Collective Creation: An interview with SXWKS

Going it alone can be difficult. Whether it be little to no funding, oppressive restrictions or purely lack of confidence. As a creative going solo, I’ve often wondered if producing art would be easier in a team? If I’m surrounded by like minded creatives would it give my work the boost it needs or would it hinder my vision?

Back in the 80s there was the BLK art group known today for producing some of the UK´s most revered artists such as Eddie Chambers and Donald Rodney. Brought together through shared experiences, they were a collective made up of the kids of Caribbean migrants raised in the west midlands. Their first exhibition in Wolverhampton, Black Art An´Done was centered around empowering black artists. And when reading about it from my desk it feels like more of a movement than just a bunch of artsy friends that get together on the weekends. There is no issue with the latter of course but the shared purpose among the BLK members felt larger than the art.

There’s an abundance of collectives today, many with socially charged agendas. One in particular that continuously pops up on my radar is SXWKS (Six Weeks). Partially due to the accolades of their founder Caleb Femi, but also due to the sheer number of them. So I reached out and was lucky enough to have some of my questions answered on what it’s actually like to manoeuvre within the SXWKS crew:

How did you come to find yourself as part of SXWKS?

Abu Yillah: I was busy building my creative portfolio and one of the members saw my work ethic, drive & dedication, so invited me to join the collective which has turned out to be mutually beneficial.

Kezia Who: I was brought in by my friend Lex.

Barbara Premo: I was just starting photography at the time and Charles asked if I wanted to be a part of this secret project he was creating. I went to the first couple of meetings and everyone just super awesome and just like that I just sort of became of part of it lol.

How would you describe belonging to an art collective?

Abu Yillah: Belonging to a Collective is the best thing that can happen to any artist so long as you all bounce off one another and inspire each other.

Kezia Who: Without it sounding cliché, it is very familial. We speak different languages but there is understanding to be gained so that we can creatively press on towards the common goal of being dope at what we do and getting the world to see it.

It’s a constant learning curve. As someone who is delving into more mediums to express oneself, I know there’s always someone in SXWKS I can learn from, get advice from and ultimately, support on helping myself improve as an artist. There’s a sharpening and refining that happens in the comfort of being amongst family.

Barbara Premo: There’s a sense of belonging, being part of a community, a family and of something bigger outside of your art. It’s more or less like a second home.

Does it make things any easier?

Abu Yillah: Easier? In a way yes, I can learn about things I didn’t know from someone in the collective who already has that knowledge and it’ll cost me nothing.

Keziah Who: Yes and no, but in a good way. Yes it makes it easier because you have a network at your fingertips. As the creative industry is a lot about making connections and who you know, having friends who know friends who know people you want to get close to can be beneficial. But definitely not the main reason for joining a collective. Having said that, being in SXWKS also means that that’s not always necessary – some of the best in the game are people I see on a weekly basis and are always open to collaboration.

On the other hand it doesn’t make things easier because you are constantly stretched. There isn’t room for mediocrity and that’s a great thing. We don’t rest on our laurels, and individually and collectively strive for betterment. As echoed in a previous answer, we sharpen each other creatively. So that means there is no “ease” in that sense.

Marta Camarada: yes especially when you work 9-5 non creative jobs you spend most of your time surrounded by people who aren’t on your wavelength, so it’s really amazing to be able to connect with a group of creatives at different stages of their careers. Its like a friendship group with people that have similar goals. It’s motivating and keeps you on track.

What do you feel was SXWKS greatest moment last year?

Abu Yillah: 5-9, or 9-5, or was it 12-6 [5 to 12], I don’t know, but the show we did with the Freeword centre. Everything about it was awesome.

Barbara Premo: It’s hard to choose a specific moment because there were just so many but I think personally for me, just seeing everyone’s growth on a collective and individual level. Also being able to travel together, that was pretty dope.

Does belonging to a collective make the creative process any harder?

Abu Yillah: No. Having a team to support and guide you is always more blessings than burden.

Theresa Lola: Belonging to a creative collective makes the creative process a lot more fun, it shields away the feelings of isolation that often come with working on a project or exercising creativity, especially in a collective where there are so many different art forms, it encourages you to expand ideas and merge with art forms you wouldn’t have thought of. Being in a collective makes the creative process easier because you can always share ideas or work with like minded people and get honest feedback and stable support.

Would you recommend it for everyone?

Abu Yillah: Yes. Not necessarily a collective per se. But it’s good to always have a team of people that are there to support you through the journey. You must also be willing to do the same for them.

Barbara Premo: Definitely, because not only does it provide a platform for creatives to find a support network but you also get to be inspired by your peers, it’s like a mini tumblr lol. Not to mention all the resources you have access to that you otherwise probably wouldn’t have. And the added bonus is you get to collaborate and make dope art with your friends.

There have been some criticisms about inclusivity in the British creative scene – do you think there is a problem with the way creative talent is nurtured? Is it all a popularity contest?

Abu Yillah: Interesting… You can’t really argue when someone is talented, but the issue is, support from peers is more visible once they see you’re already known, so I guess yes you could say it sometimes is a popularity contest.

Will artists be able to survive if they don’t band together in packs? Will it ever be that serious?

Abu Yillah:  I hope it never gets that serious. As much as a Collective is good, an artist still needs their individual identity.

Theresa Lola: Yes it is possible to succeed in isolation, however you might feel the emotional and physical toll heavier, but banding together has always been the formula to exciting new work, even beyond the UK, from TDE to ASAP mob & more, it is possible to survive outside of it, but the process of survival is more fluid in a collective.

Marta Camarada: definitely, they always have been and always will, groups definitely help elevate your exposure but at the end of the day your work will speak for itself.

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