inequality and reflects the idealised social structure of your solarpunk world. In Wakanda the streets between the clay and vibrinium walls are wide and easy to pass through, there are no cars but plentiful public transport systems. there are places to sit and buildings can be entered into easily. The space is built for the people who live there and works with the environment around it to remove any social barriers whether they be from outside influence or physical ability. It is harmonious not just in society but in it's very structure. 

And that, is why Black Panther was an exciting film to watch for any solarpunk, architecture or afro-punk enthusiast. Ecologically smart, location sensitive novel design.

Still from Black Panther showing the mountain headquarters of the Jabari Tribe jutting out of the mountainside.
Included because it was my favourite piece of design.

[1] The simple living of farming war rhinos and defending the border.
[2] In the mid 20th Century several African nations had strong diplomatic relations with Israel which supported various anti-colonial and independence movements. The agreements were damaged in the 1970s due to the Arab-Israeli war, limiting foreign investment and development.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

The Sketchbook Project

The past few months I have been working on improving my drawing skills. In order to encourage myself to draw regularly I decided to participate in the Sketchbook Project.

Photograph of an A5 manila envelope with the heading "The Sketchbook Project" balanced on a person's knee with a tin of pencils balanced on top

This is a project set up in New York that aims to act as an archive and library of artists from beginner to professional. You simply fill up one of their sketchbooks, send it back to them and it becomes a part of their collection free for members of the public, schools, art and community groups to browse.
What I particularly like is that, while for me as a random member of the public I had to pay for the book, the sketchbook is sent free to schools and community groups who wish to participate. This makes art and participation n pubic arts projects far more accessible to low income people and not-for-profit groups. Greater accessibility to the arts is something I strongly support - art shouldn't always be treated as a luxury or as something only other people do. It should be something that all people regardless of background or current financial status feel they can be a part of.

photograph of an open text book on the left showing an upside down Picasso sketch and an open sketchbook on the left showing my pencil copy of the sketch

This, somewhat shaky and poorly filmed video gives you a walk through of my sketches, the things I have learned and how I have developed my drawing over the past few months. (video is subtitled in English)

If you like sketching or painting or want to do more art, I would definitely recommend considering getting a Sketchbook Project book to fill in and to contribute to the project. I found that being part of a bigger project was a really great motivation to pick up the book and draw even on days I might not have felt like it otherwise.